Prof. Sohail Mahmood
(Head, Department of Politics and International Studies, International Islamic University, Islamabad, Pakistan)
Pakistan is facing acute instability because of bad governance and political turmoil. It is faced with complex multiple challenges not easily surmounted. Pakistan has suffered from long spells of military rule and there were many hopes pinned on the Zardari Government which came into power in early 2008. But the historic transformation from military to civilian rule isn’t looking promising.
Pakistan’s fragile democracy is simply not delivering, at least as per public expectations. The parliament’s performance is poor and it has been reduced to a rubber stamp only. Meanwhile, the military advances its nuclear capabilities with great zeal. Undoubtedly, Pakistan has an awesome nuclear capability which is growing at an ever fast rate. Given Pakistan’s other failures, this is indeed ironic.
Most importantly, the military still controls the country’s security and foreign policy by default. The Zardari Government doesn’t have either the will or the capacity to take charge of Pakistan’s affairs in these two vital areas of policymaking. This is Pakistan’s tragedy and most unfortunate as the public expenditures in the defense sector is far higher than those in social development sectors. State expenditures on health and education are puny as compared to that of defense. The economy of Pakistan faces a formidable challenge and requires immediate attention of its rulers.
Pakistan has achieved a lot in the military area and now must focus on the welfare of its people. Massive corruption, endemic bad governance, mismanagement and misperceived priorities have wrecked havoc in the country. The issue of human security, as opposed to military security, must now be the strategic priority of the government of Pakistan. This requires a paradigm shift as the military establishment is still obsessed with military security issues.
The problem with Pakistan military establishment is that it fails to see the people’s aspirations as legitimate. The military brass has lost vision of the true national interest of the country. The people of Pakistan just want stability, peace and economic opportunities and do not desire anything else. The high incidence of poverty has aggravated matters still further. Public services are inefficient, ineffective and largely unavailable to the masses. Largely unplanned piecemeal reform efforts haven’t delivered much.
The Zardari government squandered a golden opportunity to turn around Pakistan. It had a lot of support when it came into power in early 2008, but has lost it now. There is now talking of a systematic collapse in the Pakistan state edifice. Sttae institutions have corroded from bad governance. The bureaucratic machinery isn’t delivering the required public services by any imaginable stretch of the imagination. Inertia is making matters worse and a crisis situation has now developed in Pakistan’s state institutions. Undoubtedly, public expectations were dashed in so many ways.
Pakistan’s economy is in a state of crisis. Corruption, lack of discipline and bad management has crippled the state institutions. Meanwhile, the national debt has doubled since the incumbent government came into power. The Pakistani citizens do not pay taxes. The tax-to-GDP ratio at only about 10%is one of the lowest in the world. Surprisingly, only 2% Pakistanis pay taxes. Hardly any politicians pay their fair share of taxes in Pakistan. Foreign direct investment has never been lower and foreign exchange reserves are now paltry. Inflation is wrecking the economy and unemployment remains high. The rich and poor divide is now formidable and is also alarming. Corruption is endemic and regulatory institutions weak. Pakistan is ruled by callous elite which often confuses personal interest with that of the national interest.
Overall, Pakistan has weak institutions. Political party system is weak because of personalized party structures. Bad governance is the norm and not the exception in Pakistan. Given the global economic crisis, Pakistan’s economy will remain fragile for the foreseeable future.
To make matters worse, the Zardari Government is increasingly weakening and is seemingly on a collision course with the Supreme Court. It is not implementing its edicts regarding various corruption cases. However, the Supreme Court is now apparently willing to give some breathing room to Zardari Government after the recent dismissal of premier Gillani on a contempt of court charges. Despite repeated directives, Gillani had failed to write a letter to Swiss authorities regarding the matter of reopening earlier graft cases against the President of Pakistan. Earlier, the Supreme Court had invalidated the National Reconciliation Ordinance which had quashed corruption cases against many individuals, including President Zardari. The incumbent premier will also be ousted very soon as he is also not willing to write the said letter. So much for rule of law in the country. Seemingly, party loyalty comes before loyalty to the state has become the new creed of the PPP loyalists. Personalistic party structures in the political parties of Pakistan have considerably weakened the party system in the country.
Most importantly, Pakistan is increasingly becoming a less tolerant society. People were now living on the edge, so to speak. Violence has become a part of Pakistani society. Thousands have died in the sporadic country-wide incidents of group violence. The country is becoming unstable because of this violence. Pakistan has weakened from within in so many ways. Peace and security is badly needed to bring stability. Meanwhile, the eleven year old Global War on Terror has become very unpopular. The people are just fed up of the war and now yearn for peace.
However, peace in Pakistan remains problematic, to say the least. Meanwhile, anti-Western sentiment, especially anti-Americanism has grown beyond any reasonable calculations. Society is deeply fractured on ethnic, linguistic and sectarian grounds. It has also suffered because of growing Islamic radicalism and sectarian violence. Islamic radicals consider the United States as their enemy and some elements are being supported by Pakistan military. These radicals are protecting against the very recent reopening of the NATO supply routes into Afghanistan from Pakistani. Opposition politicians, mostly from religious parties, are now staging national protests against the Zardari Government.
Contrary to the impression given by the Zardari Government and also the Opposition political parties, the drone attacks were happening with the permission of not only the Zardari Government but also Army. The only thing was that the Pakistani leadership was not willing to admit it because of the fear of a political backlash. In some ways the drone strikes was a fake issue. The real issue of conflict is the playing out of the so-called endgame in Afghanistan after the United States and NATO /ISAF troops depart by the end of 2014. In the interest of regional peace both countries must join hands to earnestly plan for a viable endgame in Afghanistan. Nothing can be more significant than a doable Afghan endgame for both United States and Pakistan.
Unfortunately, the Zardari Government is too preoccupied with the internal crisis. More importantly, it simply doesn’t have the capacity to take any meaningful action. The Zardari Government must immediately renounce the old discredited policy of ‘Strategic Depth’ and ‘a friendly Western border’ propounded by the Pakistan Army. Most importantly, the Zardari Government must wrest control of the Afghanistan policy from the hands of the military. It must immediately announce a stopping of support for the Haqqani network and the Lashkar-i-Taiba. There is a convergence of national interest between Pakistan and the US on the issue Afghanistan after the pullout.
Meanwhile, the Islamic radicals are also vehemently opposing a rapprochement with India which they consider as an arch-enemy. Thus, the phenomenon of Islamic radicalism poses an existential threat to the country now. Parts of Pakistan are facing political unrest and strife. Unrest in Baluchistan has grown into a full-fledged insurgency situation. Violence has wrecked havoc in the province. There are some external factors also that are making an all ready bad situation into something even worse.
The main separatist force – the Baluchistan Liberation Army – continues to be supported by India through neighboring Afghanistan. This is pay-back to Pakistan’s earlier support of the Kashmiri separatist forces in India. These external factors and historic legacy is significant in understanding Pakistan’s situation today. A new trend is sectarian violence in Pakistan in which India is allegedly involved also. Bombings and killings inside the country continue on a daily basis. Overall, Pakistan’s political issues are not being addressed in a political manner but instead being handled as law and order and security issues instead. This is most unfortunate as political issues are best handled by political means and not through the use of force.
The Zardari Government’s handling of the Baluchistan crisis was inept and therefore the security and political situation is now becoming problematic. The current situation in Pakistan remains dismal and there seems no hope for the hapless and beleaguered populace. Pakistan is a mess. Years of failure have made Pakistan ungovernable. A nuclear power on the brink is every ones worst nightmare.
The country is faced with several seemingly insurmountable challenges from both within and without. Pakistan needs help as the crisis enveloping it is ever expanding and time is running.