Millennium Post

Pakistan is in a flux

For political theorists the world over, who are insulated from the smudgy party politics, the outcome of the first general election in Pakistan – when an elected government is to hand over the baton to a newly elected one – is of immense importance. How strong the libertarian content in the kinetics of democratic order is in Pakistan after the end of military hegemony will be at least partially reflected in the election results and observers around the globe have their eyes on the event as a result.

One of the very disappointing features of the current polity of Pakistan is the mindset of youths. The British Council survey before the elections to the 342-seat National Assembly (272 to be directly elected and 70 reserved seats for women and religious minorities) and four provincial legislatures, 38 per cent of youths surveyed expressed preference for Islamic Sharia. Thirt-two per cent of respondents like military rule while only 29 per cent would support the continuity of democratic order.

The manifestos of the other two big parties in the upcoming electoral race – the PML-N and the PTI – are more obviously urban in nature and talk mostly of the concerns of the formal urban economy. They are silent on crucial reforms required in the rural economy. The PML-N, for instance, speaks of deficits and investment and ‘industrial revival’ in its manifesto, and despite the existence of a subheading on ‘agriculture,’ even here the underlying emphasis carries an urban bias by talking about the productive aspects of rural society and not about the kinds of reforms required for its uplift.

The PTI’s manifesto, drawn up by some of the best professional minds in the country, similarly talks of rural society only as a productive platform for the economy, but not as a social zone with its own problems and requirements. Considering that the rural vote can turn the tide in an election, it is puzzling that the manifestos of the largest parties carry such a deep urban bias.

Ayesha Siddiqa, a former civilian officer of Pakistan, having served the defence establishment too and now one of the most intrepid columnists who openly suspects the military lobby, criticised the BBC survey and hidden intentions in it (‘based on constructed perception rather than reality’, she called it). It ‘fails to even pick on the nuances of its own research and mainly focuses on acceptance of sharia and military. However poor a democratic system, it is still the only one that caters for a larger redistribution of resources than military rule.’ During the years under military dictators, resources were almost never transferred to the poorer sections and instead, the rulers pushed them to the mullahs that caressed the feudal-military axis. In the early 1980s, the now-defunct left-wing weekly Viewpoint serialised a study by a well-known Pakistani economist, who inferred that the preponderance of feudal lords over a few nascent monopoly capitalists and the feudal-filial origin of military biggies engineered the democratic system through coup d’état. Barring a judiciary, genuinely interested in taking care of the libertarian basics, under a dictatorship, not only the freedom will remain endangered, but the judges too have to be subservient to the dictatorship.

Things might have been different had the present government tried to build confidence in the electorate by at least semblance of curbing corruption. The present head of state President Asif Ali Zardari is generally criticised for having been corrupt and that has tarnished the image of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party.

Just after the election schedule was announced in January this year, Zardari’s challengers fared no better. Tariq Ali, still a Trotskyist in the main, stated in a piece in the London Review of Books, ‘Zardari is the most unpopular leader in the country’s history, largely because of his involvement in corruption.

The main opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, is no better. Both come near the top of the list of Pakistan’s billionaires (Zardari at number two, Sharif at number four). The list gives ‘politics’ as the source of their wealth. At number 11 is a self-made real-estate tycoon called Malik Riaz Hussain, who has made no secret of his generous donations to both Zardari’s and Sharif’s parties as well as the private accounts of politicians and generals.’ So, clearly Zardari’s Pakistan’s People’s Party or Pakistan Muslim League (the Nawaz Sharif group) is not concerned about development of the quality of democratic system by winning support from the underprivileged sections in order to weaken the feudal-military axis.

Former Pak Ambassador to the European Union Tareq Fatmi, too, wants the judicial system be restructured in sync with the commitment to strengthen the democratic order. After all, ‘the overwhelming majority of Muslim states have remained prisoners of authoritarian regimes, wherein individuals or families have imposed systems that are a throwback to the discredited medieval concepts’, he frankly states.There is also a pressing need to ‘restructure its internal security apparatus, especially the police. A professionally trained and disciplined force is necessary and it must not have some of the cowboys that we have today.

However, a change in the policing system must go hand in hand with major restructuring of the judicial system,’ Siddiqa rightly points out. But one has to agree wither that ‘the muck of the system is not just stuck with political society but is all over.’ And hence, cleanup is the most needed task. Nonetheless, the feudal-military nexus breathes down the neck of leaders of major political parties and even the media-hyped Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, floated by the great cricketer Imran Khan in 1996 (although nobody thinks it will win more than 15 seats in the NA) are silent about even restricted agrarian reform. Some peasant bodies, not connected with any political party, held scattered rallies demanding assurance on ecologically-sound irrigation and land reforms. But there are no takers.

The Islamic establishment is opposed to land reform. The manifestoes of major political parties reflect an urban bias. The rural society, for them, is to dance to the tune of feudal landlords.

The PPP’s manifesto, which refers to rural schemes and economic issues such as livestock cooperatives and boosting milk processing and crop insurance, are, nevertheless, implicitly in the interests of ‘large landowners and wielders of influence in rural society rather than the small-scale farmer, who was supposed to be the beneficiary’, Siddiqa comments.

Freedom-loving people of this subcontinent look forward to a stronger democracy in Pakistan. Tomorrow or day after, the troubled state will see a straight encounter between the Talibans and peace-lovers. Islamabad has to be prepared for such an eventuality. (IPA)
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