Monday, December 3, 2012

Let Us Not Despair About Pakistan

December 3, 2012
By Saeed Qureshi

Pakistan has remained in the throe of a perennial multi-faceted crisis. But let us not despair about its destiny and a glorious future ahead. Pakistan a nascent state has remained caught in myriad problems ever since it came into being on August 14, 1947. These problems are both internal and external. A new nation under an inept and self-seeking leadership remained lost and distracted from its course of moving forward to progress, prosperity, and stability. Pakistan’s dilemma is that its leadership that created and struggled for Pakistan did not live long enough to set the parameters that could have transformed it into a vibrant and viable state.

In the modern times, Pakistan and India’s emergence as two independence states is a unique phenomenon that has few parallels in the history. Both the sub-continental states were the result of a sustained movement for independence kept in high gear by Muslim and Hindu leaders. For a variety of undeniable factors and divergent dynamics, these two communities could not opt to live together in one united state.

Immediately after partition of the British India; Pakistan was beset with refugees’ problem and the settlement of the incoming immigrants from the territories that became part of India. This country fell into the hands of the nasty bureaucrats who were averse to making a constitution and embarking Pakistan upon a democratic course. The intriguing politicians, whose predominant lot came from the feudal classes, hijacked the political power and until this day are overt or covert power brokers and wielders. With the feudal culture still rampant and dominant, the democracy seems to be tainted and hijacked.

The perennial Kashmir issue has given ascendancy to the armed forces as the savior of the nation although it was during the military rules that Pakistan suffered ruinous setbacks and detrimental downfalls. As is commonly known, the first military ruler Gen (how could he become Field Marshall) Ayub Khan deprived Pakistan of three rivers, lending a devastating blow to Pakistan’s agricultural based economy. Yahya Khan truncated Pakistan. Gen Ziaul buried a democratic government, hanged an elected prime minster, promoted religious extremism and sectarian animus, and turned Pakistan into a mercenary hatchet man of the foreign imperialism. 

Finally, Gen Musharraf played havoc with the constitution of Pakistan. He consolidated his power by manipulating with self-preserving amendments in the constitution and pushing Pakistan further into the lap of foreign hegemonic designs and reinforcing Pakistan’s mercenary role.

Now this is history. With the popular elections in February 2008, Pakistan has been set on a new democratic path after almost ten years of one-man rule, and 32 years of cumulative military domination of Pakistan. Despite the ferocious and unrelenting insurgency and frequent suicide bombing, Pakistan is doing well with the rest of the world and at home.

The religious based militancy that is apace for a decade or so would have challenged the authority of state at some juncture. The thorns of sectarian and ethnic bad blood that Gen Zia had sown have been growing into full-scale stature. It was foregone that eventually, the extremism within both Pakistan or of external import would descend upon Pakistan with full fury.
Pakistan could not have saved itself from the fanaticism of the religious militants after their victory in Afghanistan.

Logically they would have come home with more victories with a view to establishing an Islamic orthodox system (caliphate) of government in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. I doubt if Pakistan or Afghanistan governments or societies could hold their advance and check their unrelenting sway as was later witnessed in Swat and northern valleys.

It is here that the American and NATO forces’ presence in this region, to curb and weaken these merciless brigands, looks useful. Therefore, in a way the military might of NATO and of the United States to browbeat religious frenzy and militancy has been a kind of blessing in disguise for Pakistan.

Eventually the occupation forces will have to leave Afghanistan. So primarily, it would be both Pakistan and Afghanistan that would benefit from the weakening and bludgeoning of Taliban and Al-Qaida who could have turned this region into a hell engaging Pakistan army into a perpetual conflict. If there are people, who believe that Taliban would revive Islamic glory and pristine caliphate are morons and so to speak, living in fools’ paradise. If Taliban turn Pakistan into another Swat and Kabul, would we call it a genuine Islamic government?

Notwithstanding the personal objectionable character or the villainous volition of the individuals in power in Pakistan, the fact cannot be ignored that it is essentially an elected government. Still it is a democratic dispensation that is subject to some semblance of accountability and censure as exercised by media and judiciary. Gradually and imperceptibly the economy is showing resilience and revival, howsoever feeble and slow it may be.

Already the incumbent government would be completing almost five years its constitutional tenure by February 2013. Let it continue for a few more months and leave it to the the people to reelect them in the next elections or cast them away in favor of new praetorian.  The courts are relatively freer and so are the media and the civil society.

There is a barrage of problems for majority of Pakistan’s populace. The poverty, the insecure life, the shortage of water and power, the corruption, the unemployment, the red tape, the inadequacy of socio-civic services, the environmental degradation, and the appalling cost of living are some of the horrendous problems that afflict Pakistan. However, these problems were still there when a military junta was in power.

So by comparison a democratic government, howsoever, flawed is decidedly better than a stultifying military rule that gags freedom and rules by coercion. In the present set up, at least you can express and voice your grievances and problems. In an authoritarian system, one risks your honor, life and freedom by opposing or dissenting.

My vision is that Pakistan despite its countless problems including the oft-repeated skepticism about its viability and survival will stay its course and eventually move steadfastly on the way to becoming a modern state with all attending hallmarks. The women are more empowered now, the civil society is in the making, and democratic culture is taking roots.

There is some kind of accountability although the executive has not moved fast to address the law and order and similar grave issues. A stage would arrive when civil society would be vibrant enough to press for dire action against the defaulters, outlaws, delinquents, bribe-takers, thugs, public enemies and so.

Instead of condemning or berating the government for every major and minor fault, let us see it in a broader context. At least it is being run by the people’s elected representatives. Let us strive and wish that the incumbent government can move away from its mistakes and follies, corrects its rudder, and drives the country out of dire straits. The worst democracy is better than the best dictatorship, goes the adage.

The political parties can establish their credentials as the redeemers of the nation and builders of a new Pakistan that could be prosperous, safe, strong, and with efficient institutions. The leaders of the respective fleet of parties should present their manifestos, vision and programs for the service of the nation and grandeur of Pakistan and to transform it into a stable and viable state.

They can do for so till May next year when the elections are scheduled to be held. The statement of PMNL chief Mian Nawaz Sharif connotes positive and conciliatory undertones in that he offered to have a working relationship with president Zardari because of his being the constitutional head of the state.

The belligerency, brinkmanship and mere inane sloganeering is not going to drive away the maladies and misfortunes that overcast Pakistan. With a new democratic set up, the country would be moving forward since it would be for the first time for a smooth and democratic transfer of power to the elected representatives of the people of Pakistan.

The example of Egypt is instructive for Pakistani leadership. Egypt has been blessed with an elected popular government after several decades of autocratic rule. Incumbent ruling party the Muslim brotherhood was banned in Egypt for decades. Not it is the legitimate choice of the Egyptian people to rule. Against all propaganda that it would bring theocracy have proven to be wrong. It is now acceptable even to its bitter enemies namely USA and Israel as the true and popularly elected party of Egyptian people.

Its role in bringing the Israeli-Palestinians conflict to a peaceful end has won her laurels and appreciation of the international community. Democratic credentials are the best weapon for internal and external goodwill.  Democracy mirrors the collective will of the people and thus emerges as an acceptable vehicle of peace, conciliation. It brings about progress and uplift of a state through people’s chosen representatives.

We would counsel the hawks in Pakistan’s political arena to tone down their aggressive rhetoric and join the quest, mission and journey for a better and democratic Pakistan and take part in the next elections with all the enthusiasm and sincerity they can muster.

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