Dynamics of politics

Daily: The Statesman
Date: 15.01.08

Before the presidency could come out of the crisis of legitimacy, the country has been
rocked by the crisis of unity. The year 1971 saw ethnicity overtaking the religion as the
basis of formation of Pakistan. In the post-1971 scenario, with existence of the institution of
army as a unifying force for the West Pakistan, there emerged the institution of politics as a
parallel unifying force.

Since its inception, Pakistan Peoples Party bagged victory from across the country both
before and after departure of the late General Zia ul Haq, the military dictator. Benazir
Bhutto carried forward the political legacy of representing all sections of society despite
ethno-political differences existing in the country. With assassination of Benazir, the
unifying force which was introduced into the body of Pakistan through the institution of
politics has disappeared. Though the party is still there, the Bhutto charisma as a
centrifugal force stands absent at least for some years to come. In contrast to 1971, the
geographical contiguity factor – which has caused interdependence – has barred ethnicity
overwhelming the religion, in Sind, for creating another East Pakistan. Nevertheless, the
rabid feelings of disappointment and despondency are bound to smoulder underneath
questioning even the first pro-Pakistan resolution passed in 1937 by the provincial
assembly of Sind.

The events hitting the year 2007 have significantly affected socio-political thoughts in
Pakistan. These have given birth to at least two major questions: first, to what extent the
country can cope with the constitutional violations devouring the careers of more than sixty
renowned judges this time, and secondly how the country can deal with the political void of
leadership emerged in the aftermath of Benazir’s assassination? Sometimes, it seems that
both the questions are intertwined. If Benazir’s assassination is the handiwork of the
Islamists then it can be said that presence of the pre-PCO judiciary was important to give
vent to the pent up feelings of those who had been suffering from the atrocities of the
State, be these in Wana, Wazirastan, Swat or Lal Masjid. By closing that window, the
President General (r) Pervaiz Musharraf has made Pakistan a pressure cooker to explode
anytime.

The year 2008 has brought another question tugged at it: to what extent the democratic
process can seek legitimacy through the elections which are being held under a regime
which is itself a product of the PCO, an undemocratic venture? The question portends a
crisis of legality when some of the effective political parties are already opting out of the
electoral process on that basis. The attached question is, for how long the hung
parliaments are required to ensure perpetuation of the rule of a military-dictator-turned-
civilian president? The justification forwarded hitherto by Musharraf is not implementation of
once hoisted seven point agenda but the third phase of democracy.

It seems that amassing of the crises has thrown up two schools of thoughts. One such
school is propagating that the military is a saviour both at the borders and the political front.
For the latter, even absence of a political party to act as a national unifying force is not a
fashionable idea. This school is averse to acknowledge that the immediate cause of 1971
debacle was the act of demonizing verdict of the majority of the populace who had won
elections. Separation of the Eastern Wing proved that opinion of the people subordinated
the will of the army to keep both the wings laced through force. There was drawn, however,
another conclusion: the elections should be engineered so as to minimize the possibility of
emergence of a political party which could impose its own agenda, whatsoever it would be.
Subsequently, the lesson learnt was forgotten but the conclusion so drawn was
remembered. The conclusion has been followed religiously as a pre-emptive measure to
head any threat off to the ‘perceived’ national security. Sometimes, one politician becomes
a threat to the national security – to be dislodged or even killed – and sometimes another.
Indubitably, acts of financial corruption of the politicians in the post-1988 era offered space
to the army to manoeuvre politics; it is still a moot question to whether or not – and to what
extent – the army can find room in the Constitution through extra- or supra-constitutional
itineraries?

The second school of thought is swayed by the global post-Cold War trends of human
liberty and freedom of thought-cum-action. In 2007, the proponents of this school of
thinking rallied around the higher judiciary when it respected and acknowledged human
liberty and freedom. The judicial activism actuated a fundamental but qualitative change in
the minds of the masses. That stance of the judiciary was viewed as a revolt of a
subservient institution to challenge the higher echelons of the country. Hence, at the lower
level where a pro-judiciary fervour swept the masses off their feet, an anti-judiciary
sentiment grew stronger at the upper power stratum. Before the independent judiciary
could claim more space in society, it was snubbed to subordination by the powers that be.

Taken together, the year 2008 has inherited twin crisis, legitimacy of the presidency and
unity of the federation. The forthcoming general elections are considered panacea to both.
On the one hand, the local bodies are kept functional and the political wing of the
intelligence agencies is still active while, on the other hand, the media is gagged and the
judges and lawyers are under detention. Again, the aim would be to doctor elections to
bring a hung Parliament so as to endorse the third phase of pro-Musharraf democracy.
Sixty years down the road of history, this is what the dynamics of politics in Pakistan – old
wine in new bottle – once and again in the name of ‘perceived’ national interests. The
global post-Cold War air of liberty and freedom is yet to touch the shores of Pakistan.

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