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Opinion: The crippling standoff

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By Afrasiab Khattak-Before the political uncertainties generated by the Supreme Court decision on Panama leaks could subside, a fresh public standoff between the civil and military leadership on what is called the Dawn leaks ushered a new challenge to the state system. So much has already been written about the aforementioned controversies and there is no use getting into their details as these are mere pretexts for justifying defiance and confrontation. The real issue behind the dangerous current polarisation is the question of power. Who will wield the real state power, the elected civil government as per the 1973 Constitution or the security establishment which has been ruling the roost as per traditions established in the post-Zia “republic “? The de jure or the de facto?

It wouldn’t be fair to blame just one side for the monstrous deformities of this so-called republic. Weakened and overwhelmed by the savagery of prolonged martial law of General Zia (that enjoyed full and generous western support during Afghan “Jihad”) the political parties accepted this moth eaten republic in the hope that they will be able at some stage in the future to evolve it into a genuine republic. Political parties did participate in the musical chair game in 1990s that was directed by the security establishment. Political parties meekly followed scripts for the so-called long marches (equivalents of sit ins or dharnas of recent times) aimed at overthrowing the governments of their rivals.

General Musharraf’s martial law had a sobering effect on the old political parties and they realised that they can’t afford blind confrontation and that they will have to abide by certain rules of the game for achieving evolutionary development in the democratic system. The new consciousness and maturity of political parties led to the Charter Of Democracy (COD) signed by Mian Nawaz Sharif and Shaheed Benazir Bhutto in 2006. The COD was formally signed by the leaders of the two major political parties but it was supported and upheld by all the democratic forces of the country. It contained not only a pledge for restoration of democracy by removing the dictatorship but it also carried a commitment for introducing constitutional reforms. The democratic struggle based on this consensus led to the general elections of 2008 and the 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2010. Although there were some deviations from the letter of COD by its signatories, its spirit, by and large, ushered in a new era of democracy. In 2013 the elected assemblies completed their five years constitutional term, despite difficulties of the objective and subjective nature, for the first time in the country’s history, and power was peacefully and smoothly transferred from one elected government to another.

PML-N was expected to push the overbearing security establishment back for the simple reason that its leader Mohammad Nawaz Sharif is the authentic leader of Punjabi bourgeoisie with a strong political base in the biggest province of the country. And then as a Muslim Leaguer it wasn’t supposed to be easy for the Punjabi dominated security establishment to label him as “security risk” as they have been doing with non-Punjabi leaders. But as we have seen it was not to be. Firstly, because PML-N has successfully cut itself from the source of democratic strength by putting its back on the elected bodies. Under the stewardship of Nawaz Sharif the present system is anything but a parliamentary democracy. Marginalisation of the parliament has led to the marginalisation of the democratic system. Secondly, the security establishment after loosing hope in the old political parties has successfully produced test tube politicians and political parties. It has scripted sit-ins and agitations by test tube politicians to weaken the elected civilian government. Security establishment has also manipulated the prolonged war on terror to strengthen its grip on the formation and execution of state policies along with maintaining its economic empire.

Be that is it may, the current crippling stand off between the civil and military leadership can have disastrous unintended consequences. Without a credible constitutional arbiter the system is faced with becoming totally dysfunctional (if it isn’t already there). State institutions are in a collision course with the danger of the constitution becoming totally irrelevant. By jumping into every major political controversy the higher judiciary is not far from losing its credibility. Foreign dignitaries visiting Pakistan or other countries entering into dialogue with Pakistan will face a real dilemma in choosing their interlocutors from Pakistani side. All Parliamentary Parties delegation led by the Speaker of the National Assembly completed a successful visit to Afghanistan this week but the relations between the two countries nose dived with the visit of the representative of the security establishment just two days after the visit of parliamentarians. It is as if the civil and military components live in two parallel universes. Why would foreign countries or private parties invest in a country overburdened with so many uncertainties? The main arena for the success or failure of the state is economy, which is going to be the worst victim of the current paralysis. States can’t be run forever on an ad hoc basis. A country run forever on adhocracy may win a battle or two but it’s sure to lose the war. Relations with three neighboring countries out of total four are in the worst shape as reports about military clashes are continuously pouring in from all the three borders. But the most dangerous fact is that Pakistan is at war with itself. As if the internal terror problem was not enough there is a new craze for lynching people under the allegations of blasphemy. There isn’t a single day when there aren’t reports about frenzied mobs attempting to lynch the alleged accused person or persons. The state is loosing its writ to fanatic mobs in broad daylight. How are these fanatics different from anti-state terrorists? Hasn’t the state legitimised the weaponisation of blasphemy by using it against dissidents? It’s impossible to find answers to these questions as the state isn’t speaking with one voice.

Again be that as it may the country’s leadership is legally and morally bound to take short term and long term measures for overcoming the crisis. Even if we are so dumb to be unable to lean from experience of the other countries don’t we know that the internal collapse of state system in our own country in 1971 led to international intervention resulting in the disintegration of the country?

Afrasiab Khattak is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs