The current political, economic and security situation is alarming. Although Pakistan Army’s untiring efforts to arrest the continuous economic slide is showing some results, the nation again waits for the often-repeated promises of external and internal investments. Returns in the fields of agriculture, mining, Information Technology etc. are not expected soon. Our impatient society — already under immense economic stress — may reach its breaking point before it can see the fruits of efforts made to revive the economy. The clashes between terrorists and law enforcement agencies have become a daily routine now. The crime rate is on the rise. The political bitterness remains unrelenting. Highhanded approach against a certain political group is not diminishing and the Interim Government’s promised neutrality is clearly seen wavering with each passing day.
Amidst all this, the only reassuring development is the Election Commission of Pakistan’s announcement to hold the national polls by end-January. However, for some quarters this is also being viewed with a sense of suspicion as indicators do not augur well for a fair and transparent elections.
The objective of this assessment is to caution the decision-makers as to how the future might unfold against the backdrop of some historical facts and few well-established politico-economic principles of the country.
The first lesson from our history is that any interference by the non-political entities may bring an apparent economic relief in the short-term, but it never proved sustainable. Similarly, political engineering in the past only resulted in a short-lived artificial democratic dispensation that never succeeded in making permanent political inroads. And in the past, this all happened when at least one major political party allied itself with the establishment. That may not be the case in the current environment.
The covert or overt foreign support that has been the hallmark of artificial regimes in the past may not be working this time due to a number of international geo-political constraints. The media management, a few surveys, and some self-satisfying image-building exercises could only put a temporary lid on the strong political undercurrents that may not be easily visible to all. Such circular movements always culminate back at the point zero. So, the decision-makers must ask themselves one question:
What different plan do they have this time to ensure that the country avoids falling in the same pit in which it fell several times in the past?
- Give a genuine level-playing field to all the political parties and allow them to participate in the general elections in a free, fair and transparent manner. This would lead to handing over the power to a legitimately mandated Parliament. There should be no political engineering and none of the political players be allowed to use unfair means during the electoral exercise. This would be the most suitable course to bring political stability in the country that would lead to its economic revival. The added advantage and a big dividend would be the revival of the image in the masses. The detailed definition of ‘level playing field’ is being withheld to save time and space. Suffice to say that political persecution, gagging of the media etc. must end. Either all convicted be pardoned or all be behind bars without any exceptions.
- Postpone elections because of “political polarization and bitterness in the society, the country’s weak economic fundamentals and the precarious security situation.” The interim-setup after some changes was turned into a more neutral semi-permanent technocrats’ government backed by the Establishment. This would only be possible if by Jan-Feb 2024, some people centric positive indicators start showing as a result of the present endeavours. But it would be a temporary affair, because all the political forces divested of power would join hands against the establishment and its propped up set-up. Any large-scale protests, backed by lawyers, higher-judiciary and civil society activists, are likely to garner internal and external support. So, the option of technocrats can only work if a large political group, a segment of judiciary and media comes out in support of the project, which appears unlikely. The entire system could crash because of this kind of tussle. And another circular effort will meet its fate – just like the past.
- The third option is to pre- and post-engineer the electoral process by eliminating and sidelining some important political groups, and make favourites win in different provinces. All provinces have different parties in power and an artificially constructed conglomerate at the centre. Such a dispensation will ensure a tight control over political dissidents. This may still keep a modicum of opposition in all the provinces and the centre to ensure total submission. However, this would be a difficult course, as the election results and the resultant dispensations may not behave as initially planned. The instability will continue and society will face further division, bitterness, wear and tear. This would not sustain and might push the establishment to take extreme steps, which this time is likely to backfire and fail, proving to be the last push towards the abyss of prolonged civil strife.
There might be other possibilities and combinations that the author cannot fathom for the time being. And the final results of the options as described above may not occur exactly as predicted. The decision-makers may show exceptional brilliance to defy the lessons of history, but that definitely is a remote possibility. Irrespective of whichever option or a combination is adopted, there are some prerequisites that need to be met. And these steps are being listed without going into the methodologies and strategies:
- A Truth, Reconciliation and Replacement Commission should be formed under the authority of the Chief Justice of Pakistan and comprising representatives from all the important stakeholders.
- All the politicians beyond 75 years of age, or those who have been part of the government at least thrice, should be debarred from politics in real sense. Owners of large businesses and media tycoons should be kept away from politics, as they invariably face conflict of interests. Each political party must ensure internal elections under the auspices of the newly composed trustworthy and neutral Election Commission.
- All institutions should be administered a newly composed oath, under the glare of media, whereby they solemnly affirm to remain within their mandated domains.
- Lateral entries in Judiciary be stopped with immediate effect. A competent judicial cadre be nourished.
- Instead of muzzling the media, it should be made responsible to ensure objectivity, fairness, impartiality and factuality in their content.
- Country be divided into smaller, manageable administrative units.
- Elections to be deemed incomplete until the local governments are in place.
Whichever of the above-mentioned courses the decision-makers adopt, they must first create a conducive environment, build trust, and then take all the steps through Presidential Ordinance or some other feasible method.
They should also immediately release all the political workers detained through MPO or under any other bogus premise. Picking up people with dissenting political views, making them missing, destroying their livelihoods and then forcing them to say things on media that even a child can sense their nervousness, must end. Immediate attention be given to improve relations with the neighbouring countries where possible and realign the foreign policy based on the past experiences and keeping in view the vital national interests. Discern between friends and foes based on hardcore IR principles. Newly emerging disturbances in certain parts of the country including AJK, must immediately be resolved through politico-economic actions.
The author may be dreaming and living in a different world, but whatever has been pleaded is done with sincerity without any sense of self-righteousness. So, no insistence – just an input.