Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Changing political realities

Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based Think Tank. 09-08-07

In the First World War highly celebrated generals prepared relentlessly for a war that had become obsolete after the invention of the machine gun. In the second they prepared for a war without tanks again getting millions killed unnecessarily. Both these omissions to cater for the changing realities initiated by technology caused wrong priorities and approaches resulting in tragedies of colossal proportions. Political realities and dynamics in any society are not static changing continuously and these changes must be appreciated promptly. Generals usually take longer to grasp changing realities because of their conservative training and upbringing. We are going through a historic era of changing political realities initiated by the judicial activism and this change must be comprehended fully and then accepted.

Ninth of March or, 9/3 changed the power dynamics of Pakistan forever. For the first time the civil society asserted itself and successfully protected it’s Chief Justice. This response was absolutely unexpected and even the closest observers of the Pakistani political scene could not predict it. This has shifted the balance of power and this change must be accounted for as soon as possible for the betterment of the country and its people. The wheel of times cannot be reversed and the new political reality must be accepted. The civil society has ended the establishment’s impunity and monopoly for ever and more might be coming. Our civil society may have been a few centuries late than the Europeans but seems to be in a hurry to catch up. Resisting this normal flow of history is destined to fail irrespective of the strength of its opponents.

Wrong understanding of realities and power of competitor can cause confrontation and conflict and must be guarded against as it harms everyone. Apparently our establishment has not grasped the magnitude of this change and is defying it by repeatedly threatening use of force in the form of proclamation of emergency or martial law.. Considering the near absolute power our establishment enjoyed for so long this resistance is understandable but not condonable.

Dynamics of power in Pakistan have been simple and understood locally and internationally. According to this theory 3 As matter in Pakistani politics, Allah, Army and America. The Allah component appears more of ceremonial but certainly involves the religious political parties which have been directly involved with the Army mostly openly but occasionally covertly. Then it is the army that has been calling shots in Pakistan since Ayub Khan with a few interruptions. All governments, political and others had to earn the approval of GHQ mostly by surrendering significant powers like foreign policy and much of finance. And then there was America. It derived most of its influence through the state apparatus and kept its contacts direct with the GHQ independent of the government. This influence might have been much overstated and we at times blamed the Americans for our own failures. As perception is half the truth, these perceptions did appear to be correct as they worked.

The interesting but ironic part of this understanding is that in the Pakistani power scene people are missing. On the contrary political leaders who earned popularity of the people were routinely punished. The severity of punishment was directly proportional to their popularity. The most popular PM with 2/3rd majority was hanged while the other was jailed and exiled. This dreadful fate of popular leaders annihilated the remnants of importance of people of Pakistan in politics.

This understanding brought power in the hands of establishment and they were basically answerable only to the Americans while people of Pakistan hardly mattered. They were taken as granted and could be taken for a ride. All this was going on smoothly and we had a government servant in the presidents’ house exercising absolute power dismissing PMs on his whims. On 9th of March when he dismissed and detained the CJ there was nothing abnormal or strange about it. No one could foresee such a massive public uproar which finally lent enough force to the judiciary to stand up to the establishment. For the first time in the history of Pakistan a ruling general was embarrassed, rather humiliated openly by our courts with the civil society on its back openly defying the powers. The CJ who was disgraced by the officials on the roads was reinstated. For the first time in the history of Pakistan the people prevailed over the establishment; the establishment which preferred to surrender in front of the enemy dismembering the country over conceding to the demands of its people.

Although this new movement is led by the legal community but enjoys the support of all segments of the civil society. It involves the political and social segments of the society which are poles apart. Media and some political parties also finally came out of their shells and played their parts effectively.

This new scenario is alien and unacceptable for our establishment which is not used to be restrained by the written law or courts. Their impunity is gone forever and it is not easy for them to accept the new reality. In these times of historical change excesses by the groups who have been suppressed for long is totally understandable. Considering the current conditions the following scenarios are possible.

There is no doubt that the question of Musharraf ruling in uniform would be questioned in the courts and rejected like anywhere else in the world. The times of doctrine of necessity are over; they had already had a prolonged life harming the country tremendously. Then his plan to get elected by the same assemblies would have the same end. Even the question of his contesting the presidential question is doubtful. These setbacks are imminent along with many smaller ones like Nawaz’s return and the Karachi incidence.

These are difficult times for Musharraf to say the least. This might prompt him with encouragement from his unscrupulous beneficiaries to use force. The recent feeler of declaring emergency might have been a part of this plan. The establishment has used the threat of use of force against its own people for too long. Zia got the 8th and Musharraf the 17th amendment passed basically using the same tactic. Its time has passed and it won’t work anymore. Any attempt to use force would increase the confrontation we must all try to avoid. Pakistan has seen too many upheavals and troubles in its small life span and does not need any more of them.

In today’s global village the chances of using this much force effectively against its own people won’t be possible. Even the ability of the current leadership in its 8th year in power is highly questionable as it is going through its lowest level of popularity. Still this might not stop Musharraf from trying to use force as threats don’t seem to be working. If God forbid this confrontation erupts let there be no doubt the people will be the winners although the question of price is best left untouched as this might be tremendous; much more than any one can even think of. In this possible scenario even the foreign backers desert their friendly rulers. Any attempt to impose emergency or Martial Law will further weaken and isolate Musharraf and his allies.

We must comprehend the new realities to avoid the dreadful confrontation and conflict we might be heading towards. It must be appreciated that the civil society has aroused and it has successfully seized many powers it could only dream off a few months back. History tells us that such changes are mostly permanent, as a right once seized cannot be confiscated so this change is permanent although more might be coming. Any number of threats or scares would not work and should not be attempted. The best way for Musharraf and his team is to let the wave of changes take its course and not to resist it. For this they will have to comprehend the extent of changes already occurred and correctly understand their options and the inevitable course of events. They can certainly save much for themselves and the nation doing so.

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