Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based Think Tank. 23-12-07
Pragmatism and political realities in Pakistan
Certain well entrenched and privileged segments of our society routinely preach the virtues and need of pragmatism in the current political scenario of Pakistan. They insist that ground realities of politics must be appreciated and accepted. The Pakistani political dynamics imposes certain limits on the politicians and the civil society and adhering to them is important and beneficial to the society and nation as a whole. This kind of logic and reasoning certainly has its merits but it misses one important point that we followed this strategy for 60 years and got ourselves in trouble repeatedly. We jeopardized the future of our generations and became a nation notorious for different reasons like drugs and terrorism etc. All this tells us that whatever we are doing is not working and needs a change. If this is where our realities are taking us we must change the realities. We can’t afford the existing set of political realities.
Our existing realities and pragmatism suggest that the only way our elected assemblies can complete their terms is when they agree to play a junior, rather very junior role to the ruling generals. They must stay away from important issues and contain themselves to debating issues they are permitted by the unelected rulers. They should not try to elect their leader of the house or speaker independently and must not interfere in the 3 most important issues, budget, foreign policy and defense. Who needs such an impotent and inconsequential assembly is not explained in this line of reasoning.
Pragmatism and reality for the politicians translates into striving to get into the good books of different government agencies playing pivotal role in determining the outcome of elections. They should work hard on them while ignoring the voters as they really don’t matter. If smart, they should stay subservient to the power brokers and accept whatever authority is doled out by the powerful. If they want to stay in power, they should never challenge the authority of those who acquire it through dubious means and be satisfied playing the second fiddle to the nonpolitical players of our political system. The political leadership aspiring or reaching the top slot or becoming prime minister must always remember its actual status and should never try to tread beyond the allowed limits.
The courts must never challenge the people in power as this would risk their job and privileges. Their duty is to devise methods to give some king of legal semblance and legitimacy to the powerful. Elected governments can be confronted but the military ones must be obeyed because as one retired CJ put it plainly “Generals can fire judges from the job”.
Prevalent realities on the international scene point to the absolute American hegemony in our political scenario. Anyone striving for power might be well advised to take the Washington route as lately many of our aspiring politicians are doing. Americans interests and demands must be appreciated and all efforts should be directed towards convincing them that you can serve them better and that also at a lesser cost. In the process scaring them by portraying the Pakistanis as uncivilized extremists who must be controlled might help. Americans enjoy the influencer in Pakistan through the army that controls the political scene. American interests must be protected and pursued after declaring it Pakistani interests wherever possible rightly or wrongly.
These are some of the hard but unfortunate realities we have been acknowledging and complying with them for the last 60 years and going downhill. Now we have nearly reached the bottom. In the last few years the only news originating from our part of the world has been negative and people equate us with problem areas like Iraq and Afghanistan. The world has advanced a lot towards democracy and human rights leading to stability and prosperity but we are stuck in the bygone era. These set of realities got us into 7 wars since independence and counting. More than any other country. No nation in its proper frame of mind can dream of progressing while fighting so many wars. Our pragmatism to find the best for ourselves in these conditions has harmed the nation a lot and if we keep on following it we are certainly doomed.
Two important points must never be missed. First being that ground conditions or realities are not permanent or ordained. They exist because we allow them to be as such and they can be changed although it would require substantial effort. For any kind of betterment changes are required and the only individuals or nations that do not change are the ones with proven winning systems, something we certainly do not have. Every system or situation is always created due to a certain set of dynamics at work and the nations wanting to improve struggle to change them. Had the west complied with the realities of the middle ages the world would have been a different place; much worse. Without Magna Carta or the Bastille the monarchs would still be exploiting the ordinary people in Europe, a bit like the current Islamic world. It was their readiness to change for the better and willingness to sacrifice that initiated all the advancements of civilization and other aspects of humanity. We should not treat the malicious ground realities as sacred or unchallengeable perpetuating them in the process.
There is a difference between pragmatism, compliance and collaboration. They might appear to be close, but they do have substantial differences in appearance and direction. It is never advisable or recommended to stand in the way of a freight train but changing its track might achieve the same purpose without losing your ground. Everything in life is not in black and white as there are a million shades of grey in between. We can resist without confronting as the world has devised many ways to do it. Accepting the painful realities and using them for personal gains might be labeled as collaboration that can never be considered wise or noble. In a nation forced into subjugation by local or foreign forces, resisting it to the best of abilities becomes a duty of everyone. It might be advisable to make the resistance well planned and well directed for the best possible results but collaboration or cowardice can never be justified.
Pragmatism certainly has its value and utility but not when it converts into compliance or collaboration. Much of the pragmatism practices in Pakistan is simply opportunism. Opposite of bravery is not cowardice but compliance and we must guard ourselves against falling into this pitfall. Our political realities are so negative that complying with them without attempting to change leaves no room for any betterment. In this situation instead of complying with the existing realities it might be more desirable to direct our efforts towards changing them. In the process personal or group benefits might get neglected but freedom never comes for free. All of South America and Africa finally got rid of dictators imparting self-esteem to their people and acquiring international respect in this period resisting the counterproductive forces and realities. We must also realize our collective duty to resist the negative realities. Had the world been too pragmatic succumbing to immediate pressures without resisting, it could never have improved.
To improve our conditions in Pakistan we will have to discard the over compliance we habitually show in the name of pragmatism and start demanding our rights. A close examination reveals that most of the people preaching pragmatism of this kind or compliance have some kind of vested interests attached and we must be vigilant of them. We must as patriotic Pakistanis; achieve the sovereignty for our elected bodies and the judiciary. The civil society must prevail over the institutions created basically for their service. Failure in this struggle is not an option and Pakistanis must win this struggle if they expect to live as a respectable and dignified nation. Rest of the world has gone through this phase successfully and so should we.