Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Secrets of success in Pakistani politics

Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based Think Tank.

Secrets of success in Pakistani politics.

Salman Taseer’s residence was a popular shelter and the last resort for the PPP workers in the eighties. Zia govt and its political allies ruthlessly oppressed PPP and its ranks causing serious morale problems. In those difficult days Salman stood up for his party and political beliefs enduring all sorts of problems including physical torture and financial loss. Later after Zia’s death, euphoric PPP workers waited for the end to their troubles but the establishment managed to manipulate the 1988 elections prolonging their misery. Salman did reach the provincial assembly but this route landed him in the jail where he was hanged upside down and tortured. This was the maximum he achieved while practicing populist idealist politics. No wonder he changed course and quit the political scene and ended up as the new Governor of Punjab. He achieved a political post he could never attain as a politician. Unfortunately this is how politics work in Pakistan and some people call realization of reality or pragmatism.

After a traumatic and hurtful political career spanning decades he left the political scene in early nineties focusing on his business, which had suffered due to his politics. According to most rumors he built inroads with the all-powerful establishment and progressed phenomenally. The business reality of Pakistan dictates that you can’t progress beyond certain limits without the support or at least the permission of the establishment. In a country where an individual can unilaterally change the constitution and get away with it, law loses much of its luster and is unable to protect anyone so people seek protection outside the law, a bit like the street gangs of the big cities. In short he proved his skills and flexibility to operate effectively in a system of his dislike and became an unparalleled success. Stories abound about his scruples during this progress but most businessmen with similar ethics couldn’t imitate the success. Divorced from politics, he became a business tycoon with strong presence in the media effectively silencing his critics doubting his abilities in these ten years.

Due to repeated violent interruptions and the presence of nonpolitical forces in the pivotal position, money has become the biggest determining factor in our politics. Politics in Pakistan has become very expensive and opulence demonstrated through expensive flashy cars has become a basic prerequisite. This unhealthy reality has effectively sidelined or maybe disenfranchised the vast majority of Pakistanis who cant participate in the electoral process due to lack of resources. The last time we saw educated middle class politicians entering the political arena was in the 70s and now the staunchest advocates of middle class politics use it only as a slogan distracting people from their actual tactics. Politics has become a business needing heavy investment and naturally investors expect profits, which they get through illegal means, as there are no lawful ways. This has in effect turned Pakistan into an oligarchy alienating the majority very well explaining the voter’s apathy and indifference causing the drop in voting.

Tracing our political history for the last half century we arrive at very interesting but troublesome conclusions. Since Ayub’s martial law of the 50s, most of the presidents, PMs, Governors and CMs have been non-politicians. Even in the case of politicians holding top slots the vast majority achieved it due to the wishes and support of non-political forces instead of their political credentials. Interestingly the rare assertive politicians reaching the top slots were punished according to their independence including trip to gallows and exile. Even the pliable politicians were generally not spared and removed unceremoniously. The only ex PMs and Presidents faring well were either imported or had strong roots in brawny non-political circles.

Humans the world over share the same tendencies and inclinations. In all societies there is a minority of the righteous people who practice their principles irrespective of the personal costs, as there are people doing the opposite. The majority is always of the kind that wants to take the right path but adopt the path of least resistance like water. This has in effect made Pakistan the nation it is; not a nation of angels or devils, but human beings, noble but fallible. So actually when we criticize the prevalent corruption and other undesirable traits in our society basically we are criticizing the upper classes determining the rules of the game in Pakistan. This very well explains why Salman Taseer despite an illustrious genealogy took an undesirable path of aligning with a dictator to achieve political success. Is this the message we should give to our children? Certainly not.

For the keen aspiring future politicians the message is simple, making money with the connivance of the establishment is the surest, rather only way to achieve political success. Means of accumulation of wealth is irrelevant as even dubious means are also acceptable. The other useful local route is through joining or making inroads in either military or civil bureaucracy. In addition to all these pragmatic ways even more effective way is to join international institutions or think tanks and land at the top slots; a bit like in the colonial days but with a different skin color. The least important factor in Pakistani politics is the common voter or the public opinion that can be easily ignored. Whether to our liking or not this is reality. The pundits preaching absolute compliance to these truths are correct while advocating this route to political success labeling it the prevalent reality but they miss one important point. The world is not static like everything else in the world; even our political realities are not ordained or static. When reality becomes too destructive or troublesome, it has to change. The Pakistani majority has finally figured it out and our political realities are finally changing which wouldn’t be the same after a couple of years. The nation can’t afford any more complacency.


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