Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Who will pay for this national uncertainty?

Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based Think Tank. 22-09-07

Who will pay for this national uncertainty?

Pakistan is going through very uncertain times where people are unsure of what future holds for them and their nation. Matters that can be predicted decades in advance in the civilized world are undecided and uncertain here. When will the presidential elections be held? Would government servants be allowed to contest? Which assemblies will vote? Will the opposition resign? How will the lawyers react? Will they succeed in holding big protests against the election commission? Will Gen Musharraf fulfill his promise of retiring his uniform? Will there be another emergency or martial law as repeatedly threatened? Will the civil society again tolerate it? Are we heading towards dangerous confrontation between the state and the civil society? Are we doomed towards a full-fledged civil war? These are some of the more troubling questions causing this confusion.

This uncertainty has resulted in a strange kind of anxiety evident on the faces of most Pakistanis. People seem frustrated and ready to fight on small pretexts we witness everyday on the roads. The nation as a whole seems to be unsure of its future and destiny again giving rise to depression and insecurity. People have stopped planning for their future and are mostly focusing on their day-to-day survival that has become an uphill struggle due to the shortages of wheat and other basic food items. Conspiracy theorists, who enjoy a certain amount of credibility in our society, are having a heyday with the latest theory that the government started the flour fiasco basically to distract the people from its plans of the upcoming presidential elections.

Uncertainty and unpredictability is a dangerous thing to have for a nation as it breeds insecurity of all kinds, personal and collective. It causes personal stress leading to depression on individual level and also on the collective level. Local investment is affected leading to stagnation of economy and foreign investors too stay away from uncertain and unpredictable countries. Capital, the shyest animal known runs away from uncertainty further sealing the fate of countries where uncertainty is rampant. All this results in a stale economy not creating new jobs further fueling the depression that further causes economic slow down. The capable people of a society, its most valuable asset, prefer not to raise its future generations in insecure environment and tend to migrate further spoiling the situation. This also damages the reputation of a country worldwide. Nations issue travel advisories against traveling to these countries and make travel from such country more and more difficult. The importers avoid placing orders and the shippers charge extra all at the cost of the nation. Unfortunately sounds a bit too familiar to the hapless Pakistanis.

Ultimately nations find getting out of this vicious cycle of uncertainty and economic depression extremely difficult. No wonder they take special pains to avoid such dangerous situations for the sake of their country and its future. So should we. What causes all uncertainty is all too obvious. We tolerated unelected regimes that got reckless with the nation for their own petty interests and left us to do the cleaning work.

The main issue exposing Pakistan to these dreadful risks is the wish of the rulers to keep Gen. Musharraf in power for another (at least) 5 years at any and all costs. Any and all excuses are being used. Constitution has been made a bit too pliable making it kind of a joke; the courts have been put under tremendous pressures of all kind, subtle and not so subtle. Strange legal experts are manipulating Law and internal cohesion of the country is at risk. All this is being done to let a serving Gen, Musharraf contest in the presidential elections, something unheard of in the civilized democratic world and that also from 5 years old assemblies who had elected him for one term previously also. No matter how many complicated arguments legal experts might give but no one in the whole world would be convinced of such an obvious anomaly.

After all why is he so much insistent on contesting in uniform and that also by the old assemblies? There must be something very attractive attached to it? Certainly one does not have to be a genius to see it. It is the force of the gun attached to the uniform, which makes getting votes easier. In such a scenario “free and fair” is the first causality as use of force converts free choice into coercion. Rulers seem to be convinced of their unpopularity so do not want to take a chance by letting the new assemblies vote. If the same privilege of contesting general elections in armed service is given to police, I am sure we will see an assembly consisting mostly of SHOs. Only the strongest and the most resolute would dare contest or vote against them.

According to most historians one of the major reasons for the Mughal decline was the uncertainty it caused after the deaths of emperors which was always followed by series of battles plunging the country into serious uncertainties and insecurity. Ultimately it became so weak that a trading company of a small nation far away conquered all of it. We have made a mockery of our country by playing strange cruel jokes repeatedly. No one in the world is convinced of the tricks we are trying to play. Modern world cant be persuaded that 2 and 2 makes 5 as no one would call a uniformed elections credible or democracy. Still if some foreign powers tolerate all this it would be for a very high price, again to be paid by the nation. It is far easier for the ruling generals to act than to think, but it might be prudent for Gen Musharraf to consider the problems his insistence on getting reelected in uniform might cause to the nation, his institution and himself. If still insistent, he might consider dropping the slogan “Pakistan first” and convert it to “Musharraf first”. At least it would be honest.

Churchill said 63 years back, “When a nation has allowed itself to fall under a tyrannical regime, it cannot be absolved from the faults due to the guilt of the regime” we are all responsible for this mess. All autocracies are mild in the beginning and gradually get worse and we are witnessing a great leap towards that unfortunate direction. The 160 million people of Pakistan would be paying the price for any misadventures so it is their responsibility to resist it. Otherwise cynics might find their connivance as no one can be abused without his consent, which is mostly silent.

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