The status quo has to go

The military’s predominant role in the country’s politics and decision making have been the single largest reason for the failure of constitutional government

So much was expected from our recently held elections, change was the buzzword and hope was in the air. People were prepared to forget that ground realities did not support their wishes; they hoped against hope. In the end, hope was the victim and disappointment our fate.

Since 1958, three parties have ruled Pakistan. The army for 32 years, the PPP of Z A Bhutto for five years with complete independence, the PPP of Benazir/Zardari for about 10 years and Nawaz for another six years; the last two being under an unwritten arrangement with the military whereby the military controls the defence, security and foreign policies of the country, and exercises influence on major domestic issues — a complete violation of the constitution.

In the last 55 years, the military has ruled us directly for 32 and indirectly, with major controls, for the other 23. It is clear that the military has primarily ruled the country since 1958 and is therefore largely responsible for the state of affairs we find ourselves in today. There is a mindset that has developed amongst most and is diligently promoted by our so-called free media that the army chief is the king/emperor of Pakistan. Speculations on the outgoing chief fill the news for a year before his departure and predictions on his successor are kept rife by the government and media incessantly for months, creating the aura of a super leader. Elsewhere in the world, appointments to such offices are routine matters that mostly go unnoticed.

The army chief is supposed to report to the secretary of defence or the defence minister but not so in Pakistan; we have allowed him to be above all others and not answerable to anyone. By virtue of this extra-constitutional situation, he exercises absolute power. The role of politician in this meek handover to the military is abominable and collusive. Take a look at our assemblies: they consist mainly of feudals, tax evaders and even those facing criminal charges. Corruption is the order of the day — neither Zardari nor Nawaz Sharif have listed the sources of their wealth, said to be around $ 1.5 billion each. Principles, morals and country do not matter to them as long as the power to loot and plunder to satisfy their egos is available.

The military’s predominant role in the country’s politics and decision making have been the single largest reason for the failure of constitutional government and its concomitant effects, leading to many a disastrous policy failure. For instance, it was a military government that illegally denied calling the National Assembly in early 1971, leading to the breakup of the country, a crippling war with India and surrender of 93,000 troops. Then General Zia’s self-serving but fatal decision to take on the Soviet Union by supporting the US in Afghanistan changed Pakistan forever. Arms proliferation, drug mafia, indoctrination of extreme jihadis and ethnic groups sprouted up with the military government’s support and supervision. We are still paying for this general’s reckless decisions. The third major policy disaster was General Musharraf’s decision to support the US’s war in Afghanistan, bringing the Taliban and its offshoots into the country with their brand of militancy and violence. By clandestinely supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan we lost the trust of the US and the Afghans, becoming friends of none after sacrificing thousands of lives and billions of dollars worth of collateral damage.

The economic performance of these military governments is not earth shattering either. The Ayub regime’s mean GDP rate averaged 5.5 percent, Zia’s was 6.5 percent and the much touted Musharraf regime was only able to muster 5.25 percent. Given the fact that the overall mean average GDP performance from 1952 to 2013 is five percent, these figures do not justify military rule as a cure for our economic ills.

Corruption at various levels in the bureaucracy has been high during military rule. Many years ago, Newsweek published a list of serving senior generals being amongst the wealthiest people. Law and order has been weak as witnessed in the Musharraf years. Karachi’s killing fields continued and so did the devastation of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, so much so that Swat was lost to Fazlullah. Long periods of military rule have brought no lasting reforms that bring relief to the people.

One might legitimately ask why Pakistanis should suffer military rule or military interference in managing the country if there are not only no benefits but also the fact that military rule has had such disastrous results in almost every sphere. In all civilised nations, the military’s role is to defend the country against foreign aggression and come to the aid of civilian governments during natural disasters or national emergencies. That is the system that ensures progress and has proved to be successful even in the developing world — look at Turkey, Malaysia, Brazil and India. 

The apologists of military rule and others criticise the performance of civilian governments formed after each successive military failure. They would like the people to forget that it is the military that decided to maintain and partner with feudalism when Ayub Khan abandoned land reforms to allow the continuation of this anachronism. Our assemblies are largely in feudal hands. The result is a culture of loot and plunder, massive corruption, flouting of the law, absence of morality and ethics, and disregard of democratic principles. All our elections after 1970 have been rigged as proved by the ‘Mehrangate’ case, making it clear that a selective process has been nurtured and nourished to maintain the status quo. This status quo prohibits change, impedes progress and disallows the appearance of progressive and committed politicians on the scene. Therefore, over the years, a collusive partnership of convenience has developed whose beneficiaries are the military, feudals, other politicians and the politicised bureaucracy.

Until such time as this stranglehold on national politics is ended, there cannot be any progress in Pakistan. Our history of the last 66 years amply proves that this unholy alliance has destroyed the country. We neither have any economic progress, law and order, security or justice; our masses are impoverished, without healthcare and basic amenities of life, and are killed daily either by the mafias or terrorists. With a shattered economy, lawlessness due to the complicity of security agencies, daily violence in at least three provinces and failure to eliminate the ongoing and increasing terrorism of the last 10 years, Pakistan has steadily moved towards a failed state.

The much-touted Nawaz government has not shown an iota of understanding of the prevalent situation. It seems to proceed with unimaginative, unplanned and superficial solutions. For instance, its budget was a total disaster, the Karachi operation is an eyewash and failure as none of the major parties have felt its heat and the major players have been allowed to fly away. The national security committee is another eyewash with nothing new about it.

The black money whitener scheme is a total disaster as it mostly provides the opportunity for legitimising the criminal earnings of the mafia. The mafia and the politicians, and not genuine businessmen, are large holders of illegal wealth. These generous schemes will further destroy commercial culture by giving them entry into industry; the decision is fraught with danger.

Previously, we had to contend with the two Sharif brothers — Nawaz and Shahbaz — in national politics; now suddenly Mariam and Hamza have joined their respective fathers. Is this some kind of dynastic claim that is being made? Is Pakistan a kingdom and are the Sharifs its royal family? There are few things clear about this government: it works first for its own good both politically and monetarily and then national issues come thereafter. Being almost a wholly Punjab cabinet, its focus is on safeguarding the interests of Punjab. 

Unfortunately, national interests and the precarious situation of the country is not the real focus of anyone’s attention. Moreover, the complete lack of vision, the dearth of experience and sanity, and the absence of commitment are even more glaring than before along with the refusal to change. The status quo has to go.

by Farooq Sumar
The writer is a businessman and a former chairman of the National Textile Foundation.