“Politics” in Pakistan is a misused word. Where in other parts of the world it is a way to generate consensus on various issues of national and international importance, in Pakistan it has been used time and again to destabilise that one thing whose continuity is so essential to development and democracy — the continuance of a government for a full five-year term.
It is a misfortune that no government in Pakistan has ever completed a five-year term under one prime minister. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto did so, but he is not counted as someone to have completed the five-year tenure.
In any case, the continuity of public policies needed to ensure a predictable course of events for the completion of their objectives, and send signals to local and international markets to devise their responses for a long-term strategic engagement with the country never got underway. Instead, hasty decisions under pressure from the scale of a personal to global level were made, that put all the previous gains in the socio-democratic domains in a jeopardy.
Three decisions will be discussed here to gauge their level of shallowness and their lack of intellectual courage.
The first concerns with the decision of Nawaz Sharif in 1999 not to allow the returning plane from Sri Lanka of the then Army Chief General Musharraf to land in Pakistan. In his absence on October 12, 1999, Nawaz Sharif replaced General Musharraf with General Ziauddin as the new army chief. Ziauddin was serving as the ISI chief at the time. Had that decision to remove Musharaf not been taken while he was mid-air and tensions with India high on the border after the Kargil fiasco, Pakistan would not have seen a ‘containment’ of the civilian command to exercise its power and authority (Nawaz, 2008).
Had Musharraf not given in and had he evolved a more stringent framework for participation in the coalition against terrorism, he would have not only succeeded in keeping India out of Afghanistan, but also prevented the blowback from the tribal regions and eastern Afghanistan.
It was this decision that became the immediate cause of the imposition of Martial Law by Musharraf in 1999. This hasty decision on the part of Nawaz Sharif to replace Musharraf with someone more pliant to his opinions and stratagems proved to be a disaster for the country in the long-run. For one it showed a lack of political savviness in the decision-making thought-processes of the political leaders of the time. The inability to make a decision beneficial to the country in the long-term, under pressure, really was a disaster. The importance of immediate causes in the initiation and progression of events can never be ignored. For had it not been the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Serbian nationalist, World War I might not have happened at all. Same holds true for the hasty decision of Nawaz Sharif to replace Musharraf.
This same decision to change the command while not allowing the previous commander’s plane to land resulted in the reign of a dictator who unwittingly joined a war in a global coalition against terrorism. If it were a democratically elected government presented with a choice to join the global coalition, it would have decided in the negative.
Since politics became a casualty in the perfidious autumn of 1999, there was no mechanism to establish a consensus on the choice and direction of national policy. Musharraf’s decision to join the War on Terror may have been guided by the practical principles of the doctrine of military necessity in the broader geopolitics of the region, but it does not absolve him of the crime that he committed by suspending the constitution and preventing the country from having a constitutionally sanctioned body for national level decision-making. It became very easy for the Americans to strong-arm a dictator into compliance. Had there been a parliament and a democratically-elected government, Americans might not have been able to go against the wishes of the Pakistani people. It was the decision of a single man to join the War on Terror, and he got his way. Pakistan, on the other hand, had to suffer the consequences of the breakdown of politics in flesh, blood, and bone.
Even after twenty years when the War on Terror is de facto over, Pakistan still stands isolated on the global stage without any recognition from the American political establishment for its sacrifices and all the help which it provided to the global coalition. This is where the lack of intellectual courage brings you to. Had Musharraf not given in and had he evolved a more stringent framework for participation in the coalition against terrorism, he would have not only succeeded in keeping India out of Afghanistan, but also prevented the blowback from the tribal regions and eastern Afghanistan.
Their decision-making processes have resulted in creating a space for the non-democratic forces to step in. And this has further vitiated the state in a more unstable direction where it had to face existential crises of late.
Sadly, people lacking in intellectual depth, and coolheaded demeanours, at the same time excelling in unwitting cowardice, always made political decisions in Pakistan.
The third decision in this study concerns the decision of Imran Khan to not remove Usman Buzdar from the chief-ministership of Punjab despite all the criticism. Politics is a trade where a right decision at the right time can set in motion all the positive currents for democratic stability. The significance of the province of Punjab in national politics stems from the mass of the population that it houses. It is usually observed that the candidate for the premiership of the province of Punjab usually follows through to the national helm. Usman Buzdar, however, was not of the mettle to become a prime minister.
Nevertheless, Imran Khan remained obstinate in his decision. This made the allied party of the PML-Q to initially change sides and broker a deal with the combined opposition with chief-ministership of Punjab as the prize. This change of sides ultimately led the whole coalition to come apart in broad daylight with the MQM following suit. Imran Khan, after trying hard to skirt the proceedings of the no-confidence motion in the parliament, has finally gone home for the better.
Political upheaval has again taken over the country with no signs of letting up. If only Imran Khan was not so rigid in his realpolitik, he might have created history by completing the first full five-year term for a prime minister. It would have served to entrench the political stability of the democratic regime with economic growth the ultimate result. Imran Khan too, however, proved to be no exception.
The curse of power falls most heavily on the one wielding it. Those who become victims in the millions are remembered by history as a side-note with a collective noun. It is the authoritarian, like Saddam, who wields power to make himself more powerful, who is judged to be the culprit by the jury of history. History does not rely on any jury of 12 angry men to decide its verdict. Imran Khan must have learnt his lessons in the unabashed culture of Pakistani politics. If he learns for the better, he will make a comeback for the better. If, otherwise, well he is out, already. No?
Politics is the most misunderstood and mis-adopted profession in Pakistan. Politicians have consistently failed to ensure the smooth sailing of the democratic process. Their decision making processes have resulted in creating a space for the non-democratic forces to step in. And this has further vitiated the state in a more unstable direction where it had to face existential crises of late. If only Pakistan’s political leaders were accustomed to making decisions where egoistic exigencies were never relied upon, we would have witnessed a more smooth sailing of the national ship.