For some it is an adventure, and therefore they don’t desist from throwing their punches in public. For others, it is merely equivalent to a social media campaign, and therefore they preside over government spokesperson meetings more than they attend the parliament. And yet, there are others for whom governance is just like a profit and loss account of their big business empire, and therefore they never hesitate to project themselves as managers handling business concerns. And what they do or have done in the power corridors, out of their respective insights, is nothing more than a horrendous waste of time.
Nine years of military rule, a waste of time. Five years of democratic rule—with petty politicking as the main trend—a waste of time. Another three years of pretending and leaving society at the mercy of professional rabble-rousers who know nothing other than to cause social and political instability, a waste of time.
We are in fact living in the aftermath of the October 1999 coup, when the political process was disrupted. The coup didn’t only destroy the political system and the very fabric of our society, it also caused an incurable disease among our political elite— that manifested itself in shortsightedness, oblivion, and ignoring reality. Pakistani political elite and political actors are, at present, engaged in a headlong rush either to pursue their personal interests, party interests, or to achieve their institutional objectives. In this madness, the harsh realities, which will impinge on the survival of the state and society in the coming future, are completely ignored.
Imran Khan is single-mindedly pursuing accountability of the Sharif family. Nawaz Sharif wants Imran Khan out of power and if possible, a change of command at General Headquarters (GHQ). There is an extremely noisy opposition engaged in endless prattle to defame and discredit the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government. The army is doing a balancing act: it has been successful, to an extent, in assuring Imran Khan that civil-military relations are smoothly managed, while also hobnobbing with opposition parties with the help of their intelligence arm, conveying that they have learned their lessons and are in no mood to put all their eggs in one basket.
All this is a road to nowhere in terms of the political, economic and security issues that will define the future for Pakistan and its survival as society and state. The 1999 coup and subsequent interventions have caused such horrendous interruptions in the political process that the system as a whole has lost focus of the core issues the state and society are facing – without even a threadbare national debate.
The interruptions have resulted in a political culture in which political actors and elites have forgotten completely why they are pursuing power. Their narratives and rhetoric are completely devoid of any arguments, policy analysis or recommendations on the core issues—core issues that will impinge on the survival of the state and society.
I will briefly touch upon three core issues that the Pakistani state is facing which will define our future as a society and state:
The country to our west is facing an acute humanitarian crisis – food shortages – which could result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands and a mass exodus towards neighboring countries. Pakistan is likely to be a prime destination. Have you ever heard from any government or opposition leader what likely impact this will have on our security?
Secondly, Pakistani Taliban have revived and regrouped in Afghanistan. Pakistani security forces have started a low-key campaign against them in the erstwhile tribal areas. The threat is likely to grow in the coming days. The Pakistani political elite is totally oblivious to this threat. No debate means leaving the policy making in the hands of already extremely powerful spymasters.
Pakistan is moving into the Chinese military orbit faster than you can imagine
In the last couple of months, the Pakistani Armed Forces have inducted weapon systems that are meant to augment Chinese military presence in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. This includes Chinese Frigates and the possible purchase of state-of-the-art J-10 fighter jets, which together can increase the capacity of the Pakistan Navy and Air Force to operate deep into the Arabian Sea.
Is the Pakistani military about to assume a great military role in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean? Is this new role politically sanctioned? Or are we as a nation ready to pay the political cost of acting as a front for Chinese interests in the region?
I have not heard a single voice debating these issues. As I understand the situation, Pakistan’s political elite have not registered this development at a very basic level, and in the process have left the field open for the fossilized minds of military and civilian bureaucrats to make their opinion the final word.
Pakistan is not among the top of the list of carbon emitting countries, but it is at the top of the list of countries which will be affected by climate change. Our agriculture, our water reservoirs, our industrial output, our forests, our food production, our military power… all will take a hit from the climatic changes that are in the process of hitting our society. Our political discourse is completely devoid of these issues.
To attract the attention of our political elite, the issues must come to them as a sensational headline or breaking news. With their shortsightedness, the political elite is making themselves an obsolete thing in the system. That they are on the wrong side of history is certain. I believe, with this attitude, they will also lose the power game in which they are little pawns.