Having spent much of my life in the marketing profession, primarily dealing with FMCGs (Fast-Moving Consumer Goods), it is sometimes interesting for me to draw parallels between Advertising and Politics. In both,there is the grossly overused appellation ‘Naya’ or ‘New’. When applied to a product, it can refer to either some kind of minor rebranding exercise – a change in packaging, colour, flavour, scent, etc. Or it can mean real Tabdeeli, a fundamental change in the product itself.
The question I decided to reflect on was whether the use of the word ‘Naya’ for Pakistan today represents a real change in the country, a true product change or just a cosmetic modification as in a brand of toilet soap or biscuit. Somewhat to my own surprise, I realized that there is a genuine Tabdeeli in process. The point is: this is not for the first time. This is the third ‘Naya Pakistan’ there has been.
The first ‘Naya Pakistan’ came into existence on the 14th of August, 1947, when the state of Pakistan itself came into existence. The state that appeared on the map was quite different to what its illustrious Founder had championed at Lahore in 1940 or accepted in the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946. But it had the common elements of provincial autonomy (one of the major differentiators between the Quaid’s vision and the strong centralizing preferences of Congress leaders) and, of course, an executive responsible to the legislature. In his first address to the legislators of the new state, Mr. Jinnah clearly emphasized religious tolerance and a broadly secular polity.
Pakistan, this first ‘Naya Pakistan’, sought to rid itself of the colonial straitjacket of the rigidly centralized, unrepresentative colonial administration that had deliberately promoted the divisive policies of religious and ethnic differentiation. But Pakistan was beset with critical problems. There was the huge civic disorder that accompanied Partition and, worse, the horrific bloodbaths. No less overwhelming were the economic, social, and political challenges arising from the massive movement of millions of families both into and out of the new country. While struggling with the economic and human consequences of Radcliffe’s deadly cartography, Pakistan was plunged into a war over Kashmir. And, suddenly, the guiding hand of the Quaid was removed with his death.
Each one of these crises could by itself have meant the end of the new state. Is it any wonder that Pakistan was forced to turn inward – towards centralization, towards assertion of exclusivist narratives, towards becoming a ‘hard’ state – in order to survive? The state reverted to a centralized mode of government, from which any deviation was regarded as treasonous, a mode of government little different from that of the Raj and, moreover, run by the same “steel frame” of the bureaucratic and military elites.
Over the next few years, we saw sub-colonial exploitation of the Eastern Wing and – what to speak of provincial autonomy?– we saw the western provinces disappear altogether into the folly of One Unit. In just over a decade of its existence, all semblance of parliamentary government also disappeared. The Ayub autocracy, so redolent of the old viceregal system, emerged.
The eventual fall of that regime and the disintegration of the then state of Pakistan are not subjects for this piece. What is relevant is the fact that, on the 20th December 1971, the ascent of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to the Presidency heralded the birth of a second ‘Naya Pakistan’, one which embodied the promise of the huge, popular uprisings of 1968-69 and the elections of 1970. What seemed like a great, new adventure now began. Important institutions – especially constitutional ones – came into being. We witnessed the Simla Agreement and a return of the POWs from India. And then there were land reforms – a second wave. The National Awami Party (NAP) was in power in two of the provinces. There were Labour reforms and Education reforms. The was the first wave of nationalization of industry, a second wave, a third. The fourth wave of nationalizations damaged Bhutto’s own electoral base, proving fatal to him in due course. Fatal, also, were the abrupt U-turns: on Press freedom, when he censored reporting of the language disturbances in Sindh; on provincial autonomy, when he sacked NAP’s two provincial governments and ignited a civil war in Balochistan; on religious tolerance, when he passed the Second Constitutional Amendment. Dreaming vain dreams of becoming Leader of the Muslim World, he embraced both the reactionary monarchies and the single-Party dictatorships of the Middle East, jettisoning at home all ideas of constitutionalism, democracy, socialism and the vague kind of secularism his Party had earlier espoused.
Bhutto’s fate is not the point here. What is significant to our discussion is the fact that reversion to a highly centralized, intolerant polity, redolent of both the imperial system and Ayub’s authoritarian rigidity, had already commenced under Bhutto. It didn’t take much subsequent effort or time for the usurper General Zia-ul-Haq, assisted by huge dollops of American and Saudi funds, to consolidate a nightmarish, almost unremovable tyranny. The second ‘Naya Pakistan’ had not lasted too many years.
The reversion to authoritarianism this time was more draconian than before, possibly more so than even in colonial days. It is not that Zia met no resistance. There weretruly heroic persons who defied this brutal tyranny: Nusrat Bhutto and her daughter Benazir; the courageous women of WAF and WAR; the common people of rural Sindh. But the MRD movement failed to ignite any mass uprisings outside Sindh. Punjab, notably, which had voted overwhelmingly for the PPP, remained somnolent.
The decade that followed Zia’s death saw an extended experiment in ‘controlled’ democracy. But it threatened to spin out of the control of the Powers That Were. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose political base was firmly rooted in the soil of the Punjab, moved to sack the then Army Chief. The military struck back and threw out the PM.
Now, Musharraf never managed to be the kind of despot Zia had been, nor did he exercise the kind of almost uncontested, highly centralized power of an Ayub. Not that this fist-wavering swaggerer was reluctant to try his strength…after all, not even Zia had dared take on a Chief Justice as Musharraf did. But he failed. Despite the adulation of most of the English-speaking elite, Musharraf found himself unable to go past a point in most of his endeavours. Times had changed. Attitudes had changed. People simply wouldn’t take it anymore.
Rigid, centralized control was no more possible in Pakistan. The pivotal point at which the change became apparent was the eruption of the Lawyer’s Movement in 2007.
I believe the time has come to clearly understand that there has been a real diffusion of power in Pakistan – away from the executive and towards other institutions of the state; away from the centre and towards the provinces; and away from state actors towards social actors such as the media, civil society, lawyers, political parties, and the clergy. Rigid, centralized control is no more possible. And these changes have become formalized and institutionalized through three successful democratic transitions, landmark legislation like the Eighteenth and Twentieth Constitutional Amendments, and landmark Court decisions.
Democracy and dispersed power are the new normal. This is, then, the third ‘Naya Pakistan’, the one that has been maturing now for over a decade and whose citizens have learned the power of the ballot box. It is important that the Prime Minister, his coterie and his Party understand that they are not the prime movers of this new dispensation, but its beneficiaries and current custodians.