The Winds of Change

by Parvez Asad Sheikh - 01/02/2013

Introductory Note

It is a great honour and privilege to be able to present this text of Parvez Asad Sheikh. He is one of the leading intellectuals of the new generation of Muslims and is already manifesting the intellect and leadership which will undoubtedly lead to a major role for the Muslims at world level.

    Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi

 

Pakistan's Present, its Future and Imran Khan

Elections are well on their way in Pakistan and the tumult that is the norm of the country's political atmosphere has increased accordingly. New characters have entered the stage. Some represent the continuity of the civilian party politics headed by an increasingly dismal political class. Others remain a mystery and the cause and ultimate effect of their cathartic role remain to be seen. At least one relatively new player holds with him the promise of change in the face of incredible odds. The current narrative holds within it two potential directions and with it follows the unfolding story of what is a great country and an even greater people.

In one of these directions a deus ex machina can squeak onto the stage, hanging clumsily from political strings that no longer hold the strength they once did, pretending to unravel a difficult situation with ease while changing nothing. The other is a character in the mould of a Fortinbras, respectful of the great inner conflict of a young nation and ready to take the land to a new chapter.

Pakistan might have to accept the rise of a young Bilawal Bhutto, with his flailing arms and shaky voice, riding on no other source of legitimacy except that of being his mother's son, not his father’s. With him the game will continue, the poor being the pawns. Alternatively, Imran Khan can be given a chance to fulfill his promise of change. Pakistan today needs political change, any change, but ideally one that can produce enough breathing space for a balance to be established and the true potential of the country to be raised to its highest.

Two Kings and Thirty Pawns

Developments in the Pakistani political arena over the last five years under a Zardari-Pakistan People's Party dominated government have been a continuation of the old competition between Zamindari politics, a strong Military and the now politically calcifying Industrial families. The PPP followed the script to the letter by passing the 18th Amendment through Parliament in 2010, shifting the country once again from a Presidential to a Parliamentary System. Under the discourse of democratisation, the feudal families increased their localised, provincial power at the expense of a stable centre. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his daughter Benazir did the same when in power.

Zardari has been able to remain the de facto head of state by virtue of his chairmanship of the dominant party, able to hand-pick the most loyal members to hold the reins of power for him while he drives from the back seat. The PPP's hold on the parliament will continue well into the next administration as the significant PPP victories in the Senate elections of 2012 means that the party will dominate numerically until March 2015. The Zardari Presidency has used its time in power to entrench itself into the parliamentary processes.

At the same time the unabated competition between the PPP and its main rival, Nawaz Sharif's PML-N, have continued despite a marriage of convenience that allowed for a coalition which ended in the first months of the post-Musharraf era. Attempts by the PPP to bar Nawaz Sharif from running in the upcoming elections were defeated in 2009 and the rift between the two most important parties has widened. If anything, this overt antagonism has led to the marked devolution of the PML-N from a rejuvenating force into the other side of a civilian political element that aims at little more than self promulgation.

The issue which ended the 2008 coalition between the PPP and the PML-N was that of re-instatement of the members of the country's Judiciary. One positive result of throwing the issue to the foreground has been the establishment of a strong and independent Judiciary under Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. This has allowed for greater accountability on the rampant corruption of the political class and the peripheral players who depend on them.

As is expected when addressing corruption in a country led by a man who has served prison time for that very act, Zardari has faced relentless pressure from the Judiciary who is pushing to prosecute him on corruption charges that would effectively end his political career. This has already led to the former Prime Minister Raza Gilani taking the bullet for his boss and his replacement, Raja Ashraf, has found himself in the same unenviable position.

Early on in his presidency Zardari attempted to emulate Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and subjugate the Military under civilian control. The caveat ultimately failed as the Chief of Army Staff, General Pervaiz Kayani, flexed the Military's muscle. One should recall that it was this move that caused the resentment on the part of the Military towards Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto that ultimately led to his own untimely demise.

The Military has been pushed further into an uncomfortable situation under the simplistic discourse which interprets the Zardari government's moves as the actions of a democratising force in the face of a tyrannical Military. This discourse was used to rationalise the 2010 Kerry-Lugar Bill which placed significant civilian oversight on the use of American aid. Zardari used the bill as an attempt to expand his power with American backing and the Military saw it as an affront on Pakistan's sovereignty. The bill was passed but not without a significant loss in Zardari's evaporating store of popularity. He has found it very difficult to shake off the image of a pro-American President, the recent 'Memogate' scandal further enforcing it, and the Military has recovered its image as the protector of Pakistan's sovereignty after the severe crisis of legitimacy it suffered at the end of the Musharraf regime.

The Military's need to keep Zardari's expansionist attempts in check leads to a situation in which the Military is unable to focus on the pressing issues of the Af-Pak war, the need to protect the country's sovereignty in the face of American pressure and the ultimate need to secure Pakistan's interests as America ostensibly begins to pull out of the region.

Denouement

The Zardari presidency has been characterised by the promulgation of Zamindari interests in the localised sense, the entrenching of the PPP at the national level at the expense of the dynamism of its opponents and corruption charges which loom over the president's head like a Sword of Damocles. The economy has deteriorated following the IMF bailout of 2008 and the country is faced with a power crisis, all in an environment of rampant corruption.

Some commentators have lauded Zardari's ability to act as a transitional president. It is more fitting to see his presidency as an attempt to secure and expand his party's - and his family's - interests. And with his son now sharing the control of the Bhutto's political machine until he becomes old enough to run in the national elections, the intended transition is towards the myopic promulgation of the PPP's power.

As it stands today Pakistan is in a state of dangerous political stasis. The manoeuvres made by the Zardari Presidency over the past five years have pushed Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N into a reactive position. The Military has been unusually calm in the face of attempts to demote it to the junior partner even though it has not allowed such a scenario to manifest. The whirlwind that was Dr. Tahir ul-Qadiri could well have been the Military's way of reminding the politicians of its ability to play at their game.

A way out of this political stasis is critical to Pakistan's ability to move forward in the next five years. In order for this to happen space must be created and the relative balance between the political players that has been exacerbated must be restored. In order to facilitate this balance a new political discourse has to replace the existing one. This discourse has to accept, as opposed to attempting to ignore, the major political players in the country and their role in the overall health of the state.

The now ossified political parties, the PPP and the PML-N, will remain extremely potent local forces; the PPP in Sindh and the PML-N in Punjab. The destructive nature of their competition and the overall corruption that this competition promulgates must be addressed. By keeping these parties localised and controlling the extent to which this localised competition encroaches onto the national stage, space can be created for a more unified political arena in which the most pressing economic and political issues can be addressed.

The current political narrative that pits a democratic political class against a tyrannical Military must be replaced with the acceptance of the Military's stabilising role in the politics of the country. This can allow the Military to focus outwards as is its traditional mandate and to ensure that the regional and international interests of Pakistan are maintained. The current discourse allows for foreign influence to exploit the conflict between national players that need to be united in the face of incredible geo-political pressure.

In order for this balance to be established leadership from outside the three major political players is needed. That is, leadership from outside of the Military, PPP and PML-N is needed to act as the mediator. Imran Khan is perfectly suited for this task as he represents a tested new force on the Pakistani political stage.

The establishment of this internal political balance is a monumental task. It entails the rolling back of Zardari's encroachment of PPP interests into the national state structures. Being a parliamentary system, the Prime Minister will be selected by the National Assembly whose base consists of the provinces. This means that Imran Khan's party will have to sweep the elections and elbow enough room from the locally-strong PPP and PML-N. Once in power he would have to deal with a PPP-dominated senate until 2015.

Despite the great hurdles that remain to be traversed, bringing change to Pakistan is not impossible. One can only pray that Imran Khan can muster the strength and intellect to reach his goals and to surround himself with the right advisors once he begins the great task of leading Pakistan out of the current state of petty politics. In Islam political legitimacy comes from the protection of the poor, the widow and the orphan. If Mr. Khan can achieve his promise of improving the lives of the poorest of the country, without being distracted from the games of the wealthiest, Pakistan will be behind him.



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