Perspectives on Pakistan
Guest contribution-Will Pakistan go the Middle East way?
(The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The writer is Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the UK)
WILL PAKISTAN GO THE MIDDLE EAST WAY?
By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
Some of our analysts are drawing a parallel between the ongoing wave for democracy across the Middle East and hoping that Pakistan might follow suit. In fact they are talking of an impending revolution in Pakistan as well.
In doing so, these doomsayers conveniently ignore differences between the political culture of Pakistan and the Middle East. They forget about the long struggle waged by our political forces against military dictators for decades which was missing in the Middle East. Similarly, the unprecedented role of the media and civil society in helping shape political life in Pakistan has not been taken into account.
Without being judgmental in drawing comparisons, we can safely say that today’s Pakistan is way ahead in political development than say during the past one decade or even the political culture which we followed during the nineties.
First, there is a visibly steeled resolve amongst the major political parties to keep the armed forces away from politics. This is why, despite noisy opposition, these parties have been resolving their disputes through dialogue and consensus with the objective of consolidating national reconciliation. The unanimous adoptions of the 18th and 19th Amendments to the constitution, and the NFC (National Finance Commission) Awards are examples of this maturity. This phenomenon was missing in the nineties.
Second, there is a consensus to tackle the scourge of terrorism and extremism with an iron hand. This unanimity was missing during General Musharraf’s time.
Third, all political parties agree that the rising cost of living, growing unemployment and law and order are problems which should be tackled by the government on a top priority basis. At the same time the major political parties also agree that priorities set by the government are correct and that it will take time to address the socio-economic problems. No magic wand can do away with the problems of monstrous proportions inherited from the past decade of misrule and economic mismanagement. However, through collective wisdom, primarily through the parliament, all major issues could be resolved to the satisfaction of the people.
Fourth, the government’s external policies enjoy broader consensus whether it concerns relations with neighbours or with big powers. This consensus was missing during the dictatorial regimes of General Zia and General Musharraf although both dictators became darlings of the West due to the Afghanistan crisis. While these dictators sought external allies to keep themselves alive politically, democratically elected governments do not need external crutches to acquire legitimacy.
Patience should be the name of the game if political stability is to be achieved across the board. In politics stability comes through institutions. Unfortunately, during the six decades of our independent existence there have been so many extra-constitutional interventions – Praetorian-instigated and backed by the civil and judicial bureaucracy – that the democratic and liberal sense of direction chosen for us by our founding fathers was waylaid.
What is regrettable is that despite there being extra-constitutional odds against them, our political parties have been most of the time at daggers drawn. Many among them have been in cahoots with Praetorian powers and settled for a rent-a-politician role in order to sustain their existence as a second fiddle in national affairs. They lacked wisdom to bring about stability in the country and play their rightful role in national life. Since our political institutions are still fragile and political workers are learning the ropes we easily get swayed by half-baked analyses, especially on the electronic media.
Those who talk about revolution are either naïve about the term or aim to mesmerise their audiences. We all know that revolutions in the 20th Century failed because of lack of support from the masses. Whether theocratic or secular, such revolutions tend to muzzle dissent and freedom of choice. And the brains behind such revolutions became the first victims of it. This is what we witnessed in the French revolution, and in the former Soviet Union.
What we need is evolution which may be slow but provides stability to the political system and inculcates a sense of belonging in the wider sections of the society. Fortunately, Pakistani society is blessed with all those ingredients which are necessary for a durable evolutionary process. We have an independent judiciary, a ferociously free media and a vibrant civil society – all kept together by a sovereign Parliament. Our political parties are gaining maturity with a view to sustaining the present political order for stability and progress in the country. So let us build on the evolutionary spirit and make Pakistan a stable, moderate and progressive country.