A New Old Order

Indian Express, October 17, 2007

Pakistan is a land of many incongruities. The military, and to a lesser extent the civil bureaucracy, wield power but lack foresight and public support. The politicians who enjoy popular backing do not always have power, which limits their experience in governance. Intellectuals and professionals articulate a vision for their country but lack the stamina for politics.

The result is constant experimentation with the system and form of government instead of moving forward on the basis of a clearly defined constitutional pattern. After eight years of military rule that began with promises of “setting things right once and for all,” Pakistan is once again at a crossroads.

Recently, General Pervez Musharraf joined opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in agreeing to an arrangement that could help bridge the traditional divide between the military-dominated establishment and populist politicians. But the B-grade politicians who have benefited from becoming the civilian face of military rule are already screaming at the top of their lungs to preempt a break from past precedent.

Professionals, such as banker Shaukat Aziz, who have ended up in positions that should normally go to elected politicians are also uneasy about a new order that could result in their relinquishing high office.

Then there are the analysts and commentators who insist on drawing the wrong conclusions from the tragedy of Pakistan’s fourth military regime. Some of them are now openly calling for another military intervention to complete what, in their view, could not be completed by generals Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia ul Haq and Pervez Musharraf.

On the other extreme are commentators cum revolutionaries, who want nothing short of a revolutionary transformation, but without the military and compromising politicians.

Much scorn has been heaped by all categories of critics on the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) and the possibility of withdrawal of corruption charges against Bhutto. There is no recognition of the futility of the cases at this stage when none of them has been proven after a lapse of eleven years since their initiation. And some of the pundits even don’t get their facts straight.

An elderly sage devoted a column to the Swiss case against Bhutto and her husband Asif Zardari. He wrote, “Vincent Fournier, one of the three judges, has confirmed his office is about to pass on the case to the prosecutor” and then went on to say, “crystal clear, is it not? The couple stand convicted of corruption.” But there was no explanation of what is it that needs to be sent to the prosecutor if Bhutto and Zardari are convicted of corruption? After all, “approved for prosecution” is not the same thing as “conviction.”

If the case had been as open and shut or “crystal clear” as is claimed, it should not still be in the “is there sufficient basis to prosecute?” stage.
Instead of demanding a return to the drawing board to carve out a new grand plan for Pakistan’s future, let the key actors on Pakistan’s stage recognise their limitations and define their roles. The army must go back to the barracks. The civil servants must execute policy that is framed by elected politicians with inputs from intellectuals and professionals.

And thinking Pakistanis must line up with existing political parties and to try and strengthen Pakistan’s political system.