Let the Best Rule

Gulf News October 17, 2007

Pakistan is a land of many incongruities. In most modern nations, politicians wield power; the military and civil service execute policies and experts help set the nation’s priorities. In

Pakistan, 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, including those who have attained success abroad, 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.

Pakistan has been at a similar point several times in its short history of 60 years.

One would think that by now the military and civilian bureaucracy would have learnt the lesson that their limited administrative skills are not a substitute for the politicians’ ability to garner popular support.

The politicians, too, should have figured out that compromise and working within established parameters is better than constantly playing a zero-sum game.

The professionals and intellectuals should know that instead of concocting new schemes for a fresh start what Pakistan needs is to tread along a well worn path long enough for everyone to know and obey the rules of that road.

And everyone should have understood by now that if the US is to be Pakistan’s provider and protector of last resort then there should be some acceptance of Americans expressing concerns about Pakistan’s overall direction. But the rhetoric that passes off for discourse in Pakistan is still proceeding as if nothing has been learnt from history.

Recently, President 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.

Wrong conclusions

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 Ayoub Khan, Yahya Khan, Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf.

On the other extreme are commentators cum revolutionaries who want nothing short of a revolutionary transformation, without the military and without compromised 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 11 years since their initiation. And some of the pundits even don’t get their facts straight.

If the Bhutto-Zardari case had been as open and shut or “crystal clear” as is claimed it should not have taken 11 years to 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.

Instead of waiting, and calling, for a new military saviour or hoping unrealistically that a new political leadership will be born in time for the forthcoming election, thinking Pakistanis must line up with existing political parties and try to strengthen Pakistan’s political system.