Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Politicians vs. Military Dictators

Academics For Freedom
Much of the week since the imposition of martial law has been dedicated to a voicing of outrage and protest from almost all quarters. However, just as many voices have been heard pointing out that while they are unhappy with what Musharraf has done, they are not ready to accept the politicians. And based on this they go so far as to express their lack of desire to see a return to democracy in Pakistan because it promises to bring politicians back to the helm. This simple logic has had many middle and upper-middle class Pakistanis refrain from an outright condemnation of Musharraf for what he has gone and done.

It isn’t entirely surprising that people in Pakistan should be questioning the role and the utility of politicians in the governance process. Their record has been sullied, to say the least, for except for Bhutto Senior’s 7 years, they have presided over Pakistan during its most unstable times – 1947-58 and 1988-99. Beyond the memory of these ineffective periods of rule, however, this argument against politicians is entirely superficial, stands on extremely shaky ground, and is the trademark of those who find thinking an extremely arduous and unnecessary task. Here’s why.

First, I would be more than willing to give this argument some tiny measure of credit, were it not for the answer to some simple questions: who does Musharraf have with him? Who is sitting in his puppet Parliament? Who forms the crux of his support in the PML-Q? The simple answer – politicians. If Musharraf were governing alone, as a one-man legislature (not to say he does not come dangerously close to looking like that at most times, given that so much of the Parliament’s work has happened through ordinances in the last 8 years), one may be able to adopt a “general vs. politician” stance. But given that he entrenched himself and his authority through the creation of a “king’s party”, the PML-Q (made up of politicians), and is the President with a Prime Minister and a full Parliament, it is entirely unintelligent to argue that we are at present living without politicians. Therefore, if your worry, at any level, regards what it would mean to have to deal with politicians once again should elections be held or a democratic process initiated, you shouldn’t be too worried because you have been dealing with them since the 2002 election. In fact, you have been dealing with the worst of them – a type of politician who saw it only right to change political parties to maintain personal power, and who saw no issues in selling his/her soul to the devil for a shot at a good ministerial position. Current politicians of the PML-Q abandoned their parties and their principles by the dozens and were in turn rewarded by Musharraf, our one great hope for the cleaning up of politics in this country, through the creation of what is apparently the largest cabinet in the world. It makes sense. If there are so many politicians cutting deals, you might as well have as many ministerial positions as possible to use as awards. So if it’s politicians you are worried about, they have been with us, alive and thriving, for the last 5 years.

Second, and as Musharraf has obviously realised, what would you do without politicians? It is entirely easy to dismiss politicians as an unnecessary complication in the process of governance. But really, how does governance happen without them? By saying that we are unwilling to return to the era of politicians, are we saying that we have in mind a form of governance that does not require the popular, political mandate, that has no need for a parliament (for parliament is, by definition, made up of politicians), and whose entire legislative process (for the politically naive, the process of coming up with laws for the country) is based around one man? We might as well go on then to argue that we should introduce to the world an alternate governance process in which each new Chief of Army Staff automatically becomes the legislature until death do us part. We should also clarify that we feel no real reason to ever have to waste time in ascertaining popular will, and that we have no particular need for being counted in the process of governing a country. We might as well argue for the restoration of a monarchy, or better still, a much closer memory, for a return to colonial rule, under which no one had to bother with trying to determine the difference between a citizen and a subject. This isn’t a far-fetched notion in any sense of the word, for as long as one talks of independence, a constitution and a Parliament, one has to talk of politicians.

This brings us to the third point. Our major worry about politicians is essentially with respect to two particular politicians – Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. Therefore, our vision of governance in Pakistan is that of a boxing ring, in one corner of which stands Musharraf, and in the other stand Bhutto and Sharif, sometimes holding hands, at other times pushing each other around, and at yet others simply tossing each other over the ropes. Our job as spectators is to choose one side over the other, without ever bothering with the dimensions and construction of the ring, or even with the rules of the game. Our worry is simply the personalities and not the processes that define the parameters of the game. That is why we are able to say which personality/politician/ruler we prefer over another, without sparing a minute to place those people within any framework defined by an ideology, or even a larger process.

The point is simple. If Bhutto or Sharif come to power within a system that has changed little since the last time they were in power, our condemnation for that system need be only slightly less severe than it is for martial law. This is because the system would still be defined by instability, by the need of politicians to dance to the tunes of the army, and by imperatives that require that everyone except the voting populace be kept happy at all costs. Under such a system, our greatest worry would continue to be the army and its complete control over our lives. This debate, therefore, has little to do with personalities or with whether we prefer politicians over military rulers, and has everything to do with the process and form of governance we want to live under as independent, self-respecting citizens of Pakistan.


Anonymous said...

A very thoughtful article. Actually I myself was also thinking on such lines the other day but the nice way you put it in words is commendable. One thing that we keep forgetting is that if you follow the TRUE Islamic teachings than such problems will never come up. Its a long debate and yes I fully agree with you that the problem is much more deep rooted than these politicians or the army or the judicary. Its the people of Pakistan. I would maybe add more to these comments in some other post of yours. One thing Islam professes all of its believers is to fight against "injustice". The better definition of "injustice" can be found in the Quran rather than the 1973 Constitution.

Ahmed said...

Practically speaking, I think you are referring to 58 2 (b). But what if we remove it, and Musharraf and the army are happy with its removal, then would you accept Benazir or Nawaz Sharif???

Our system of governence is very good and workable. The fact is in sixty year of our history we've havent good leaders not being allowed to come up at the helm. A simple example is IK, who I think has the potential to become ZA Bhutto and even more. But don't you see that, Bhutto even was developed under a Military regime. He was the foreign minister of Ayub's regime for at least five years. Had IK joined Musharraf in 2000, today he might be more relevant and popular not just in the public but in the circle of power that lie in the miliary and civil establishment.

So should IK, if in future strike a deal with the army? Well not right now, it would be a political suicide. But he should have when he was asked in 2000. Hmmm, well he chose a different path, a more noble one to say the least!

asma said...

I think it is unfair to expect that the politicians should deliver all the goods needed to bring change, a new change. Once you and I and our elders duly comply with our civic duties,by paying due respect to law which exists but not practised. A good stopping at red lights even at 12a.m. That'd be a good start. The middle and upper-middle class do not hesitate to break a law. A poor man is afraid to do the same! My message is that we all need to change ourselves to change the system rather than depend on others to bring a change.

Anonymous said...

The whole thing boils down to one thing to all of you reading this article:

Are you ready to sacrifice your LIFE to put Pakistan on the right track?

If the majority of you are not ready, then I think Pakistan is the most unfortunate nation on this earth with the majority not ready to bring a change.

Ahmed said...

Its said in the Koran and also said somewhere else by some noted western intellectual. I don't know how it actually goes. But the crux is that until the people are ready to change their conditions for better, God is not willing to change their conditions also.

And that the kind of leadership a nation gets is determined by the character(actions and intentions) of the public in general.

Uzair said...

the point: "If Bhutto or Sharif come to power within a system that has changed little since the last time they were in power, our condemnation for that system need be only slightly less severe than it is for martial law. This is because the system would still be defined by instability, by the need of politicians to dance to the tunes of the army, and by imperatives that require that everyone except the voting populace be kept happy at all costs."

According to your point a political leader without the need to dance to the tune of the army would be more capable than otherwise.

I would have to agree with you that the rest is all more or less the same. However, if you talk about personalities...out of Nawaz, Bhutto, Imran Khan, Musharaf...I think only Musharaf at the moment is fully capable of understanding and acting upon the current situation of Pakistan for the better. Although Imran is a much reliable bet, it will take him atleast a good 5 years to learn the ropes.

As far as Injustice goes, the populace has been, does and will continue to fend for itself for the coming years...I don't believe our system will come to their rescue, not in my lifetime but I would say that in no other rule since 1999 has our country been able to voice their concerns as audibly as they are doing it now.

So I am sorry to disappoint you but I am going to stay in Musharaf's favor.

Yawar said...

uzair, you missed the point of the article completely. we are not advocating for musharraf to leave, we want what musharraf represents to be banished from our society. that means BB and NS as well, because they are nothing but corrupt. the inner circle of these two former prime robbers is the same as musharraf's. hence, we believe in an independent judiciary. you have no idea but living abroad shows people that being safe is being in a place where there is justice. and that means an independent judiciary. musharraf has done a coup against the supreme court and Inshallah that shall be his demise.

Babbar said...

Your argument about whether the need of the hour is a 'personality' or 'political system', where you insist on focusing on the political system coming to our rescue, is a much flouted debate when the answer lends support to politicians and personalities. I personally think this is like the 'chicken or the egg' argument.

My opinion, which can be more at fault than someone who seems to be as well versed in political philosophy as you, is that we as a nation lack the right form of leadership. A mere political system may only flourish in congenial circumstances. Democracy, without a strong leadership is like a man digging his own grave. Factoring in the present condition of the state a democratic system can only prove to fail like it has so often in the past. With an army as strong as the one defending our borders, we require the sort of personality which leads us from the hilt. A personality so strong and secure in its existence that not only does it put the army back in the barracks but voluntarily submits even himself to the authority of the judiciary.

Leaders of such a nature do not come in small and simple packages. They are born, built and conditioned in an environment much different from the one our previous political leaders have rigoured through. Needless to say, even if you do find the sort of rarity defined above he/she will not be equipped with the sole tool required to ensure success in a power struggle. The sort of leadership that we dream of presently can only become a reality and sitting at the helm of affairs, following the upcoming elections, with popular support.

The options left for me are simple. I can either, remain quiet and go with the present system, or I can be out on the streets at war. Do not mistake this war as one against terrorism or the army itself. It is but a war much more difficult to wage; a war with ourselves. A war of conscience, where I stick to what I believe is right till the very end. We as a nation need to realise and it is our duty, if we decide to take this fight to the streets, to make others realise. We as students need to choose sides and spread what ever message it is that we truly believe in.

The way forward I believe is not just through demonstrations outside government offices or TV cameras. We need to spread word to the masses. To people who matter when it comes to elections. To people who, when push comes to shove, fold and buckle under pressure. Yes the sacrifices given recently by lawyers, students, human rights activists and media is more than commendable. But the need of the hour is to choose your side of the fence and really start rallying support for your political leader. The election is an impending reality. The government is going to change. But have you decided who you want to be taking charge of your affairs for the next 4 years? This emergency is temporary. We will have a change in leadership. Do we want a rerun of the post Zia era? Are BB, Nawaz, Altaf, Qazi or Maulana the only worthy contenders? Your silence and inactivity only buffers the support they already have.

I have chosen my leader. I honestly believe Imran Khan is the last hope that Pakistan has of rising above and out of this mess we are in. Have you chosen yours!!

Anonymous said...

Watch what hussain haqqani from Boston unis about the problem with pakistan....he doesnt criticize the consititution or the system, but the mindset of the people......

Once a journalist asked Ayub khan what are the 2 things u despise the most, he said " bakrian(goats) and sahafis (journalists)" yeh tu mindset hay hamari. And I am sorry to say in the past 50 years we havent changed much....We need to get rid of people like Ayub. And bring people like IK.

"Socialistic Idealism must prevail over the Capitalistic Pragmatism of corruption and evil! BB and Nawaz should go! We need new faces!"

Anonymous said...

Hussain Haqqani's interview comes on on the program "Insight with Javed Malik" of 14 November 2007.

Anonymous said...

A thought provoking article. Needs to be read by the international media instead of asserting Benazir to be our ultimate savior.

Anonymous said...

It is extremely immature and totally out of order to call people who hold a different opinion from you incapable of thought. That is not such a swell persuasion technique. Endears you to no one. Learn to cut the derogatory comments...