Volume 5, No. 9, September 2023
Editor: Rashed Rahman
Ab sadiyon ke iqrar-e-ita’at ko badalne
Lazim hai ke inkaar ka farman koi utare
– Faiz Ahmad Faiz
Wa-ye Nakaami! Mata’-e-Karawaan jaata raha
Karawaan ke dil se ehsaas-e-ziyan jata raha
– Allama Iqbal
Chalta hoon thorhi door har aik tez rao ke saath
Pahchanta nahin hoon abhi rahbar ko main
– Mirza Ghalib
Bherhyon ki hukumat bherh bakriyon ki qaum se janam leti hai
(A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves)
– Edward R. Murrow
I have written several articles which are more explicit and frank than this one. But for reasons most readers will understand, newspapers are far less ready to publish such articles today. However, a time comes in the history of a country and the life of a citizen when plain truths need to be plainly spoken. Not everyone may agree with what is seen as a plain truth. But to couch what is considered necessary to say in euphemistic, indirect and muted language is to say nothing at all. That would be unforgivably remiss given our dire present situation.
Professor Susan Rosenthal of Columbia University observes: “Anger does not need to be managed. The injustice that provokes it is the problem. Anger protects social connections by protesting inequality and unfairness.” So, what is the situation in Pakistan that provokes citizen anger and which needs to be made effective in political and social movements?
Tens of millions of Pakistanis, at the very least, know their country is threatened from within and feel completely helpless. Rapacious ruling elites wage relentless class war against the people. The outcome will determine whether or not Pakistan survives. Actions and inactions speak louder than words. They make clear the leadership, by and large, couldn’t care less. The rest of us live easily or uneasily with our shame and hopelessness. We shall deserve our fate if our anger remains confined to individual expression without any socially organized empowerment.
Two human tragedies recently gripped the country. One, the loss of two precious lives from a renowned and respected Pakistani business family. The other, the loss of almost 400 equally precious lives of impoverished, insecure and disadvantaged Pakistanis off the coast of Greece. Staggeringly indifferent governance in Pakistan was responsible. Two Pakistanis paid half a million dollars for their tickets to the bottom of the sea. Four hundred Pakistanis collectively paid an estimated three to four million dollars for a chance to get a life denied them at home. The latter were cheated from the day they were born – and not by the Greeks.
If the richest 1,000 Pakistanis spent their surplus wealth on reducing poverty, paying their taxes in full, investing in education and health, etc., Pakistan need not beg the IMF for debt-trapping bailouts. The rehabilitation of flood victims could easily be done. Pakistanis, in their hundreds if not thousands, need not drown abroad each year. But that is not the way the cookie crumbles in Pakistan.
The Pakistani state provides ‘socialism’ (state support) for the elite and ‘the market’ (minimal support) for the poor. Pakistan has one of the lowest per capita incomes, richest rulers and representatives, worst social and inequality indices, most corrupt leaders, distorted budgetary priorities, poorest performance records on Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals, etc. Pakistan is also among the least prepared of the most climate vulnerable countries because its elites and ‘leaders’ do not plan to share the people’s fate – for as long as possible.
The harm such leaders do to the people often exceeds that of an external enemy. They see getting elected as winning the lottery, not as a sacred responsibility to serve the people. To think otherwise is seen by them as ‘Kufran-e-Ne’mat’!
Quaid-e-Azam told the military at Quetta Staff College: “You do not make national policy, it is we the civilians who do that.” A decade later, democracy was expunged from the politics of Pakistan. This outrage was validated by the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan. Since then democracy, reform and development have been largely denied the people of Pakistan.
A political leadership that uses the judiciary as a political tool is a political culprit. As of now, the SC appears unable to prevent civilians from being dragged before non-civilian courts in violation of the constitutional right of all citizens to a fair trial. As a result, instead of a democratic welfare state, Pakistan has become a national security and plutocratic (rule of the rich) state. This has enabled its largely uneducated, corrupt and power hungry leaders to make Pakistan their playground as well as a kleptocracy in democratic disguise.
Pakistan’s parvenu elite culture has also bred a comprehensive lack of seriousness, which inhibits the collective ability to think rationally and long-term – a prerequisite for sustained success in domestic and foreign policy. Unsurprisingly, no lessons were learned as a result of unconstitutional and irresponsible decisions leading to the national catastrophes and humiliations of Dhaka, Kargil and Abbottabad.
Moreover, sufficient resources for socio-economic development including the rule of law, human rights protections, and the promotion of scientific education, discourse and innovation are deliberately denied in a ‘non-serious’ national security state.
Senior bureaucrats, industrial tycoons, feudal landlords, religious leaders, public intellectuals, etc., having no common longer-term perspective, readily become accomplices within such a power and political structure. The ‘establishment’ ideology of a permanent national security state inevitably inculcates a contempt for civilians. An ‘apparatchik’ intelligentsia, including the media, are co-opted against their own people to mouth inane and dissembling national narratives.
The civil-military divide in Pakistan is in many ways a continuation of colonialism with a change of colour. It caricatures democracy and civilian supremacy. A reappraisal of this state of affairs may be difficult for a ‘soft society’ but it is an urgent existential and patriotic imperative for Pakistan. The assumption that praetorian political dominance is a reality is correct, but it is also fatal for the country. Something will have to give: either Pakistan, or its ruling elite.
Many see Imran Khan as essentially fascist, egoistic, divisive, unprincipled, corrupt and dangerous. The co-opted middle class ‘commentariat’ and establishment intelligentsia insist – with more than a grain of truth – that he was “a terrible prime minister”. However, he has a cult following among the young, the poor, ladies of all ages, conservatives, most of the Pashtun, the Pakistani diaspora, etc. If a fair election is held he will win, possibly by a landslide.
Since it is alleged he cannot provide good governance his opponents, who in practice have despised the very idea of good governance, are preferred. The people are considered irrelevant. The current dysfunctional political order is all we are allowed to have. The dreams, prayers and hopes of the poor and the weak are regarded as promises for the next world, not for this. If this is accepted with equanimity Pakistan’s fate is sealed.
So, let us assume the worst about Imran Khan. What is the best way to politically outmanoeuvre him? By contriving to eliminate him? By subverting parliament and the judiciary? By media control and censorship? By abductions, disappearances, intimidation – allegedly even against women? By making Pakistan a Greater Punjab without giving any voice even to the people of Punjab? By alienating the people of the minority provinces? By provoking the international human rights community? By providing substance to India’s propaganda against Pakistan? By forcing China to wonder whether Pakistan is an asset or a liability? By confirming the US assessment of Pakistan as a failed state without options? By making Pakistan a sick joke?
What is to be done? The answers are available. They are not rocket science. The appropriate priorities are known. Expert knowledge is accessible. What is lacking is decent leadership. Governance as class warfare against the people has to change. Otherwise, mass suffering and anger will sooner or later ensure a bloody justice.
Parliaments in Pakistan represent the interests of the elites. Their composition ensures, and their record demonstrates, they do not discharge their constitutional obligations to the people. The Constitution is supposed to be interpreted by the judiciary in accordance with its basic principles and structure. Parliament is not supposed to make the Constitution its political plaything nor wage power struggles with the judiciary. The executive is supposed to administer policies that are endorsed by the electorate and legislated by parliament in conformity with the Constitution as interpreted by the judiciary. All this needs to be an interactive and positive-sum process unlike the sterile zero-sum process of today.
If Imran Khan misruled for four years, and by and large he did, his opponents have collectively and separately misruled for over 70 years. If he misrules again he will politically finish himself. But if he is denied an opportunity to electorally and politically redeem himself, the ensuing chaos could finish the country.
At his age and stage Imran Khan can at best be a transitional leader. Accordingly, he should listen, learn, introspect, choose his colleagues and ‘stalwarts’ with greater discrimination and judgment, and do more to build a viable legacy. If he cannot do this, he should not pretend he can.Choosing to be the junior partner in a power-political diarchy was not just an act of suicidal stupidity, it was an act of national betrayal. He should make it abundantly and explicitly clear he will never repeat this blunder. He has yet to do this.
Personally, as with all of us, his near and dear ones are legitimately a priority with him. But politically, his country must have absolute and unrelenting priority over any and every personal preference and consideration. Other than the Quaid, no mainstream leader of Pakistan, including Imran Khan, has come close to meeting this transcending moral imperative.
Given these realities, what should be the political verdict on Imran Khan? As mentioned, there are genuine concerns and justified reservations about him. Pervez Hoodbhoy’s recent book (Pakistan: Origins, Identity and Future, Folio Books, pages 524-535) provides arguments for them. Imran Khan owns up to some of these shortcomings that ruined his first innings as Prime Minister, but not all of them. If he avoids a frank mea culpa he will not make a credible case for a second innings. He will be seen by too many educated and alienated Pakistanis as incorrigible. He will not get the ‘working majority’ (60 percent for the PTI) he needs to serve the people. And even if he does he will not be able to transform Pakistan.
Needless to say, none of his major political opponents have demonstrated even a semblance of what it takes to serve, leave alone transform, Pakistan. The ordinary Pakistani knows this. That is why Imran’s opponents are desperate to be rid of him before facing a general election.
In recent interviews Imran Khan has answered widely shared criticisms of his performance candidly and credibly. But he is reticent about some personal and sensitive issues that many insist are of public concern. He has to do more to persuade those bitterly disappointed with his first innings that if has a second innings he will provide much better governance.
Many of Imran Khan’s critics, however, vehemently insist on permanently writing him off. They allege he has ambition but no principles. Of course,he vehemently rejects such allegations. Whatever one’s view, the final choice must be that of the people. To deny them their choice is to betray the country. It implicitly internalises the end of Pakistan.
As far as the cypher case is concerned, my entire experience tells me the US denial is false and Imran Khan’s version is credible. Much the same for March 9.
Our tragedy is that our governing and ruling elites and their middle class lackeys are largely bereft of any transcending moral imperative vis-à-vis Pakistan. Our hope is the people will never accept this state of affairs. Our duty is to be faithful to the people. Our modus operandi must assume, despite the reservations we justifiably have, that no political or security institution chooses to harm the country. Otherwise, we shall need a revolution.
Finally, should we speak truth to power? Sure, but power already knows the truth and is very pleased with it. We must, instead, speak truth to each other, organise, mobilise, communicate and agitate so that illegitimate power is peacefully and progressively overcome by the power of the people. Only then can the prevailing truth be changed to serve the people in double quick time to avert impending doomsday scenarios. Only then can we be true to Quaid-e-Azam and Pakistan.
However, passive middle class cynics posing as realists and rationalists are a problem that needs to be addressed in order to develop momentum for transforming movements. This will require courage, dedication and faith of the highest order. Pakistan, our only home, deserves the best from us. Pakistan expects Pakistanis to be citizens, not abject victims.
Only an array of “leftist” movements in support of redistributional justice, market efficiency, people-friendly governance, etc. can bring this about. Hence the indifference of our current wayward elites and their opportunistic middle class intelligentsia. A whole lifetime of elevating struggle beckons for the youth of Pakistan.
The writer is a retired Ambassador.