Volume 5, No. 3, March 2023
Editor: Rashed Rahman
At long last, after 22 years of trying to win with the help of the military establishment, when Imran Khan and his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI), were brought to power through the rigged 2018 elections by that same establishment, little did he or his mentors know what lay ahead. Trapped in their rhetoric of corruption being if not the only, certainly the main issue in Pakistan, their transition to governance has been a rocky road.
First and foremost, the PTI government’s handling of the economy has wrought such pain on the masses that any and all illusions of their supporters that all the country needed was an honest person at the helm and the rest would follow to a brighter future have been rudely shattered. Such simplistic notions were devoid of any understanding of the nature of endemic corruption that afflicts our state and society from top to bottom. ‘Honesty’ too cannot and should not be confined to merely financial corruption but must also take account of the character traits of the incumbent. In his personal life, Imran Khan fails that test.
The corruption narrative provided the cover and the tool for targeting the leadership of the two main opposition parties, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). The track record of both leaderships provides much room for such charges. However, when the military regime of former Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and president Pervez Musharraf’s-created National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was unleashed, its almost exclusive focus on the opposition leadership destroyed whatever little credibility NAB had left. Musharraf created this last (and still extant) version of an accountability institution to target his main opponents, the PML-N and the PPP. Two successive civilian elected governments of the PPP and PML-N failed to replace this openly partisan accountability watchdog with a system of non-political and objective accountability against all forms of corruption, whether carried out by civilians or the military.
Our history of military dictatorships, which have been in power for 43 of the 72 years of our existence as an independent state, betrays enormous kickbacks and corruption on weapons purchase deals and military aid running into millions of dollars. Accountability of the military, a few exceptions notwithstanding, has been conspicuous by its absence. The unusual phenomenon of a treason case against Musharraf for imposing an emergency and suspending the Constitution in 2007 when his attempt to get rid of a recalcitrant Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry badly backfired, evoking a lawyers movement for his restoration, has still to bring the military dictator to justice since he ‘escaped’ to Dubai in 2016 with the help of his mother institution. Incidentally, such is our mixed bag of ‘heroes’, Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was part of the Supreme Court (SC) that not only validated Musharraf’s coup in 1999 but also gave him carte blanche to amend the Constitution without even being asked to do so!
Civilians’ corruption is by no means confined to the leaderships of the two main opposition parties or the bureaucrats allegedly in cahoots with them. It permeates our system from the highest to the lowest tiers of governance. To root out this affliction, at whose hands no one suffers more than the ordinary citizen, much more will be required than what now appears to be a politically-motivated partisan witch-hunt.
The fiasco of current COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa betrays the sheer incompetence of the PTI government. The issue being dragged into public debate and finally adjudicated by the SC in a ‘restrained’ manner has proved deeply embarrassing to the military and its chief. Rumour has it that all those who played a role in this debacle have received an earful. Now we await the government’s moves to legislate the parameters as per the SC’s verdict of an extension to General Bajwa beyond the six months provisionally granted by the court and all branches of the military commanders for future reference. It is not yet clear how the government will manage to get such legislation passed by the Senate where, unlike its thin majority in the National Assembly, it does not have a majority. Unless the opposition is ‘whipped’ into line by those most interested in leaving this bad taste in the mouth behind, another round of government-opposition confrontation looms.
Not all is bad news and gloom and doom though. The Students March has shaken the powers-that-be to their bootstraps. Charges of sedition have been laid against six of the organisers, one student leader has been arrested and charged, and similar charges have been laid against 300 unnamed student participants in the countrywide mobilisation of the young, 50 years after the student uprising of 1968-69 and 35 years after the banning of student unions in 1984. And what does the ‘sedition’ of the students (including, heart warmingly, women students) amount to? Asking for a revival of student unions, allocating more funds to education, lowering fees, a progressive system that favours the poor and oppressed in particular and the people in general, etc? Are these not legal, just demands? What is so ‘subversive’ about them? The mind fairly boggles at the insecurity, paranoia and yes, stupidity of the establishment. The sedition charges have proved deeply embarrassing to the PTI government, as Imran Khan, Federal Minister Fawad Chaudhry and Punjab Governor Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar all came out in support of the protesting students. Now they are stuck with trying to undo the cases emanating from a dark corner.
The students have come out in Pakistan at a time when, to quote Chairman Mao Tse Tung: “There is great disorder under the heavens and the situation is excellent.” The triumphal neo-liberal paradigm that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 lost its lustre, perhaps irretrievably, during the 2007-08 global financial crisis. The rescue of a tottering global capitalism followed the same lines as in periods of boom. The rich were compensated and rehabilitated, the rest left to fend for themselves. That pattern continues since. This is not an aberration but the inherent logic of the laws of motion of capitalism. Against this iniquitous, exploitative system, people are out in protest in many parts of the world. The law of unequal development means some countries have reached the point of an open people’s revolt, others are travelling on that path. Neo-liberalism is under siege. But it must be noted that whereas globalised capitalism allows the rich elite of all countries, developed and developing, to support each other against the people’s wave, it is the national struggles of disparate countries that are groping their way through shared experience towards a new international of solidarity and support amongst all the oppressed all over the world.