This series will help readers develop a deep memory and understand the emerging gap between national priorities and party/self-interests. Should national priorities outweigh political expediencies is a question that shall repeatedly emerge in the run up to 2018 elections. As election campaigns get into gear, it will be a national tragedy if the same follies are repeated. Who, but the ECP is capable of checking this rot is most worrisome?
Pre 2013, two most crucial issues were economy and US withdrawal from Afghanistan. These should have been the major determinants of the state’s future power structure as they affected the quality of life and Pakistan’s future. Voters had to exercise between a self-reliant and proud Pakistan; or, a pliable, dependent and discredited country of thugs and thieves? Had the PMLN government followed these priorities, the immediate and long term effects on Pakistan and its people would have been enduring and sustainable.
No attention was paid to restructuring Pakistan’s national power giving the impression that the mandate was weakening Pakistan. Pakistan sunk deeper into an international and domestic debt trap, manufacturing sector recorded negative growth, agriculture was neglected and energy sector remained hostage to PSO. Efforts at water management were zero. Money was sunk into high publicity infrastructure that did not benefit public at large. The pipe-dream of CPEC was blown out of proportion, sometimes becoming an embarrassment for China.
It was assessed that US policies would cast an overhang on Elections 2013. Most likely a continuation of an NRO discussed in 2008 would emerge. Five years down the lane, government policies reflected its franchised nature and inability to strengthen national interests.
In 2013 Election, the overhang of US policy in the region was significant and NRO2 was negotiated on these lines. The Pakistani establishment was in an appeasement mode while political parties in quest for power, ignored that President Obama was back with a new team. Now the establishment is in a reconstruction mode and US influence has waned.
The new team of President Obama meant tough business. Appointment of the old CIA veteran John Brennan as head of CIA was a reward for planning of Abbottabad Raid, handling of the Arab Springs, targeted killings in Yemen, enhanced and crueler interrogation techniques and the Salala Punishment. It was an explicit message about the levels of ruthlessness and violence USA could pursue for its objectives in the region.
PMLN rather than address such issues exacerbated the unnecessary Civil-Military divide and lately open threats to the military. Though law enforcement agencies showed remarkable success against TTP, lawlessness in Karachi and separatist in Balochistan, the political and non-state actors playing the hostile agenda continued to demean these institutions. Accolades for successful counter terrorism were overshadows by mantra of hidden hands and Khalai Makhlooq. This means that the Hybrid War is assuming new proportions.
Foreign policy was no priority. The country had no foreign minister for more than four years. Despite Zarb e Azb and Rud ul Fasad, Pakistan could not engage USA positively in Afghanistan. Diplomacy remained at its weakest. The stability provided by successful counter terrorism could never be converted into socio-economic gains. Pakistan’s envoy to USA is an Economic Hitman. In 2018 elections, this overhang will intensify through PMLN, its allies, segments of media, foreign funded think tanks, track II diplomats, pseudo liberals and enemies of Pakistan.
The Non-Muslims of Pakistan despite the cosmetic ‘Joint Electorate’ were confined once again to sidelines. The choice of reserved minority seats was at the whims of political party leaders. Non-Muslims of Pakistan had ‘no say’ in this indirect arbitrary selection that violates Articles 51 and 226 of the Constitution of Pakistan, democratic practice and sanctity of ballot. Parliamentarians thrown up by this whimsical system did not project the true leadership of focused groups.
Political parties have neither the time, nor the intent to address the issues in the larger interests of ‘diversity as strength’ and ‘nation building’. Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s ‘constitutional guidelines’ of August 11, 1947, lie buried in the debris of ‘opportunist constitutionalism’. Political parties failed to raise this issue in parliament or provincial assemblies. Election Commission of Pakistan despite being cognisant remained a spectator. A hastily prepared Elections Act 2017 failed to address this issue. First, the selected representatives of minority groups did not share the isolation of the people they represented; secondly, it did not suit political parties and lastly the committee constituted for electoral reforms lacked passion. The mental inertia that inhibits political bureaucracies and leaders is far too strong to cut across self-created exclusive domains and open doors to diversity and inclusivity.
Yet it goes to credit of PPP and PTI, who showed some empathy by fielding minority candidates on open seats in national, provincial and senate elections. It is hoped that in 2018, the two parties will be more daring in risk taking.
In December 2012, Dr Qadri’s caravan of people sent shivers through Islamabad and Lahore. Analysts and theorists went into full drive. Nothing seemed to shake the resolve of the protestors spawning D-Chowk. Braving chilly winds and rain, they came from every age and description; old, young, women, girls, infants, the educated, rich and expatriates. On the last day, they endured the overnight drizzle and the crowd swelled as locals carrying party flags joined the sit-in. It was a flash flood that petered away because no political party was willing to support them.
The major themes and punch lines of long march were picked from the revolutionary social reform agenda of PTI, leading to speculations that this was an identical establishment twin. Contrastingly, this propaganda was enough to keep PTI at bay from the Allama. During Imran Khan’s arguments with me and my contrarian assessment, follow up events vindicated my views.
In hindsight, had PTI supported PAT Long March in January, some electoral reforms could have been possible. Much that happened in electoral rigging could have been preempted. PTI lost the plot and hurt its prospects. The jokes and mockery of this long march by political parties and media reflected that willingly or inadvertently, they were becoming party of the hybrid war on Pakistan.
In dramatic irony, PTI applied a correction course through a belated 126 days dharna with PAT. The dharna resulted in conspiracy theories. The fact that no major political party supported the Dharna reflects the priorities of political parties over national issues identified in the earlier part of this article. Now, as politicians switch sides to PTI, the culture of Naya Pakistan runs risk of morphing into more of Purana Pakistan.
No two opinions on why 2013 elections were heavily rigged. It is alarming that no hedges have since been created. Electoral reforms seem a utopian idea. ECP has enough laws and powers at its disposal to ensure reforms in political parties. No one and least of all the ECP seem prepared to do it. The retired judges who head it tend to think more in terms of ‘crime reported’ and not as a proactive and aggressive regulator. The long queue of public interest litigators indicates that ECP has done no homework. An internal democracy in political parties has not been enforced. Parties that violate laws are not being checked. It has failed to act as a surrogate of people to regulate and control political parties under the laws. If it fails to do so in the next few months, the loopholes in Election Rules 2017 will open gateways for carpetbaggers, corrupt, thieves and criminals.
ECP also turned a blind eye to observations of Justice Nasir ul Mulk’s Commission. It is to be seen if care taker prime minister of Pakistan will do something to assert the conclusions and recommendations of the commission he once headed.
The writer is a political economist and a television anchorperson