If the narrative originating from the deep state and echoed by its wide spread media tentacles is to be believed Pakistan is confidently marching ahead on the path of progress. We are informed that the Pakistani flag has been successfully hoisted on the mountain tops of Rajgal Valley in Khyber Agency after wiping out the terrorists. We are assured that our judiciary is finally strong and free and disqualification of the sitting Prime Minister by Supreme Court is convincing evidence of the fact. Similarly, defying US pressure on Afghan policy indicates the strength to adopt an independent foreign policy. And the list goes on. You have only to peep into certain WhatsApp groups to see the rosy picture.

However the fact of the matter is that a security establishment that excels in physically, is very weak at ‘thought culture’. The real rulers of the country have little sense of history and lack the capacity to learn from historical experience. For example, even after the debacle of 1971 that led to the disintegration of the country the bureaucratic usurpers of political power can’t grasp the fact that unlike its four neighbours that are remnants of old empires, Pakistan is a totally new state entity that can survive only on the basis of the social contract that was envisioned by its founding fathers. Pakistan was supposed to be a federal democracy based on inclusivity and power sharing on vertical and horizontal levels. The 1973 Constitution has those basic features but the bureaucracy, particularly the uniformed one, hasn’t accepted the constitutional system. It has jumped at every opportunity to impose authoritarian rule. Several unconstitutional interventions and machinations are a testimony to this fact.

Democratic transition which was supposed to have started after the 2008 general elections has not only come to a grinding halt but is faced with a serious threat of reversal. Authority of the elected government faces constant challenges and civilian leaders are dubbed as security risks. No law regulates the functioning of the intelligence agencies. The generals both serving and retired can get away with anything. Take the case of General (retd.) Pervez Musharraf. He was arraigned before the special tribunal for abrogating the Constitution of the country. But the trial could not proceed as the security establishment literally blocked the path of judicial process. After leaving the country the former military dictator is now bragging about the support of former COAS for his escape from the trial. In the last few months he has said irresponsible things on nuclear proliferation and terrorism in Pakistan that if a civilian leader had uttered those words he/she would have been arrested or worse. But the former general enjoys a unique impunity. Accountability starts and ends at the elected Prime Ministers. Judiciary can prosecute and disqualify a sitting prime minister but it can’t prosecute terrorists (the verdict in Benazir Bhutto’s murder trial is a case in point).

The most serious failure of state policy is on the front of extremist violence. Pakistan has lived in denial for years. The problem of extremist violence has its roots in the jihadist project of 1980s. For decades denial of the existence of this problem was the official narrative. Even when the state grudgingly recognised the challenge during the last few years it has lacked the will, consistency and determination to meet this challenge. Instead of implementing the National Action Plan to defeat extremism and terrorism the state has resorted to tactics that amount to window dressing and buying time. There is zero success in cleansing curriculum from hate material. Unreformed religious seminaries go on with producing hundreds of thousands brainwashed zealots who fuel the fire of extremist violence. Even after dozens of military operations FATA remains a black hole and a no-go area where millions of Pashtuns are groaning under the draconian colonial Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). There is not even a word about looking for a political solution to the violent conflict in Balochistan. State patronage of “good Taliban” is a threat to economic development in the country and in the region. Pakistan’s Afghan policy continues to be an unmitigated disaster. CPEC and pro-Taliban policy cannot coexist. Pakistan will have to make a choice. Even close friends of Pakistan like China are frustrated over the failure in changing the course.

But any fair assessment can’t absolve political leadership of the country from the responsibility of the deepening crisis. The political rulers of the country have failed to build up on process of constitutional reforms started by the 18th Constitutional Amendment of 2010. By marginalising the Parliament the current ruling party has weakened the democratic system and has created the political space that’s used by anti-democratic forces. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has started talking about the need for a new social contract after his removal from the post. But he has yet to spell out any details of the new social contract. Only time will tell if he has learnt from his past mistakes.

Even after his disqualification by the judiciary Nawaz Sharif has demonstrated his political relevance by mobilising millions of his supporters in the heart of the core province, Punjab. Political leaders including Nawaz Sharif need to start reforms from their parties. They can start with stopping development funds for Parliamentarians. This will plug in a major source of corruption. Internal democracy within political parties is a prerequisite for their capacity to run a democratic state system. Replacing patronage culture with meritocracy can do wonders by opening avenues for the deserving youth. Agreement on a constitutional mechanism for across the board accountability will go a long ways in stabilising the system. With gaining high moral ground by moving ahead with reforms on these lines the politicians can proceed to implement reforms in the state system. Political capital produced by honest reforms will enable them to make the de facto accept the de jure. Pakistan was comprehensively derailed by Zia’s martial law in 1980s. Only a process of genuine constitutional and political reforms can put it back on the track.


n             The writer is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs.