The Panama leaks are expected to dominate the “national” political discourse in Pakistan in the foreseeable future like the charges of rigged election monopolized it in 2014. Along with numerous other Pakistanis I had vehemently supported a full investigation into the charges of rigging in elections at that time and today I am wholeheartedly in favor of credible investigation into the questions arising out of the contents of Panama Papers.

After putting the question of investigation out of the way I want to draw attention to a completely different dimension of the situation. We remember very well that the elected political government had narrowly escaped a putsch at the climax of the previous polarisation (although it had to cede a lot of space in policy and control to the khakis) and can face a similar threat in the coming few months when the situation heats up due to the current stand off. But have we not been here before? Remember Memogate and Prime Minister’s letter to Swiss banks? Many of these stories that made headlines in the past are completely forgotten now. The aforementioned “crises situations” that seemed to spell disaster, and were supposed to be created by the civilian dispensations, were actually produced by the refusal of the deep state to reconcile with the system dominated by civilians. But the deep state, after strengthening its grip on the commanding heights of the system of governance and modern media, has developed political engineering into a fine art. For all practical purposes the Pakistani state system has become a hybrid of military rule and civilian dispensation with a permanent inner contradiction. The clash between de jure and de facto is not invisible anymore. This is the root cause of the “permanent crises” in Pakistan, but ironically this is a subject that is generally avoided in public debate.

It all started in 1971 after the political and military debacle in East Pakistan. Since the military junta had presided over the disintegration of the country the generals had to beat a political retreat from the power politics, at least for the time being. It was during this interval that the elected political leadership put together a federal parliamentary Constitution of 1973. But the security establishment of the country has never fully reconciled with the system enunciated by the aforementioned Constitution. They felt “cheated” at the end of controlled democracy. The generals have in practice regarded it to be an aberration and have made efforts to “correct” it more than once.

The civilian government led by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto faced three military coups. The first two were unsuccessful but the third one resulted in the overthrow of civilian rule. General Zia’s military dictatorship did not hide its intention of overhauling the Constitution. After Zia’s death in a plane crash in 1988 the military was not in a position to continue a direct rule so it settled for indirect control. But in 1999 it intervened once again and had no hesitation in imposing distortions and deformations on the Constitution. Interestingly General Zia’s “Islamization” and General Musharraf’s “enlightened moderation” had remarkable similarities when it came to the adoption of a constitutional scheme of controlled democracy giving a veto power to the generals. In the process the Constitution lost its basic structure of a federal and parliamentary system and acquired the character of a quasi unitary and quasi presidential system. In 2010 the parliament was able to restore to a large extent the Constitution of 1973 to its original form through the 18th amendment, something that is hard to swallow for the proponents of controlled democracy.

Be that as it may, Pakistan can’t afford to live with this ever-deepening contradiction indefinitely. Terrorism fed by religious extremism, rampant corruption in all state institutions, environmental degradation and international isolation among so many other challenges are threatening the very existence of the federation. A country at loggerheads with three out of its four immediate neighbours can’t be a country living in peace. No civilian government can focus on resolving these serious challenges when it is proven to be “ shallow” or weak in the face of political machinations of the deep state. Electronic media, largely controlled and manipulated by the deep state, is instrumental in creating artificial crises and hysterics. Here the purpose is not to whitewash the weaknesses of political elites arising out of corruption and incompetence. But that is something that can be overcome by continuity of democratic process where people can reject the old political teams and elect new ones. But the entrenched diarchy in the state system tilted against civilians will not allow even the best of political government to deliver. Fearing to lose power the sitting governments stick to the mantra of being at the same page with the security establishment and aspiring to come to power riding the crises most of the opposition political parties deny the existence of the problem. All the while the said contradiction not only persists but it is also eating into the very vitals of state and society by blocking almost all avenues of development.

The problem of civil-military divide in the state system is too big and too deeply entrenched for any one party or one institution. Its resolution will require collective wisdom of the people of Pakistan. As the main repository of the people’s will and wisdom it is the duty of elected parliament to address this issue and devise ways and means for its amicable resolution. It doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. But the solution will definitely have to be with in the framework of the democratic vision of the founding fathers of the country. Will it be too much to expect from the Honourable Speaker of the National Assembly and Honourable Chairman Senate of Pakistan to constitute a joint Parliamentary Committee (or Committee of Whole if the rules permit) with the approval of members of both the houses to tackle this problem over and above partisan politics with help from civil society? Otherwise we shall be waiting some thing on the pattern of Arab Spring. But as we have seen in Iraq, Libya and Syria it may kill the patient along with the disease.