Once again a stark choice faces the nation. It is the choice between a constitutional democracy in which the various institutions of the state function in harmony with one another within their constitutionally laid down limits, or a sham democracy marked by institutional clash in which some institutions of the state transgress the limits prescribed by the constitution and encroach on the domain of other state institutions through force or guile. Unfortunately, Pakistan since independence has not been able to resolve this fundamental issue, which has destabilized it politically, undermined the rule of law thereby breeding corruption and inefficiency, weakened state institutions, damaged the economy, and aggravated the divide between the rich and the poor and between the powerful and the weak.

When some powerful institutions of the state can ride roughshod over others in violation of the constitution, when they can muzzle the media to silence dissenting voices and when they can employ the instrument of accountability selectively to punish the critics, the message that is sent loud and clear is that the constitution and law do not matter. What matters instead is compliance with the will and the dictates of these powerful state institutions irrespective of merit and public interest. The inevitable consequence of this unlawful use of power is the overall decline in the efficiency of the various organs of the state and the sacrifice of principles at the altar of expediency.

Pakistan’s history is replete with examples of renegade elements of the military establishment taking over the reins of the government in violation of their oath of honour, in defiance of the advice given by the Quaid-e-Azam to senior military officers at the Command and Staff College, Quetta in 1948, and in violation of the constitution on some flimsy pretext or the other. The rot started with Ayub Khan and was continued by other adventurist generals including Yahya Khan, Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf leading to prolonged periods of military rule punctuated by elected governments which were methodically destabilized and weakened through behind-the-scene conspiracies. It is also an unfortunate reality that collectively Pakistan’s superior judiciary, which was supposed to act as the guardian of the constitution, played an ignominious role by validating all the military takeovers.

Historically speaking, each of the above mentioned rulers, with the exception of Yahya Khan, ruled for about ten years each. All of them inflicted enormous damage upon Pakistan’s polity, economy and society. Ayub Khan holds the dubious distinction of being the first military ruler to derail the democratic process and usher in an era of repeated military takeovers. Yahya Khan led the nation to a military defeat and the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971. Zia-ul-Haq’s military rule was marked by the judicial murder of an elected Prime Minister, the militarization of the civilian bureaucracy, the extended role of the military in the economic sphere, the methodical destruction of political institutions for his vested personal interests, and the sowing of the seeds of religious extremism and terrorism from which Pakistan continues to suffer even now.

Pervez Musharraf as COAS caused the Kargil disaster in defiance of the government’s declared policy of improving relations with India in the wake of Indian PM Vajpayee’s memorable visit to Lahore. In 1999, after overthrowing a duly elected government, which had restored strategic balance in South Asia by carrying out nuclear tests, he undermined the various democratic institutions to subordinate them to his will and created a king’s party to support his rule. The massacre of innocent civilians in Karachi in 2007 showed the depth to which he could descend to prolong his rule. After initially extending full support to the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, he brought about a U-turn after 9/11 under the US pressure and took military action against our own tribesmen for giving refuge to the remnants of the Afghan Taliban. In taking such decisions, Pervez Musharraf and the sycophants around him proved that they lacked any sense of strategic direction and were incapable of looking beyond their noses.

Pervez Musharraf’s ouster from power and the recommencement of the democratic process in 2008 led all the sane elements in the country to hope that chastened by the past experience, all institutions of the state and their leaders would function in harmony with one another within their constitutional limits. Unfortunately, this has proved to be a forlorn hope. Some renegade elements belonging to powerful institutions of the state, after a short interval, got down to hatching conspiracies to destabilize elected governments. This process, which started during the PPP government’s tenure from 2013-18, was intensified during the PML(N) government which succeeded it.

For undermining elected governments, a character assassination campaign against their leaders was launched with the help of the pliant media. Undeclared censorship was resorted to for muzzling defiant elements of the media and silencing dissenting voices. Selective accountability was employed to bring the recalcitrant elements to their knees. The age-old policy of divide and rule was successfully employed to sow divisions among the politicians. Unfortunately, politicians once again fell into the trap laid by the anti-democratic forces thereby weakening the democratic rule and the capacity of the elected governments to take difficult decisions in the best interests of the country. The jury is still out on the role of the renegade elements of the various state institutions in the conspiracies which have been hatched in the past few years to undermine elected governments. However, when history is written, they are unlikely to be remembered with kind words.

The PTI government, which came into power amidst charges of pre-poll engineering and electoral rigging, is facing an onslaught from the combined opposition on charges of mismanagement of the economy. On the whole, the country politically remains deeply polarized and severely destabilized. Despite considerable successes in the past, the monster of terrorism has not been fully vanquished. The Modi-led Indian government continues to pose a serious threat to Pakistan’s security. The on-going armed conflict in Afghanistan and the rising tensions in the Persian Gulf region are other sources of grave concern for Pakistan. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s GDP growth rate has declined to 3.3% in 2018-19 as against 5.5% a year earlier, inflation rate has risen from 3.9% in 2017-18 to 8.9% in 2018-19, and the rupee has been devalued from the rupee to dollar rate of 115 in May, 2018 to 160 in June, 2019 aggravating inflation, poverty, the burden of external debt in rupees, and the government’s fiscal pressures. While the previous PML(N) government did leave an unsustainably high current account deficit, the present PTI government has grossly mismanaged the economy as explained in my earlier article (“PTI’s economic mismanagement”, the Nation, 25 June). Consequently, it must be held squarely responsible for the negative consequences of its decisions including, amongst others, a loss of about $30 billion inflicted upon the economy within a period of ten months through massive devaluation and steep decline in the GDP growth rate.

In the face of worrisome internal situation and the grave external challenges, Pakistan’s political leaders and the various state institutions need to exhibit extraordinary wisdom, maturity and mutual tolerance so as to steer the ship of the state safely through the choppy waters ahead. The various state institutions must remain within their constitutional limits to strengthen democracy, promote political stability, accelerate GDP growth rate, enhance economic well-being, and safeguard national security. Their leaders must rise above petty considerations to resolve national issues through dialogue and institutional harmony. Unfortunately, these are precisely the qualities which are in short supply these days.

The writer is an author, a retired ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.

E-mail: javid.husain@gmail.com

In the face of worrisome internal situation and the grave external challenges, Pakistan’s political leaders and the various state institutions need to exhibit extraordinary wisdom, maturity and mutual tolerance so as to steer the ship of the state safely through the choppy waters ahead.