A battle royale is on for the soul of Pakistan, which is riven with currents and cross-currents at present. On the political side, the tussle for power and control still continues between the military establishment and the elected political governments despite the façade of superficial bonhomie. This is over and above the several fronts on which the politicians themselves are at loggerheads with one another. From the religious and social points of view, there is continuing struggle between the forces of obscurantism and extremism, on the one side, and those of enlightenment and moderation, on the other. The country is also caught in the contradictions between the over-westernized liberal and the conservative sections of the society. Economically, there are growing tensions between the haves and have-nots against the background of widespread poverty and growing inequalities of income and wealth. The daily stories of rampant corruption have alarmed the whole nation. The menace of terrorism, a product of ignorance and Pakistan’s past flawed internal and external policies, continues to take its toll despite the successes of Zarb-e-Azb. A foreign observer should be forgiven if he concludes after watching this chaotic scene that the county is rudderless and has lost any sense of direction.

Pakistan’s politics remains a victim of the ineptitude of the politicians, some of them tainted by corruption, and the continuing urge of the military establishment to dominate and control it. Unfortunately, the performance of our political class, marked by ignorance and greed, has left a lot to be desired. Many of our politicians suffer from lack of education and comprehension of nation and international affairs. They are motivated by self-interest rather than by national considerations in most of what they do. They have also demonstrated a woeful inability to learn from their past experience and improve their performance with the passage of time. The five-year rule of the previous PPP government at the federal level (2008-13) was a painful experience in corruption and total inability to deliver.

The final verdict on the present PML-N government is still to be declared. The least that can be said at present is that despite some marginal improvement, its performance in the economic field has fallen far short of expectations. The country’s GDP growth rate still hovers around 4% per annum as against about 7.5% for India currently. The national saving and investment rates are too low to sustain a high GDP growth rate without inviting a rapid increase in foreign loans. There is a crying need for the reform of the taxation system which is inefficient, corrupt to the core, and retrogressive over-burdening the poor with the responsibility to pay taxes while the rich and the powerful get away with an inadequate contribution to the tax revenues. Education and health continue to be neglected by the PML-N government as was the case with the previous military and civilian elected governments.

The recent allegations of the siphoning of the nation’s resources by the PML-N leadership as well as by others need to be properly investigated so that the true picture is revealed to the public. Needless to say that all those who have been accused of financial corruption , whether belonging to PML-N, PPP, PTI, PML-N, MQM or other parties, should be subjected to ruthless accountability and, if found guilty, to punishment in accordance with the law of the land. The cleansing of our political system of financial corruption through appropriate legal and administrative steps is a must in the interest of the country’s future progress and prosperity. The same applies to our civilian bureaucracy which by and large is inefficient and non-responsive to the aspirations of the people besides being tainted with the allegations of corruption. The recent discovery of about 700 million rupees from the house of the finance secretary of the Balochistan government is just the tip of the iceberg and reflects the seriousness of the epidemic of corruption from which our bureaucracy suffers.

The vacuum created by the miserable performance of our politicians has created the space for the military to step in. The country has already seen four periods of military rule, each leaving behind the legacy of new problems without providing the solution of the problems which had the provided the pretext for the military take-over in the first place. The rule of law, without which civilisation, justice and progress cannot be visualised, was always the first victim of these military take-overs. They also prevented the maturing of the democratic process in the country because of repeated interruptions. Inevitably, they also led to the over-militarisation of our polity and the pursuit of uni-dimensional and military-dominated internal and external policies to the detriment of internal harmony, sustained economic progress and effective foreign policy. Further, they spawned a mind-set in the military aimed at schemes of political engineering in misplaced and short-sighted attempts to find immediate solutions to problems which needed patience and time for their resolution. IJI was not the first or the last of such attempts, which merely proved that military mind-set is incapable of comprehending or managing political issues as the Quaid-e-Azam had warned a few senior Pakistan army officers at Quetta soon after independence. The military’s involvement in the civilian affairs also had the unfortunate effect of tarnishing its image because of the allegations of corruption and other wrong-doings. The punishment given by the COAS to a few senior army officers recently was a welcome step. But it also revealed the extent to which corruption had negatively affected the armed forces.

There is a need for an optimum balance between the authority of the elected governments to rule the country as the representatives of the people and the ability of the armed forces to safeguard the country’s security under the command of the federal government. There must be adequate legal, administrative and judicial checks and safeguards to ensure that political representatives holding senior administrative positions and other high ranking officials are taken to task expeditiously if allegations of corruption and other serious violations of law are levelled against them. A special institution on the lines of the supreme judicial council, which can operate independently of the influence of the governments of the day, should be established for this purpose. It is the job of the political parties and the civil society to exert for these reforms. As the past experience shows, the Pakistan army is ill-suited to reform the country’s political system. It must instead concentrate on the performance of its own duties as efficiently as possible.

The country’s march towards peace, progress and prosperity would also depend upon the victory of the forces of moderation and enlightenment over those of extremism and obscurantism in the battle for the soul of Pakistan. Islam is a religion of peace, moderation and enlightenment. We should not allow the forces of ignorance and retrogression to set the future political, social and economic directions of our country. However, enlightenment does not mean blind Westernisation or gharbzadagi. We should instead exercise the principle of ijtihad in finding solutions to the challenges of modernity while remaining within the parameters of Islam’s fundamental principles and teachings. Finally, our economic system is in a dire need of radical reform to improve its efficiency. Our economic survival and progress depend upon the adoption of self-reliance and austerity as our mottos. This should be combined with the assigning of high priority to social welfare, particularly to the provision of quality education, health care and other necessities of life to our people at affordable prices.