There is no dearth of books, papers, write ups and lectures, both from internal and external sources, on the serious challenges arising out of the crises of governance faced by Pakistan. There is almost a consensus that the aforementioned crises has negatively impacted the security situation, the level of socio-economic development and even the project of nation building and state building in the country. At times Pakistan has been dubbed to be “the most dangerous place on earth” specially in the context of the formidable terrorist threat faced by the country. But interestingly enough not many authors and analysts, particularly the indigenous ones, have dwelt at any length on the core issues of civil-military relationship in our state system, the key  factor in aggravating the problems of governance. It is regarded to be a taboo subject even by our “free” media and pushed under the proverbial carpet. The ruling political parties without any exception, are shy of raising this issue and they keep on chanting the mantra of civil-military elements being on the same page. Opposition parties don’t mention it out of the fear that it may bring them into the bad books of the powerful establishment undermining their future prospects for coming into power. But then discussing the crises of governance without any reference to this issue will be like playing Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark.

The tone and tenor of Mr. Asif Ali Zardari’s speech in Islalamabad on June 16 in response to what he called a character assassination campaign emanating from the Corps headquarters and Rangers in Karachi against his party and the provincial government might have surprised many as the intemperate language of a part of his speech was quite unusual on his part. But for those who had seriously followed the political developments of the last few months the clash was hardly a bolt from the blue. The Rangers had wanted to target what they called criminal mafias in Karachi that enjoy political backing from the ruling quarters, but they had to wait up till mid March as the federal government was hesitant in fomenting political trouble for itself before the Senate elections. MQM bore the brunt of the operation when it started as the party has enjoyed a grip over the Karachi in view of its entrenched tentacles in socio-political and administrative structures of the city since the Musharaf era. But it gradually became clear that the PPP leadership and provincial government was the next target. The PPP had two objections. Firstly, they argued it was beyond the mandate of the Rangers who were called by the provincial government to fight terrorism and institutions like NAB were there to take action against the corrupt elements. Secondly, they regard the present campaign as yet another effort at political engineering through state coercion for achieving “positive results” in the coming elections. Now this is something that the party has experienced under General Zia and General Musharraf. Tensions rose as the mufti and the khaki could not resolve their differences over operation targets and the form of their execution in formal meetings even at the highest level. Uzair Baloch could not be brought back from Dubai for some time but he was supposed to become PPP’s Saulat Mirza in case of his return. In the hysteric campaign of Zulfiqar Mirza against his party’s leadership, the PPP perceived the making of another Jam Sadiq. These developments were bound to give birth to extreme paranoia in the PPP.

But the problem is not confined only to today’s Sindh. After the Zia-led military coup on July 5, 1977, the Pakistani state system as a republic is a myth. There has been a fierce and prolonged tussle between the supporters of a military dominated “controlled democracy” and the so called representative democracy enshrined in the 1973 Constitution. In the 1990s when the major political parties lent their shoulders to the establishment for overthrowing the elected civil government of their political opponents we witnessed a musical chairs game in the country throughout that decade. After signing of the Charter of Democracy in 2006 between Shaheed Mohtarama Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif the situation changed in favor of smooth political transition that materialized after the general elections in 2008 and the passage of the 18th Constitutional amendment with consensus. But then appeared “new” political players like IK and TUQ who were ready to play the old games. Their sit-ins were clearly scripted and the plan for the overthrow of the government by certain elements was exposed by no less a person than Mr. Javed Hashmi, the then president of PTI. He went to the extent of publicly naming names. This development prompted all political parties irrespective of their ideological inclinations to stand behind and support the Constitutional system. The government was not overthrown but it was considerably weakened and it had to concede a lot of space in terms of shaping and executing the security and foreign policy of the country to the security establishment.

The formation of the apex committees in all the four provinces was understandable in view of the NAP but these bodies should have had clearer terms of reference and a timeline as they are a temporary administrative arrangement without any Constitutional basis. An apex committee can’t be allowed to become a perpetual parallel provincial government as it would amount to reversing the provincial autonomy provided to the provinces by the Constitution and it would literally amount to reverting back to the unitary system of the martial law days. The people of the smaller provinces have given lots of sacrifices in a prolonged struggle for achieving provincial autonomy under a federal system and they are bound to resist efforts of the ruling elite of the biggest province to roll it back under any garb. It is interesting to see that the two retired generals (one of them a known religious fundamentalist and the other one a so-called enlightened soul) are publicly demanding abrogation of the Constitution. Is the present Constitution regarded a liability by the ruling elite of the biggest province after the 18th amendment ? If not then why doesn’t somebody give them a shut-up call as they sound more and more like the late General Yahya Khan.

The two final questions. One, can the country afford a new ethnic and political polarization in the face of grave internal and external challenges faced by it and haven’t we learnt our lessons from the consequences of the strategy of “shooting our way through” in 1971? Two, while most of the proscribed organizations, the supposed target for state’s action under NAP, haven’t been touched, the state has decided to sort out political entities that are the determined supporters of NAP. What is the justification for this?

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