Pakistan at a crossroads: seeking peaceful solutions
Pakistan is a state full of complexities and uncertainties. Its 70-year history is fraught with insecurity, vibrant religious and sectarian discords, secession movements, and political instabilities, all over the involvement of the establishment in civilian affairs and the tug-of-war among the national institutions.
As a result of these complexities, Pakistan has faced three full-fledged wars as well as several proxy wars, social extremism and jihadism, external dependence, four direct military coups, repeated economic failures, long periods of government without constitutions, and assassinations of political leaders. At the international level, Pakistan is seen as an intolerant, dangerous, aberrant nation.
The dictator General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq was the first ruler who brought Pakistan into the center of insecurities and Islamization. In the 1980s, Pakistan’s wrong move toward jihadism in Afghanistan and pro-Saudi Wahhabism within the state threatened the future generations, and this is still.
Insecurity that also embraces religious extremism is one of the most serious issues in Pakistan. The state’s security is worsening. International proxies, extremist elements, banned organizations and resurgence of the Taliban in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are serious threats to the national security forces and intelligence agencies.
The recent attack on federal Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal in Narowal, a district of Punjab province that borders the Indian state of the same name, demonstrated the fragility and inability of law-enforcement agencies. The attacker, Abid Hussain, was a member of a religious extremist wing and claimed that he attacked Iqbal because he had committed blasphemy.
Undoubtedly, Pakistan is in a transitional phase, moving from democratic to Islamist and from liberal to religious. Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States, in his book Reimagining Pakistan: Transforming a Dysfunctional Nuclear State, has pointed to this very issue, that Pakistani bureaucrats consider the most fundamentalist and aggressive clerics as patriots because they will never go against the policy of the establishment structuring India as an enemy. The liberal and secular intelligentsia is always seen as suspect and untrustworthy.
The rise of ethnic nationalism is also challenging the existing structure of state policies. The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) has already jolted the powerful military complex to change security policy, and ending harassment of Pashtuns in the name of security is the core factor beyond Pashtun nationalism.
Manzoor Pashteen, the leader of the PTM, has seriously challenged the extrajudicial activities and aristocracies of the establishment. The targeted killing of Pashtuns, Hazara and Muhajirs in Karachi and Quetta is a challenge to the Pakistani security agencies.
Tracing the history of ethnic violence, General Zia’s military regime, hued with Islamic fundamentalism, brutalized Pakistani society and increased ethnic divisions and bitterness within an already insecure nation. As a result, the whole nation became less tolerant.
The country’s biggest metropolis, Karachi, is a vivid example in this regard, where tens of thousands of people have been killed in ethnic violence over the past two decades. The entire province of Punjab is plagued by sectarian violence as frenzied clerics control Punjabi society. Consequently, the country is facing insecurity, violence, lawlessness and hegemony of non-state actors.
Political instability that equates to national instability is hitting the core of Pakistani politics. Blame games, the use of abusive language, conspiracies, involvement of the military bureaucracy and intelligence agencies are the prominent factors that have brought Pakistani politics to the brink of failure.
The judicial activism of Chief Justice Saqib Nisar in the current political crisis is another national dilemma that has stood the civil and military leaderships against each other. Instead of focusing on judicial issues and a backlog of legal cases, Nisar is concentrating on administrative issues mainly concerned with the federal and provincial governments.
The Panama Papers issue and the National Accountability Bureau’s one-sided actions against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif are further fueling the fire of political instability and heated civil-military relations. The tweeting policy of Major-General Asif Ghafoor, director general of inter-services public relations, is another headache for political stability.
Ghafoor’s tweets clearly represent the military’s role in internal and foreign affairs. This is wrong. The failure of political stability will threaten democracy, economic prosperity, security mechanisms and Pakistan’s stance on international and regional issues.
Furthermore, the three branches of the state – executive, legislative and judicial – are in a tug-of-war among one another. The quest for power and institutional hegemony is at its peak.
The legislative branch seems feeble and sandwiched between the executive and the judiciary. The major part of the executive branch, the military, supports the judiciary on specific issues as a back-seat driver against the federal government.
The current tussle between the civil and military leaderships on national issues needs to be linked with the judiciary’s support to the establishment to counter the ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and its founder Nawaz Sharif. The establishment is trying to sabotage the entire political system in its favor for the upcoming elections in order to stabilize its hegemony and to control policymaking decisions.
The judiciary and the federal bureaucracy are also backed by the military to undermine the power and authority of PML-N in the federal government. As a result, the ruling party is facing institutional opposition and denialism at the federal level.
As the fourth failure of the state, the media are also joining hands with the hegemons to promote the establishment’s agenda.
The institutional tussles and crises must come to an end for the stability and prosperity of Pakistan. The nation can’t afford any further crises or challenges. The economy is already in a deteriorated position; further controversies and instabilities will surely sabotage the entire system, leading us to nowhere.
Negotiation is the only peaceful way to stabilize the country. The civil and military leaderships must sit down together to negotiate the prevailing issues in order to strengthen national integrity and to stabilize Pakistan politically.