By Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
By the time this column is published the impasse faced by three major institutions in Pakistan may have been cracked opened, but the blind alley would not become a smooth three-way lane through such surgical operations. For a proper functioning of different loci of power, a major overhaul of the system is needed. Such an overhaul is nowhere in sight.
This time around, the battle lines are much deeper than ever before. In addition to the two regular players (the army and politicians) there is a third factor: the judiciary. And the situation has already reached a point where no one has patience for any decorum; the dirty laundry is being washed in full view of the whole world.
Unlike the midnight coups of the past, which packed the political order in one big sweep, there is open display of discontent between the army and politicians and the entire equation has changed with the arrival of an active judiciary. Until now, the politicians and the army had been replacing one another in turns. Both sides have produced landslides into chaos and instability, both claimed power in the name of bringing the country out of a quagmire, but now the arrival of judiciary has drastically changed the old battleground.
The anatomy of the current impasse is, therefore, different from the previous cases: there is little chance of a military coup, both because the Supreme Court will not rubber stamp it as it has always done, and also because there is no support for it in the center of real power: Washington DC. This means that the politicians can play a bolder game.
At the heart of the issue is not the incidentals such as the so-called Memogate or the NRO cases; these are outcomes of a troubled relationship, not its causes. The anatomy of the current impasse can be traced back to the very beginning of Pakistan’s history: when the politicians failed, army intervened; when the army failed, politicians came back to power and the cycle repeated itself four times. Each cycle was worse than the previous. At another level, it can also be said that the fundamental problem in Pakistan is neither the politicians nor the military; it is the lack of a healthy political culture which can guarantee continuous flow of new blood into national arteries. There is not a single political party in which politics has ever been more than a personality cult and politicians do not retire in Pakistan; they are taken to their graves.
This time around, however, there are new factors: the political power is in the hands of an incidental President. The Constitution requires the President to be a neutral statesman; just this criterion makes Asif Ali Zardari eminently disqualified for the post. On top of this disqualification, he comes with “Zardarism”—a convoluted way of operating which makes mockery of all moral principles. He is the so-called Co-chairman of PPP; a post he created for himself, and he runs the entire show through a Prime Minister who is merely a loyal kammi. This is so because the Parliament is his handmaiden. There are hardly a handful of members of the Parliament who are not beholden to him.
This time around the army is also locked into an impasse: it cannot carry out a coup because such an action will not be acceptable by the so-called “international community” and because of judicial resistance to it; and it cannot or does not want to function under the current political leadership. The PPP has been emboldened due to this limitation of the army and in any case, it has much to gain from a coup as it would claim political martyrdom and thereby ride on sympathy vote in an election which would inevitably have to be sooner than later.
No one seems to have patience to let the current government run its course; one more year seems too long and there are reasons for it: Zardarism has really destroyed the country and its major operating systems (such as the railways, PIA, the Steel mill, the energy sector, etc.) have all been put to a course of self-destruction. Every sane person can see that if Zardarism continues for one more year, the damage might become irreparable. But there seem to be no constitutional way out of the present impasse either. This is a major legal problem with Pakistan’s constitution that it has no avenue for the replacement of a corrupt and inept government except through an extra-constitutional coup.
A national transitional government seem to be the only sane solution to the present impasse, but how can this be done remains unclear. If the political parties were to show a certain degree of maturity, they can mutually decide to establish such a government for a short period, followed by fair and transparent general elections, leading to a new political scenario. But to expect this from the present political leadership is to wish for moon.
In the absence of such a mature approach to the impasse, one can only think of a military takeover with some degree of political and judicial participation. This might be the only solution now available. If this is carried out, one hopes that it is a peaceful transition to a short-term quick fix and that it is followed by a major overhaul of the institutions and fundamental changes to the laws governing the establishment and running of political parties in Pakistan, so that a new political culture can come into existence.