The Way Out
By Humayun Gauhar
It might seem to the literal minded that Nawaz Sharif is winning the war of staring Imran Khan and Tahir ul Qadri down, that their dharnas will end, everyone will go home to lick their wounds and he will rule for the rest of his term. You need to develop your inner eye to see ruthless reality. The ruthless reality is that right now Sharif is like a mannequin in a show window with a sign saying, “Prime Minister” whereas it should read “Yesterday’s Man”.
A mannequin is a lifeless statue. Sharif is a lifeless ‘prime minister’, devoid of credibility, without moral authority and no legal validity after his government admitted in parliament that 60-70,000 votes cannot be verified in any constituency and the report of the Election Commission pointing to a heavily flawed election whose result obviously cannot be trusted. For Nawaz Sharif to get out in one piece and perhaps live to fight another day is the most sensible course. But sense is something that is entirely lacking.
The other option is for an agreement that he will resign after requesting the president to dissolve the assemblies and hold another election that is not flawed, on condition that he is not hounded and all the cases against him are not pursued, even if they have substance and validity. If constitutionally possible, the agreement should be underwritten by the Supreme Court and guaranteed by the army. Not the ideal option dragging these institutions into politics, but then what other option is there to end the gridlock peacefully? We are champions at deviating from the Constitution anyway. Why not one more time for farewell’s sake?
Even if Qadri or Imran were to drop a huge clanger and go down the drain, a somnambulant people once awake will not go back to sleep. After all, if we could let off over 8,000 people with cases pending against them through the National Reconciliation Ordinance, why not once again to give Pakistan equilibrium and harmony, which should be our first priority. The NRO and its political products persist to this day despite the Supreme Court striking it down.
Any new interim government should be a Reform Government and its immediate task should be to hold a census, determine how many more seats to add to the assemblies and where, delimit constituencies, amend Articles 62 and 63 to make all criteria verifiable and not base any on ‘common knowledge’ and hold elections under the supervision of the military providing presiding and returning officers. Ideally, it should be the judiciary that but sadly it has dealt itself out of the elections equation because of its former chief justice’s alleged shenanigans and alleged rigging of the poll. I’m afraid the military is the only institution with any credibility left in the eyes of the public. It’s a sign of desperation with an unworkable system born of a flawed constitution. It has taken just six years for the military to get back to this position thanks to the misgovernance of two civilian governments, one purportedly elected. The new elected government is best placed to carry out the remaining vital constitutional reforms, be they change to a presidential or quasi-presidential form of government, direct elections for all posts, second ballots, more provinces or administrative units (which basically is a new kind of commissionerate with an elected Chief Commissioner like a super mayor) and so forth. These are huge changes that need elected parliaments to have credibility and acceptability, unless they are undertaken by a genuine people’s revolutionary government as happened in China in 1949.
Any new government will have to reset our contextual priorities and craft a new doctrine (not ideology), a doctrine that casts economic policies in the mould of self-reliance, a foreign policy based on our domestic policies, one that is proactive, not reactive. A doctrine that believes that what is good for honest, sensibly regulated business, agriculture and commerce with genuine competition is good for Pakistan.
We have to keep in perspective the global, regional and national changes that have taken place in the past decade and then recast our doctrine in an evolving new world order where the centre of gravity is shifting from West to East. This means recognizing the watershed changes that have taken place over the decade past, else we will be sidelined, always dependent on handouts and expertise from abroad.
A decade ago Pakistan was a relatively less unstable place than it is today. So were the world and our neighbourhood. Since then we and the world have taken a great leap backward. America, NATO and their allies, including Pakistan, have lost the global ‘War on Terror’ and caused the Middle East to go up in flames that are euphemistically called the ‘Arab Spring’. Now some have realized that it was a mirage and have started calling it the ‘Arab Autumn’, especially after the monster ISIS raised its ugly head. The conflagration threatens to engulf not only our region, not just the Muslim world but everywhere else of consequence. Not just Shia, Christians and peoples of other faiths are ISIS targets but so too are Sunnis that don’t adhere to their warped interpretation of Islam that is far distant from the spirit of the Faith and God’s Word and Intent. In fact, ISIS propaganda and recruitment drives have already started reaching Pakistan and Afghanistan and may well reach India soon where some largely downtrodden 200 million Muslims live. How can we ignore this, especially its impact on the global economy and peace in our region? So serious is it that America and its allies have already started bombing ISIS strongholds with the coalition growing, the US President vowing to dismantle the ISIS ‘network of death’.
Due to its shortsighted and often myopic foreign policies, America has caught itself in contradictions: against President Bashar al Assad in Syria while bombing his enemy ISIS, with Iran against ISIS but against it for its nuclear programme. They have to find more uniformity in their policies, more rationality I dare say. Don’t punch above your intellectual weight, please. Everywhere has become more unstable and dangerous and the global, regional and national economies have suffered woefully, including that of the United States, the driver and engine of the world economy. The only country to remain relatively stable and upward is China, but there are fears of a downturn there too. The cost China has paid in environmental degradation has been enormous: an embarrassingly large quantum of its waters useless, large swathes of its land uncultivable, its air oftentimes un-breathable. China has to go for at least seven percent annual GDP growth to breakeven i.e. to keep pace with the number of young people entering the job market every year. So too India, that is now in the hands of the Hindu fundamentalist BJP which may not necessarily be bad for its economy given its new prime minister’s economic track record in Gujarat. But so far India’s growth has been predicated on the services sector, mostly IT, rather than on creating a manufacturing base, unlike China, and one fears that it stands on wobbly legs. A large and solid manufacturing base (as against assembly sweatshops) is what gives a firm foundation to an economy.
While India and China make encouraging noises on mutual trade and investment, their standoff on India’s northern border continues. We have to keep a watch on this.
As an old friend and admirer of China, I am disappointed that it is getting projects in Pakistan without transparency through its private sector businesses that are half an arm’s length away from government. A friend does not exploit the corrupt appetite of rulers of friendly countries or sell it projects at seven percent interest that would destroy its economy, not sell it obsolete plant and machinery that would degrade its environment making facemasks its prime manufacture and export so that people can breathe.
Our national security both internal and external is vital because without it all other strategies will come to naught. We need a new doctrine to find our rightful place in the world in which our economy and society remain on the upswing long enough to improve the human condition drastically and continuously. Economic security implies investment and trade friendly policies and their continuity for meaningful forward planning in all aspects of the economy based on political security, most importantly food and agriculture security, water security, energy security, security of continuity of good economic policies, a resetting of economic priorities in which self-reliance and a constantly upwardly mobile people starting from the poorest are central and the prime driver, focus on improving incomes and wealth with a properly documented economy and a complete tax base, and social security not to be confused with a social security net but affordable food, health, education, justice and more, particularly in the rural areas, a gradual reduction in our tribal-feudal overhang, and so much more. Similarly, for food security, focus should not only be on increasing yields but also on securing storage and distribution systems, a reduction in external debt and an end to borrowing to cover criminal deficits.
Demographic security makes it an imperative to reduce population growth, else no matter how much economic progress we make, the needs of a faster growing population will always overtake it and a day will come when the lights go out. 140 million out of Pakistan’s official population of 180 million are below the age of 40 so you can imagine the kind of economic growth needed to provide jobs to millions of youth year-in-year-out.
Having won two World Wars and the Cold War, the global ‘War on Terror’ is a war the West has lost for the first time. This is dangerous. The world has become a more dangerous and economically fragile place than it was before 9/11. National boundaries could well be redrawn yet again. Keep your fingers crossed.