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June 29, 2018

Repairing the ruptures


June 29, 2018

A president-elect in the US claims to be the president for all. The abrasions of the campaign are all in the past. It is a time of healing and soothing the wounds that may have appeared in a sometime scathing political battle.

America’s political culture and tradition enables a country, which may seem bloodied during the political process to settle down into normalcy soon after, while the debates shift to the strictly institutional arena of Congress. Trump’s time in office may seem like an exception, but exceptions prove the rule. Can we be as lucky and as assimilative in our national character to rise above the fray when it is all over?

There are three major ruptures which define our state as we enter elections – all so poignantly framed for the first time in our political history: first, the civil-military divide which had dominated the debate in the lead-up to the elections has strangely fallen by the wayside as the serious business of electoral contests has taken hold. Kept in the spotlight by the upper crust intelligentsia of the country, it has been a principled statement of civilian supremacy that has failed to find favour with political parties as they pursue their electoral quest.

That is instructive. Without making too much of this exception let those harping on about its most imminent primacy decide why, in the most critical political business of the state, the issue doesn’t find a mention. Is it because its touted absence is an overstatement and that the state is already so structured in its foundations for the notion to find permanence? In form, the military may not seem subordinated enough to these detractors while in substance the harmony works just fine. Hence the disdain.

What we cry on insistently through the harangue of the civ-mil imbalance seems more like a ploy to infuse a division; the balance being already woven in the functional fabric of the state. In such a balance, the state is able to exercise its cumulative thrust to ward off multidimensional challenges. Functional harmony is our state and nation’s rallying cry, not a frivolous fragmentation imposed from the outside. If the state is only permitted to function normally and not distracted from its purpose, civilian supremacy will be obvious in each manner of its existence. Institutional harmony is not insubordination which some in the media hype to a point of fracture. Dare one add that Nawaz Sharif became a victim of such external goading, which not only fractured the environment but also paralysed the state into dysfunction.

The second is the divide between the rich and the poor; the rulers and the ruled; and the influential, the power wielders, and the commoners. This has never been as stark as one has found in this turn of electoral politics. The common man feels empowered to question those who rule in his name. It may just be the beginning and the signs only early, but reports of commoners holding touring political chiefs to seek answers on their past performance, or their callous disregard and contempt in which the voters were held for the five years that the elected big-wigs were in power, is a reassuring sign of real democracy finally finding root.

As tribal chiefs have ventured out from their palace-like abodes to go meet the common man at the beginning of the election campaign, many rural towns and villages are awash with such occurrences. When a senior PPP hopeful, supported by voters from my village in Gujrat, found it opportune to visit them again, he was put through an embarrassing scrutiny for his absence and lack of attention during the five years when the PPP was in power. Needless to say, he was replaced by the PML-N from that seat.

For a people who were, either through neglect or with deliberate intent, held back in education and from keeping pace with the march of time seem to have come of age and are seeking both their rights and the accountability of their chosen representatives. And if this isn’t good news for a democracy that was perpetually fledgling, what else is? It bodes well for the future. It just might give rise to an alternative leadership or, at the least, a more responsive political leadership.

The virtual political elites, variously labelled the ‘electables’, will have to get their act together. The days of the abandon loot of the state are over and the people are making politicians answer for their disregard of the voters after the electoral deed is done. If through this experience a better quality of democracy emerges, it will not only entrench democratic values but also give hope and common stakes for all. That is when we can claim comprehensive national security against all ills.

The final division, heretofore never acute and mostly reparable, has reared in the shape of a seriously divided political establishment. The political parties and their leadership have been vociferous and unrestrained in how they have maligned the other. The use of social media was honed, but sadly for the denigration and abuse of the other. This has polarised the political environment and its societal affiliates. The mainstream media simply hitched itself on to what trends social media was generating and added fuel to that fire. Partisanism deteriorated to the point of irreparable desolation. The leadership has been so callous in calling names to the others that it seems like personalised abuse rather than political difference on issues.

The political discourse is shamelessly bankrupt. First an institutional dissonance is coined, then raised to the mantle of an ideology. Not one intellectual on the national scene ever asks if indeed one exists and what may be the solutions to such dysfunction. Instead, it is rallied as a war cry. It is from such a backdrop that the new prime minister of Pakistan will be chosen. With the kind of disrepair in relationships, societal repair to any acceptable level seems impossible.

And in all honesty, no one has the acumen, or maturity, or the political wherewithal to bury the differences and rise above name-calling. Instead one hears of tearing open stomachs to recover stolen wealth or putting the opposing leadership to waste behind bars. These are, mind you, campaign undertakings around which such viciousness has been carefully nurtured. Who will unite this lot and the polarised nation below them? Who will ensure that when chosen he shall be the leader of all, those who voted for him and those who didn’t? Who will pull the wheels of the nation together with the rest so that we all move and in one direction? Is there hope that one of them can be that leader? Someone who has the large-heartedness and the ability to reconcile and cooperate and keep the nation together? I have no qualms in suggesting: none.

When you have forsaken cooperation as a popular plank in campaign commitment, you have practically closed the chapter to finding accommodation – though a turn-back from such meaningless profferings is still possible. A fractious mandate will need strong abilities to garner coalitions and find power, not holding onto ill-considered rants for political principles. Politics, after all, is the art of the possible. You will need one to remain politically relevant.

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