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February 2, 2020

Stability and inclusiveness


February 2, 2020

Pulitzer Prize winning historian and philosopher Will Durant wrote in the epilogue of his book, ‘Why Rome Fell?’, “A great civilization is not conquered from without, until it has destroyed itself from within”. The statement alludes to the need for internal harmony, social cohesion and peaceful coexistence for the survival of the nations.

Pakistan has gone through two decades of unprecedented violence within its boundaries. At its peak in 2014, characterized by the APS tragedy in Peshawar, the internal discord leading to extremism, terrorism and political violence was rightly termed an ‘existential threat’ to the country. The conflict has swallowed thousands of men, women and children and affected our society in ways we are still unable to fully comprehend.

While the levels of violence have come down, this has primarily been achieved through kinetic actions involving military operations in certain areas and intelligence-based operations across the country. The use of violence however, to confront violence, while at times necessary if exercised in accordance with the law, must not be seen as a durable solution to the complex social, political and economic realities that create internal discord and dissidence. At times, it may even exacerbate these.

Also, use of violence is not a solution for all kinds of political contestations that are a natural part of a lively and vibrant society. In fact, many such contestations, if pursued through non-violent and democratic means, are essential to take society forward and change the system for the better.

Let’s not therefore, learn the wrong lessons from our limited success in the fight against terrorism.

The country today faces different kinds of problems. The economy is in bad shape. Even if macro-economic stability is achieved, it will be at a very high cost for the majority of people in the country. The dual burden of rising indirect taxes resulting in hyper inflation and dwindling economic growth leading to job losses will test the patience of even the most resilient sections of society.

Also there are those who were directly affected from decades of violent conflict. Some were maimed or lost their loved ones. Others were displaced or had their means of living destroyed. With little more to lose, they have a reason to be enraged. The demands for constitutional rights to be upheld and social, economic and political inclusion is natural for communities that have endured so much turmoil during all these years.

Then there is youth, both young men and women, who are exploring new ways and means of expressing themselves. Pakistan’s first largely globalized and urbanized generation can be expected to demand more from the system. This does not only include the financial means to adopt and sustain new lifestyles but meaningful participation in processes that decide key aspects of their lives.

Rather than focusing on the critical national issues mentioned above, the ruling coalition is embroiled in conflicts both within and without. First, rather than recognizing the split mandate given by the electorate in 2018 where no single party could form a government, and establishing a working relationship with the opposition, it decided to adopt a hawkish attitude.

The support for across-the-board accountability was mistaken for an open ticket to target the opposition leaders. Even those like Ahsan Iqbal and Miftah Ismail, whose integrity is generally considered above board, were not spared. As a result, the legislation has stalled, forcing the government to excessively rely on presidential ordinances and the business of parliament has been severely disrupted.

To make matters worse, internal wrangling for power and resources has ensued. The PTI’s electorally winning combination of ‘electables’ borrowed from established parties and newer breed of politicians inspired by the message for change seem to have turned on each other.

With failure to deliver through systematic reforms becoming increasingly evident, pressure is growing within the party to oil the patronage networks painstakingly built by the electables in their respective constituencies over various years. Thus demands for the development funds to be funneled through the MNAs and MPAs are becoming louder by the day.

All of these problems can neither be wished away nor pushed under the carpet through excessive use of force and stubbornly sticking to a hardline approach. In order to focus on economic revival, implement institutional reforms, heal the wounds of war-torn communities and cater to an aspirational youth, the country first and foremost needs two key ingredients – political stability and meaningful inclusion.

An extremely diverse country like Pakistan cannot be governed through centralized, exclusionary and authoritarian politics. Various components of the polity demand and deserve to be heard and involved in national decision-making. Political compromises to bring normalcy to the working of the state is no more a question of the largess or large-heartedness of the rulers, it is fast becoming a pragmatic necessity.

One hopes that the government recalibrates the political realities, takes a humbler route and adopts a whole-of-the-nation approach in dealing with myriad problems faced by the country.

The writer holds a PhD in Politics from Oxford University.

Email: [email protected]