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Legal Eye

February 16, 2020

The end of history


February 16, 2020

When Francis Fukuyama wrote his essay (‘The End of History and the Last Man’) back in 1992, he argued that the idea of Western liberal democracy stood accepted and entrenched and while there might be ‘events’ here and there disproving the rule, they were not to be confused with ‘history’.

So how would Fukuyama explain Pakistan? He could say that Pakistan’s de-jure system swears allegiance to liberal democracy and hence the existence of the de facto doesn’t undermine his thesis. Or that our back and forth between the de facto and the de jure are mere ‘events’, which too shall pass in favour of the de jure.

Given the gamekeeper’s complete control in Pakistan (or whatever variation of it one prefers; establishment, selector, umpire etc), Fukuyama would probably run with the first argument: even the gamekeeper feels obliged to pay lip service to the idea of democracy in Pakistan, which bears out his thesis about the emergence of democracy as a norm. Those who believe that the civil-military divide is the basic fault-line that must be fixed to move Pakistan out of the bog have argued that running the political process unhindered will bring about change. But will it?

Hope is a good thing. But the data doesn’t back it up. Back in the 80s, the IJI or the PML was propped up to have a patriot at the tiller who would do as told. But the 90s showed that, upon being endowed with power, the carefully manufactured patriotic front acquired a voice of its own and started to malfunction. That story came to a tragic end in 1999 when the PML-N was ousted and direct control of the state became a necessity. Around the same time a new kid on the block, a cricketing hero, caught the gamekeeper’s fancy.

It took almost two decades from the arrival of the new kid on the block to the PTI’s emergence as a mainstream patriotic force in Pakistan’s heartland capable of sitting on the tiller and executing the commands. Meanwhile, the other mainstream parties (the PPP, which as an outsider tried to play ball in the 90s and also 2008 onward; and the PML-N, whose love-hate relationship with its original patron continues) stand thoroughly discredited in public view courtesy the patriotic narrative that’s been paddled 2008 onward.

We now have a one-page model. Is it the triumph of democracy and the gamekeeper and the country given that we are now blessed with honest and patriotic leadership? The only problem is that populism and constructed narratives and gamekeepers can help deliver proclaimed saviours to power, but they can’t ensure delivery of results and services to ordinary folk. You can keep people distracted with temporary crises and you can deflect blame to villains, but sooner or later it begins to sink in that the saviour might just be a talker.

Larry Diamond, in his recent article ‘Breaking out of the Democratic Slump’ puts it succinctly: “‘Coups’ of the officially declared sort are not generally how democracy dies these days. Rather, death occurs step by step, through the steady degradation of political pluralism, civil liberties, and the rule of law, until the Rubicon has been crossed as if in a fog, without our knowing the precise moment when it happened.” But the breakdown of democracy and rule of law doesn’t mean that the chosen saviour and the chooser can rule happily ever after.

Why? Because, while populism comes along with degradation of rule of law and repression in general, it doesn’t automatically translate into delivery of economic benefits and better lives to the people. According to Diamond, “even populists can lose the support of ‘the people’ when they are no longer able to deliver economic growth and the appearance of clean government, and when their corruption and other failures can no longer be concealed by fear-mongering.” This reality has begun to sink in and thus our gamekeeper is in a bit of a fix.

What is to be done? It took a decade to put together one mainstream party to challenge the anti-establishment party back in the 80s. It took another decade and a half to put together another mainstream party to challenge the previous party of loyalists gone rogue. Patriotic citizens are now convinced that the two erstwhile mainstream parties are scum and can’t be trusted with the country’s future. And the latest saviour brought in with the promise of being the elixir for all that ails the country turns out to be a dud.

You have a very responsible job where you are placed. You can’t be blinded by emotion. You can’t admit mistakes. And you can’t be out of options. If the last minted saviour is good enough to follow orders but can’t deliver to save his life, sooner rather than later his time will run out. And so the gamekeeper must be prepared for what comes next. If you look at the landscape, two mainstream parties have the reputation of being corrupt and the newly delivered one has emerged as one comprehensively and utterly incompetent.

Creating a new party takes time and so that can be a project for 2035. But what is to be done meanwhile, assuming there is general consensus that direct interventions are out of favour? If the present hand on the tiller is to be discarded for dragging the ship deeper into choppy waters, can you run the game reserve with two sets of erstwhile favourites in the Punjabi heartland both at odds with the gamekeeper? You can’t. So you create a PML 2.0, empowering those who have always favoured working with the gamekeeper and obeying bounds set for them.

So let’s engage in wild speculation. What if the PML could be reunited, bringing the N and the Q together? The N wing could remain the senior partner and control the civilian domain in the centre, with the Q wing being allowed to run Punjab. This would be a path back into power for both N and Q, which at the moment seems like an impossible feat for them to achieve on their own. Q would probably not trust N because this probably was the unwritten deal in 1997 and wasn’t honoured by N. But that is where the gamekeeper comes in as a guarantor.

Why should N agree to this? Because it is not in N’s DNA to enjoy wilderness or continue to agitate against the gamekeeper. It wants in, and the part of the N wing that has continued to counsel in favour of working with the gamekeeper seems to be in the driving seat. So if there were a way to deliver Sharif Jr at the centre, having cut to size the rebel faction within N, and the Chaudhrys in Punjab, both running a well-oiled enterprise, wouldn’t the gamekeeper be pleased with itself? But what about the incumbent saviour and his support base?

It’s not that the gamekeeper doesn’t love its latest creation. But between what is desirable and what is necessary, it must go with the latter. If the incumbent saviour had been a talker and a doer, the gamekeeper would love him forever. But if at stake is sustainability of the game reserve itself, the gamekeeper must make hard decisions. And the shared support base of the saviour and the gamekeeper will understand need for action. It can already feel growing economic misery. In the end, it will know that the gamekeeper acted in the larger national interest.

And what of the revolutionary arm of N? ‘We will live to fight another day’ is the lullaby it will use to put itself to bed. The truth is that our gamekeeper is fully entrenched and the game is acclimatized to its de-facto rule. Those in the doghouse are eager to switch places with the incumbent favourite, working on the same wage while promising better results. This is what history has been like for Pakistan and how it is expected to stay. There will be events here and there, but as Fukuyama proponents say: let’s not confuse ‘events’ with ‘history’.

The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.

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