Wednesday August 17, 2022

A way out

November 27, 2021

What has gone wrong with recent predictions about a possible tussle between the PTI government and state institutions? The controversy over the appointment of the DG ISI, dissolution of the provincial assembly in Balochistan, rigging allegations against the PTI in the by-election of NA 147, reservations of the MQM and PML-Q regarding government reforms had led to predictions that the days of the PTI-led government were numbered.

Some analysts were quick to predict an endgame to the PTI government. This prognosis was reinforced by statements of the prime minister himself when he was quoted in the media saying that the coming three months were crucial. This statement was dubbed by many as a strong indication of a rift between the government and power wielders in the state. A series of political events then unfolded as a result of the ambivalence shown by the government to tackle the TLP crisis that challenged the writ of the state right in the heart of Pakistan.

The rise of the TLP marked the beginning of new thinking about the vulnerabilities associated with the national security paradigm and the shallowness of the philosophy of deep state. The well-entrenched notion of national security and the logic of giving primacy to larger strategic objectives over public perception of governance started to wither away in the face of the unabated violence unleashed by the TLP.

The TLP draws its political legitimacy from a twofold mechanism of building electoral support among conservative classes and mobilising the disgruntled lower middle classes who find it extremely hard to make a living in economically broken Pakistan. The TLP has gradually built its political constituency in Punjab and has unleashed violence to demonstrate its street power of ideologically motivated workers who are capable of bringing the state to the negotiation table.

The PTI’s senior ministers have publicly confessed the fact that the state has succumbed to the political pressure mounted by the TLP through violent means. The government had to concede to the TLP’s demands, including the removal of the party’s name from the list of banned religious outfits and the release of their political leader and other incarcerated members who were booked under Schedule 4.

The PTI is the only mainstream party that had benefited from the TLP’s political mobilisation against Nawaz Sharif’s government. Some within the party still think that the TLP is a potential electoral competitor of the PML-N in Punjab. These perspectives hold some truth as far as the role played by the TLP to dislodge the PML-N is concerned. It is however naive to believe that the TLP will become a mere subject of the PTI’s political schema or a handmaiden party of state institutions. It has already become well pronounced via its nefarious deals with the state by deploying violence as an instrument of political concessions. During the last one year, the TLP has demonstrated that it knows well the art of using its own political agency effectively to challenge even its traditional political beneficiaries and benefactors.

In a fast – and unplanned urbanising – Pakistan, the TLP can become the political choice of disempowered and poorly integrated rural poor in the urban and peri-urban centers of Pakistan. In the absence of a viable and progressive political and ideological narrative, such extremist forces with fanciful shortcuts of empowerment attract young people. While the TLP is busy mobilising people, the mainstream political parties seem to be obsessed with a power-sharing deal with the state.

The inaction of major opposition parties has left a huge political vacuum and the TLP is capitalising on it to expand its popular support. The opposition seems to be treading on a pragmatic political path which takes it away from building an inclusive democratic movement with a broad-based agenda of institutional reforms for democratic governance. Even if the PTI government crumbles because of its poor performance, the major opposition parties do not seem to have a tangible agenda for the future political dispensation. The realpolitik that has shaped the discourse and expression of our traditional mainstream political parties has taken them away from the fundamental principles and ethical precepts of a people-centric agenda of political transformation.

No one would expect these mainstream political parties to be revolutionary vanguards for the rights of the downtrodden, but they could at least have shown some guts to articulate a transformational agenda of democratic reforms in Pakistan. The opposition parties, while blaming the PTI for being anti-people in its politico-economic conduct and the TLP for being violent and anti-state, usually stop short of offering a viable political alternative to the poor of Pakistan. Those who think that the game is over for the ruling party must know that there will be chaos and civil strife if the mainstream political parties do not come forward with a transformational and people-centric political agenda.

The rise in inflation and unemployment has left youth at the mercy of extremist forces who exploit their privation to build a strong political base. The failure of mainstream opposition parties to articulate a people-centric alternate political and economic agenda has further deepened hopelessness among the people of Pakistan.

Our firebrand social media analysts and some well-established mainstream political experts may predict the endgame for the PTI quite vicariously but that is not an end in itself. If the ongoing political and economic crisis leads to the fall of the government, we must imagine a way out of this crisis. It will take a broad-based and bold reform agenda to restore the economy and strengthen democracy as the two most important steps for the long overdue journey of building a peaceful and prosperous Pakistan.

The writer is a social development and policy adviser, and a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.


Twitter: @AmirHussain76