Sunday December 04, 2022

Cycles of instability

February 23, 2022

Pakistan’s political sky is once again under the dark clouds of political instability. These cycles of instability come every three to four years and play havoc with the dangling economy as soon as it begins to show some improvements. This pattern began with the untimely deaths of Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Liaqat Ali Khan, which allowed the establishment to enter into the system.

Temporary measures taken in the name of political necessity eventually destroyed the democratic process in Pakistan. The country’s political history is riddled with such cycles of instability which partly may have to do with international politics in the larger scheme of economic and ideological wars fought by the world powers in this region, but, primarily, it is a home-grown recipe for disaster, resulting from our willingness to play a role in those larger games that suited neither our size nor our resources.

Once again, Islamabad is buzzing with rumors, and all sorts of political activities and maneuverings are underway to bring about a ‘change’. A no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan – a constitutional right of the opposition parties in the National Assembly under Article 95 of the constitution – is an option. The opposition parties lack the requisite numbers for the success of such a move. In order to achieve their political objective, they need to either woo the allies of the federal government or win over some members of the ruling party, which means large-scale defections.

Historically, a no-confidence motion has failed in Pakistan, but it does not mean that this will happen again. Several prime ministers could not complete their terms due to the dismissal of assemblies by the then presidents, or after being disqualified by the courts. It all depends on whether the wheels of the cycle of instability have begun to grind.

In the parliamentary form of government, there is no fixed term for the government. It remains in power as long as it enjoys the support of the majority of the members of the National Assembly, who are elected on party tickets – even independent members are bound to join a political party under Article 63(a) of the constitution that was introduced to stop horse-trading and defections. But since the constitution envisages a no-confidence motion against the prime minister, it is a perfect constitutional way to oust an unpopular government with the support of the members of the National Assembly without indulging in the dirty politics of the 1990s.

It, however, seems that every rule of decency and tenet of political morality would be violated. Regrettably, open bids for support are underway in the name of political expediency. This state of affairs once again exposes the vulnerability of a flawed political system cloaked under the farce of democracy. Political opponents have entered the arena to fight the battle of survival. Arch political rivals are meeting up to gain support to oust what the opposition sees as an unpopular government that has added more to the miseries of the people through its wrong decisions, false promises, and U-turns.

According to the opposition parties, the ruling party came to power with the support of ‘turncoats’ and is being run by ‘rented’ spokespersons and an army of ‘seasonal’ advisers. Supporters of the government are funneling fire upon political adversaries and repeating the failed mantra of corruption. Interestingly, these political players are in great demand across the ‘political landscape’.

Many political commentators and experts believe that the last 50 years were wasted in misadventures and disrupting political processes in the country, and that governments during all these years made wrong decisions and never addressed the real issues that Pakistan faced. They also assert that the main cause of the present state of affairs was Pakistan’s willingness to offer and sell its geopolitical location to join alliances with several world powers to fight wars in the region, hoping that such a strategy could help it defend itself against Indian aggression.

Important policy decisions during all these years were made without the benefit of an alternative point of view from wise political leadership. It was not realised that an external threat does not necessarily mean to thwart the democratic process. In the past, many smaller countries with a greater existential threat continued with the democratic process and won over international support simply due to their democratic credentials.

After all these years, it is clear that despite fighting such wars for the US and being its ally since 1954, Pakistan is still considered an untrusted ally by Americans. India which is now the biggest sponsor of terror in the region is a strategic partner of the West simply for its democratic facade and huge economy, and the skilled labour it has been able to export to the US, the Middle East and Europe. India is now in a position to influence decisions in international bodies like the FATF. This all happened because when all other countries in the region, and particularly India, were investing in education and infrastructure and preparing themselves for the new millennium, Pakistan’s leadership busied itself in other ventures.

Time has come to break free from the past and make hard choices. Pakistan needs to decide whether it wants to remain a vassal and a security state whose defence and existence are dependent upon foreign loans and military aids or it intends to become an independent nation, which is economically powerful and free and its defence is invisible. In order to achieve this high objective, strategic decisions need to be made beyond personal and institutional interests.

Politicians are required to renew their pledge to honour the constitution. They also need to sign a new charter of democracy wherein, among others, a covenant must be inscribed that they will never lend their shoulders to pull down an elected government nor will they come to power without people’s support. It must also be covenanted that the party in power will not undertake a witch-hunt of its political adversaries in the name of farce accountability. An accord must also be made for Pakistan’s economic stability by agreeing upon the diversion of state resources for at least twenty years on development projects. Other state institutions must also realise that Pakistan’s defence can only be assured through a stable Pakistan which can be achieved through its economic development and independence. The opposition parties have been tolerating this government for almost four years now. They must not allow another circle of instability to damage Pakistan. There is no better judge of the government(s) than ordinary people, provided that they are allowed to exercise their right to vote in a free and fair manner.

The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court and former additional attorney general for Pakistan.