Back to square one?
Six months is too short a period to judge the performance of a new government. More so, when the party in power is a new comer to the challenges of governance. Of course, there are many in the PTI with vast experience of governance. But it takes time for even the most experienced to jell into a team. That is what is perhaps happening inside the ruling coalition. And that perhaps is the reason why the PTI-led coalition government is giving the appearance of being too novice at the game of governance.
Not making the matters any easier for Prime Minister Imran Khan and his yet-to-turn into a completely jelled team is the opposition made up of two most experienced parties which have taken turns in running the government since mid-1980s. And there is also a totally politicized civil service to reckon with. And to the misfortune of the government the civil service today seems to have turned into non-functional mode because of the sword of the NAB hanging over its head. The third factor which is seemingly making it very difficult for the government to govern with any degree of equanimity is the media whose job it is to keep a vigilant eye on the performance of the government of the day. So, the very media which had appeared so supportive of PTI when it was on the container is today questioning each and every move of the ruling coalition and its policies. The media, unfortunately for the PTI, is judging the party’s performance on the standards it had set for itself when on the container.
As a result the country finds itself on the verge of another journey into the unknown with a pro-active judiciary and an establishment seemingly tired of ruling from behind the democratic facade.
In the immediate run, it would be almost impossible for the opposing political camps not to indulge in blame games and political point-scoring. In the longer run, however, all those who matter in this high wire political game would find it in their own self-interests not to upset the applecart and turn the proceedings into a full blown crisis leading to reversal of the ongoing transition process.
A transition process from a military rule to a truly democratic dispensation cannot be switched on and off at will. Once begun, forced invariably by compelling historic developments, the process takes its own usually long, and characteristically raucous, time to reach its goal.
Pakistan has been transitioning since the 2008 elections to a seemingly democratic dispensation from a nine-year-long overt military dictatorship. In this process the establishment has remained an unwilling player – one who seems to be biding its time, waiting for the right moment to re-establish itself.
And, as usual, the unavoidable institutional confusion and organisational disorder, which march in-step with such transitions, had been testing the patience of the nation all along. The possibility, therefore, of the transition mode coming to an abrupt halt, to degenerate once again into an undemocratic dispensation, had never really dimmed.
Pakistan has suffered such disruptions at least three times in its short 71-year history. The first phase of transition lasted for almost 11 years during which a new nation trying to transit from a British colony to an independent republic found the associated chaos paving the way to its first military takeover – which, in turn, led to the dismemberment of the country in December 1971.
The next transition lasted for just about five years, once again ending in a military takeover. By the time this one ended in a plane crash in 1988, religious hypocrisy had taken over the ideological moorings of the nation.
The third one, which was not a transition in the genuine sense, as the military had remained covertly in-charge of the government all through, lasted for 11 years, ending again in an overt military takeover.
During these 11 years of covert military rule and the following nine years of overt military dictatorship, Pakistan had become a well-entrenched security state.
By the time the 2008 elections were held, the country had become diametrically opposed to what the founding fathers had wanted Pakistan to be and what the unanimously-approved 1973 Constitution of the country had envisaged.
What is happening today is seemingly Pakistan’s fourth transition. It was a totally disfigured constitution which the departing military regime had left behind and there were no institutions left on the ground which could be called democratic even in name.
But this phase of transition appears today to be on its last leg as the establishment has succeeded in coming back into the game with the advent of the PTI government which seems to have willingly conceded the space for its return in return for enjoying the symbols of political power without real authority.
Currently, the two most experienced political parties – the PML-N and the PPP – are facing judicial activism of the unique kind. The leadership of the PML-N, thanks to this judicial activism, has already been ousted from the game, seemingly. The same fate perhaps awaits the leadership of the PPP and again at the hands of judicial activism.
The transition phase that had begun with the 2008 election had reached its highpoint with an open clash between the establishment and the elected government with the publication of what is commonly known as Dawnleaks.
The establishment hit back by sending the PML-N and PPP leadership to the courts and then rigged the 2018 election to bring in a numerically very weak PTI-led coalition government which is too weak in Parliament to try to get itself disentangled from the clutches of the establishment.
The author is a senior journalist and editor.