Attempts To Rollback Parliamentary System Must Be Resisted
Talimand Khan argues that a centralist system is being proposed in Pakistan by a certain lobby which is sugar-coating it with a religious nuance to term it as the Islamic Presidential System. Such a system is bound to fail. In the past, this experiment has resulted in epic polarization, which ultimately led to the disintegration of the state in 1971.
Though politics owing to its flexible nature is being defined as the art of possibility, it does not mean that a political system can absorb for all sorts of machinations, engineering and unnatural overbearing. The unending recurring crises ranging from political and economic instability to security challenges, real as well as perceived, flow from the denial of letting the political system take its natural course.
Pakistan is a multi-ethnic state with distinct cultural heterogeneity. Intrinsically it requires and is suited to a system that can represent plurality with the natural ability to forge and sustain consensus on the crucial questions of resource distribution, governance and can maintain unity through diversity by acknowledging and recognising all cultural identities. And that system of governance is the federal parliamentary system.
Ironically, once again, a certain mindset is pushing for a centralist system by sugar coating it with a religious nuance to term it as the Islamic Presidential System. The fundamental question is, why are some elements bent to repeat the past experience resulting in epic polarisation leading to the disintegration of the state in 1971? The lesson, obviously not significant enough was thrown into oblivion when the remaining geographical area was subjected to constant instability during the Zia and Musharraf eras.
Perhaps the answer lies in the analysis of the nature of the state and its role since its inception. Turning the new state into a centralist security state was neither a mere by-product of the violent partition of the subcontinent and ensuing rivalry between India and Pakistan, internal chasms nor the localised regional power competition.
Facing internal challenges in the form of countless separatist movements, economic problems and two hostile neighbours China and Pakistan, India could have used the alibi of a centralist system. Instead a federal parliamentary system was adopted which evolved India into a biggest and stable democracy by providing a safety valve to the Indian Union.
Immediately after coming into being, the elite of Pakistan turned the state into a dependent variable of international military alliances of competitive super powers striving for global hegemony through containment and balance.
Instead of using that paradigm as a temporary option or means, the new emerging parasitic power elites gave permanency to the role of a cliental state surviving on easy money flowing from the rental services rendered by the state. The state economy was based on rent and aid received for its strategic services instead of tapping national endowments and investing in productive sectors. Thus, resource distribution, investment as well as political power also skewed in favour of the security sector and its managers.
The primary beneficiaries of such a paradigm of the state, so far, were the powers who paid for its services or the civil military power elite at the cost of the people’s political rights and welfare. Such a paradigm could only thrive on a centralist system where the non-elected elements had greater chance to control political power and allocation of state resources.
The present economic meltdown has caused by nothing but the stoppage of foreign rents and aids due to changing geo-strategic scenario and interest divergence with the pay masters?
Instead living on the reserves of the Cold War’s era, the power elites should have shifted from geo-strategic to geo-economic paradigm. Alas! Such voices for a shift were dubbed traitors and were ruthlessly silent. The two last elected governments were victimised for such endeavors.
A genuine federal parliamentary democratic system functions intrinsically on power devolution through provincial autonomy wherein the federating units have greater say in resource allocation and major policy decisions.
The totem of religion and state security was used as the underpinnings to justify and consolidate the centralist system that almost placed the veto power to the non-elected elements in the state system, particularly regarding resource distribution, foreign policy and making and breaking alliances.
Let us assume if there were a genuinely elected representative federal parliament as a result of the consensus based constitution within two or three years of the partition of the subcontinent like India, how would that decide the terms and conditions of becoming part of a specific military alliance? Would it not have reviewed and revised the terms and conditions or even the question of whether to become part or not of a certain bloc or alliance?
A strong parliament representing the federation would give priority to the welfare of its people instead of waging wars of others in the name ideologies for some doles out. A point in reference in the recent past is of, an elected, though beleaguered, parliament that vetoed the option of sending forces to Saudi Arabia against Yemen. Perhaps because of the dynamic nature of the democratic process, if one parliament approves to be part of an alliance or a bloc the next might revoke it.
Thus, to ensure sustainability and stability of the system the policy making power was given into the hands of the non-elected elements, thereby delaying the formulation of the Constitution for nine years on various pretext. Later on, a centralist system was imposed through the Constitution which was primarily the handiwork of the non-elected power elite.
That system created its own vested interests, thriving on centralism and conventional state security totem and orchestrated security threats which considered devolution of power in the form of provincial autonomy a threat to its domination on resources and political power.
Alienation of East Pakistan leading to the dismemberment of Pakistan was triggered by denial of provincial autonomy.
The current tirade against the federal parliamentary system in favour of the Islamic Presidential System is a desperate attempt by the security establishment to undo the poorly implemented 18th Constitutional Amendment which granted autonomy to the federating units, particularly their financial share that affected the disproportionate defence allocation.
Presently, in spite of the installation of a friendly government the security establishment has, so far, been unable to force the hands of the opposition parliamentary parties to amend the epic 18th Constitutional Amendment. The present desperate venture to roll back the entire federal parliamentary system is an attempt to quash the dangerous feat occupying the potential to shake the foundations of the state.
The author is a political analyst based in Islamabad.