Pakistan’s Politicians Will Be Remembered For A Lack Of Audacity
Managing power relations in a society is considered a prime task of politics. Who will be in charge? Who has more crude muscle strength or firepower but less political power in a society? Who will keep an eye on the more powerful—who have more firepower— in society? And who will watch the watchdogs? What role will law play in society and how it will govern power relations? These and other countless such questions need to be answered incessantly in the light of changing circumstances in any modern society. These questions will bounce back incessantly as the power relations in society are not static. They keep on changing and with them they change the political configuration. So there is an urgent need to philosophize and debate these questions and answer them in the light of changing circumstances.
Unfortunately, we in Pakistan, hardly debate these questions primarily because our public is forced into a mental state where they start perceiving that these power relations need to be static, otherwise a disaster might befall us.
Consider the argument that was presented by Prime Minister Imran Khan the other day in support of the need for Pakistan to have a powerful security apparatus, otherwise a fate like Yemen or Syria might be our lot too.
Prime Minister Khan is not the first one to use this argument to support the dominance of Pakistan’s power structure by the military. This argument is in common use at the grass-root level. And it is often used by the top brass in their interactions with the general public. This argument is presented as ‘logic’ to support the military as a dominant and persistent power bloc – which needs not change, which needs no reform or upon which changing circumstances will have no effect.
Undoubtedly, the state and its institutions control the narrative of the society too tightly, to keep the public persistently in this frame of mind—which then leads them to believe that power relations are not changing and need no reforms at all. But their impression could not be further from the truth or reality on the ground.
In fact, the political decay that we see all around us, or the institutional anarchy everywhere, is primarily the result of this perception that power relations need to be static or that they can remain static even in the face of dramatic changes in society.
This dominant narrative is a product of a peculiar Pakistani political environment, where political leaders don’t have the audacity to speak and assert themselves or to initiate a debate about new emerging power relations. In doing so, they leave the field open for a dominant, static narrative that goes a long way in convincing society that power relations are static and need no change – or that changing circumstances simply will not affect them.
I will quote from two public statements: first from the speech of Prime Minister Imran Khan while addressing Insaf Lawyers’ Forum and second from the press talk by former PM Nawaz Sharif outside his residence in London.
We see Prime Minister Khan constructing an image of the armed forces and particularly ISI as supreme watchdog, which keep an eye on elected Prime Ministers and which forces them to resign from their office if their Chief finds some irregularities in their personal or business financial dealings. At least such is the impression that one gets after listening to what Imran Khan has to say.
This part of Imran Khan’s speech was reported in the following words in one of the reputed newspapers:
“Mr Khan said since Nawaz Sharif was not clean, he could not respond to the then director general of the ISI when the latter demanded his resignation.
“Why did he (Zaheerul Islam) say that? And why did you (Nawaz) silently listen to that? Because Zaheerul Islam knew how much money you had stolen.”
The prime minister said the ISI knew he (Imran) had never minted money and he was a true democrat. “If I too start laundering money out of the country, the ISI will find out about it before anyone else because it is the world’s top agency,” he explained. The reason he did not have any “problems” with the army and the military supported his government was that he had a “clean record.”
Now according to the chief executive of the country, ISI has been turned into a financial watchdog, which keeps an eye on financial dealings of the elected prime ministers of the country. And in case any prime minister dares to question the demands of DG ISI to resign, his financial wrongdoings could be exposed before the public. The last time any credible security expert checked the mandate or Terms of Reference (TORs) of ISI, there was no mention of authority to probe financial dealings of the prime ministers of the country. But this is how our political elite portrays power relations in our society.
This is how power is grabbed in our society — precisely by portraying those quarters as omnipotent which are actually fast losing their grip on power in real life.
The press talk of former PM Nawaz Sharif reflects lack of audacity or sheer ignorance as to the changing nature of power relations in our society. When asked by a courageous reporter whether he repents that his party voted in support of General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s three-year extension, now that he plans to launch an agitation movement against the military top’s involvement in politics – Sharif simply ignored the question. He didn’t even have the courage to say a word in response to the question. Why?
Perhaps because he is too afraid to debate in open the questions that are involved in the extension. Perhaps he was too afraid to admit that the Supreme Court wanted political forces to accept or reject the extension and it was forces like PML-N which failed to assert themselves on this point.
Social and political forces that shape up the power relations in any society are never static. Similarly power relations are never static either. In our case history will hold central leaders like Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif responsible for their failure or lack of audacity in exploiting the changing nature of power relations to strengthen civilian institutions.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.