Maryam Nawaz Knows Nothing About Governance
Pakistan’s political elite is hardly out of the slumber—they still think that they can overturn the military’s dominance of the political system and power structure just by delivering spirited speeches in front of large crowds. In this way, it seems, they think that they can skip the major issues involved in making our political system a fully functional democracy.
For them, democracy simply means allowing them an opportunity to regain their lost majority in the parliament. Troubling questions of role of religion, absence of federalism, lack of rights for the smaller nationalities and complete lack of capacity in the civilian institutions to handle the sensitive political, military and security problems are issues that can be simply swept under the carpet for the time being.
Two political concepts provided a basis to Pakistani state as it was conceived and as it was founded in 1947. First, Pakistan started as a modernist project led by those who were inspired by western education and its impact on the society—promoting religious tolerance and religious diversity were at the heart of this modernist project. Second, Pakistan was conceived as a federal state comprising several federating units to accommodate the ethnic diversity in the society.
After the First World War, the right of self determination became the vehicle for the establishment of Nation-States after the breakup of great European empires—but the neat solution hardly provided the basis of stable polities around the world. As there emerged a large number of states with multiple ethnic groups within its borders and persistent enforcement of right of self-determination could have reduced the size of the state to be too tiny.
To compensate for this flaw thus emerged the concept of federal state—with several confederating or federating units—that provided opportunity for the formation of multi-ethnic states. Pakistan was conceived as a multi-ethnic federal state, but this dream was lost in the way when the country’s civil-military bureaucracy hijacked and disrupted the political process and diverted the focus of political developments towards a strong, authoritarian central government. When 18th Amendment—that ensure devolution of power to the federating units—was passed by country’s parliament under the stewardship of conventional and centrist political parties like Muslim Leader (Nawaz Sharif) and PPP, there emerged the chances of Pakistani transforming itself into a federal state. The dream was shattered when the military establishment staged a comeback in 2018, after ten years of civilian rule, with Imran Khan as their front man.
A political campaign that would not afford an opportunity to Pakistani people to make Pakistan become a true federal state would be a waste of energy and resources. A political campaign which would not allow Pakistan to mitigate economic and social inequalities existing in the society would not be able to consolidate democracy in the country.
This would not lead to a democracy where the military should be completely subservient to civilian institutions. The widening economic inequalities in our society create a conducive atmosphere for elitist military organizations to dominate the power structure in the country. This doesn’t allow our political system to create a democracy where intelligence agencies are not uncontrolled leviathan with tentacles spread deep into society and state.
The problems of our political history are that repeatedly we are faced with situations and environments where one set of political leadership on another came on to the streets demanding democracy without a clear and deep understanding of the issues and problems involved. They clash with the state machinery and as result some internal re-adjustment within the power structure takes place, leaving the essential questions dealing with the essence of democracy in our society, unanswered.
Latest bout of protest under the leadership of Pakistani Democratic Movement (PDM) is no different. The only silver lining in this protest movement is the rise of Maryam Nawaz Sharif as an icon of civilian supremacy in our society. The rise of Maryam Nawaz Sharif is a romantic process—which seems very attractive at first glance but it is a very painful process. If anybody has any doubt he or she should consult the political career of Benazir Bhutto—she became princess of the hearts of Pakistani people with her relentless struggle against military dictatorship. But then she failed miserably when it came to governance, because resisting a military dictatorship doesn’t tell you how to govern a near nuclear state with a large number of small and big social and political upheavals. Is Maryam Nawaz Sharif’s experience any different? Is this experience preparing her for an eventual governing role? No it is not.
She seems to be obsessed with the idea of civilian supremacy—though an excellent development in itself, but will hardly solve the problems of democracy. Maryam doesn’t seem to care much about issues related to federalism, rights and identity of smaller nationalities in Pakistan, economic inequalities hardly figure in her narrative and rhetoric, the plight of religious minorities and issues of religious freedom are not issues for her. Besides Maryam seems to be following in the footsteps of political leaders in the post-Zia period when it comes to foreign and security policies—that they keep their hands off such issues, hear no evil, see no evil and say no evil when it comes to foreign and security policies. With the result that political leaders remain on the fringes of the power game in Islamabad.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.