Political Deadlock An Unfolding Crisis Of Democracy In Pakistan
A slanging match is being perpetually played in the arena of the country’s political landscape with the populace on sight. The power games, tongue-in-cheek remarks and non-stop derisive comments that often take personal spins, are repetitively spewed by those in power, only to be followed by the Opposition akin to maligning. The cycle and the counter-cycle continue unabashed.
Looks like the enormous task of running the country has taken the back seat, as the brunt and devastation caused by the plague of ‘confrontational politics’ makes COVID-19 appear envious and dwarfed. Gravely encumbered by the cumulative weight of a global pandemic, a dwindling economy, skyrocketing inflation, rampant lawlessness, sense of insecurity, unemployment, intermittent lockdowns and disruption of normalcy, a nation that can take no more may only frustratingly turn to the rulers, hands over ears, and yell agitatedly, ‘Stop!’
While COVID-19 takes away our sense of smell and taste, one would only hope this deluge of political squabbling would not numb our sense of hearing and sight. Having to witness useless, toxic politicking gibberish being callously added to the clamour of multiple stresses in these uncertain times, the last thing the citizens need is a crass show. Put up as people’s demand and desire, that is shocking them instead of serving them, as claimed by these martial narcissists who think they propagate the cause of democracy through these solipsistic bouts of verbal vomiting. Rest in peace the rudiments of political communication.
Taking childish jabs at each other, no matter how important or solemn an occasion is in terms of national interest, has become the norm for rulers. Every small slip experienced by the other side is blown out of proportion; every petty success achieved by the self is over-stated and puffed up. Fumbling or faltering through an interview is a verdict of conviction, while taking constant u-turns is a sign of self-correction, and the office-holders have the time to go to any extent to prove so or otherwise.
It’s quite ironic how our politicians swap statements when they exchange roles between the two extremes of being in the government and constituting the opposition. Extremes, because it has been proven, time and again, that successive governments and oppositions are hardly ever amicably on the same page in our political milieu, though seldom so divided as during the current political times of stiff-necked stand-off. In Pakistan, the government and the opposition are adversaries, not meant to join hands to facilitate power-sharing or the running of the country democratically.
Rulings change according to personal positioning: when in power, no one blames the security establishment for political meddling. Everyone thoroughly believes that elected governments must be given a chance to complete their tenure, and that the opposition and its moves are always anti-state and undemocratic. When the same group of politicians forms the opposition, they end up hurling the same allegations that they had offered resistance to while in power.
Our rulers are good at issuing paradoxical statements or manifesting a clash of narratives even within their own party leadership. The recent PDM rallies saw the PML(N) top leadership condemning the military establishment or some members of the establishment, as later clarified, for bringing the PTI to power, while castigating the involvement of establishment in political affairs of the country. The same party’s ace, Maryam Nawaz, was ready to hold talks with the establishment, if the latter could get rid of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government. This suggestion was not only tantamount to directly involving the security establishment in politics, but also encouraging an undemocratic coup d’état.
There is a dire need for some solemn contemplation among the political forces regarding the way they operate. Critical problems faced by the nation that demand immediate and undivided attention run into hundreds. Even alluding to the elimination of the incumbent government through undemocratic means, at this critical time, would mean providing room for authoritarian elements to take their chaotic course. The responsibility primarily lies with the government to ensure that time and resources are not wasted just in mindless muscle-flexing and in keeping a tab on every move of the other side, and that energies are allocated to navigate through the maze of challenges plaguing the country. It might as well spend time and resources keeping a tab on people’s problems and what is being done to solve them. The opposition also seriously needs to look at things beyond personal and party gains, something that we rarely get to witness in national politics.
Dynastic or otherwise, political figures’ first and foremost concern has always been to consolidate their own stability and that of their affiliate political parties. The situation at hand is not just an issue of dealing with the current one-off political crisis; it also involves removing the inherent distortion in the power structure that has been the main cause of never-ending political instability in the country for decades. What we need are fundamental reforms in institutions to sustain democratic processes, which is a Herculean task in a country like Pakistan.
With the current crisis generated by crass political wrangling and lack of meaningful dialogue here to stay for a while, the country seems headed towards a bleak cul-de-sac; both sides realize the consequences of carrying on without consensus, but seem to be too self-centered to pause or care. When the affairs of the state are neglected, it is the people and the democratic practices that suffer. The sustenance and fortification of democracy and long-term national gains entail improvements that are conducive.
Faryal Shahzad is an entrepreneur and a freelance journalist based in Lahore.