The Abyss Of Confrontation: Lessons For The Establishment And Political Class Alike
At the moment Pakistan’s political situation is highly tense — the Government wants to prosecute most of the opposition leaders on corruption charges and therefore is interested in shutting them out of politics altogether, while the opposition wants to topple the government. Both the government and opposition are not ready to relent. The government is presiding over the coercive machinery of the state and feels no qualms about using this apparatus of the state to browbeat the opposition. On the other hand, the opposition is making efforts to mobilize public opinion in urban areas to bring people on to the streets in order to put pressure on the government or to force it to resign. The microcosm of what one should expect or fear on a large scale was witnessed in front of the parliament building when PML-N leaders were attacked by PTI activists. That unpleasant event led to a pitched battle between PML-N leaders and PTI activists. The situation is so charged at the grassroots level that one should expect or fear a direct showdown between rival political parties and their activists.
Pakistan was already a highly fractured society even before this new political conflict—between PTI and the rest— started to emerge on the scene. Sectarian conflicts, ethnic tensions, attacks on religious minorities, conflict between militant groups and Pakistani security apparatus define the security and political scenario of Pakistan. All these conflicts are not very good omens for the country’s cohesion and could be clearly perceived by the managers of national security as a nightmare. In such a situation, the emergence of a new political conflict – which clearly appears to be manufactured, and which could potentially destroy the social and political fabric of the society – should have caused alarm bells in the power corridors. But this doesn’t seem to be the case.
The PTI government is relentlessly pursuing its ill-planned and directionless anti-corruption agenda with opposition leaders as its only targets. In fact, the directionless nature of the PTI government’s anti-corruption agenda could be judged from the fact that Transparency International has recently reported that corruption is on the rise in Pakistani society during the last two years. And yet the government wants to pursue corruption cases against opposition leaders who were in government in the past. For its part, the opposition is no less reckless: it wants to topple the government through a public mobilization campaign. Never for a minute did its leaders take into account the fact that an elected government could only be toppled in Pakistan through the intervention of non-representative institutions. This is a possibility that will repudiate the moral stand of opposition leaders that non representative institutions like the Army and judiciary should not be allowed to interfere in the country’s politics.
All this is a recipe for a big political disaster. Both the political class and the country’s powerful establishment need to learn their lessons from the present political situation. In fact, there are two lessons here: one for the establishment and one for the political class.
For the establishment: you are looking at a situation which is a production of your decisions and machinations. This is not real, but a manufactured situation: where people sitting behind closed doors decided to use the outmoded slogan of anti-corruption as a tool to punish those who refused to fall into line at the dictates of the establishment. Now this manufactured situation has landed us into a situation where national security is seriously endangered—mobilization and counter mobilization of popular political forces could create an internal law and order situation that can destabilize Punjab. That province is the house of the establishment and a region where a great deal of revenue-generating economic activity takes place. This gives rise to a question as to whether the people sitting behind closed doors are so simple-minded that they didn’t realize that they are adding another cleavage into the already fractured political and security landscape of the country.
And the lesson for the political class: you are deep in a lurch which is partially a product of your ineptitude. If you don’t come out of your unending conflicts and squabbles, you will see your space shrink before your eyes. The coming situation will not judge you on the righteousness or otherwise of your position with regards to the current political tensions. It will judge you on the fact that every one of you helped create the mess from which there is no path to return. It will judge you on the fact that you failed to provide Pakistan an administration that is above politics. When the situation required you to administer the country in a non-partial and apolitical manner, you were engaged in petty squabbles. You were hostage to your petty interests that prevented you from acting in an impartial manner.
Time is running out for both the establishment and political class— both of them should realize that they have failed this nation. It happened due to their inability to see beyond their inflated egos and lead the country towards a big disaster.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.