Sep 19, 2010

Thinking differently

No change in Pakistan can be brought without people's meaningful involvement

By Dr. Moonis Ahmar

Never Before in the history of Pakistan, the country witnessed crises of such an enormous magnitude. It is not only natural disaster in the shape of floods which has caused havoc in large parts of Pakistan, resulting into the displacement of millions of people and a loss of around 15 billion dollars, mistrust and paranoia seem to have reached a critical stage.

The horizontal and vertical nature of crises in Pakistan must be taken seriously because there are forces that are waiting to strike and further damage the country's image and credibility. Doomsday scenarios like anarchy, violent revolution, and disappearance of Pakistan from the map of the world are being drawn by those who are not only part of the problem but also possess substantial clout to come up with practical solutions.

Following the more than eight years of Musharraf's quasi-military rule, the induction of civilian democratic government had raised some hope and optimism about sorting out issues which had caused instability and disorder in society. The politics of 'national reconciliation' and 'coalition' both at the federal and provincial level, however, failed to successfully deal with critical issues. With the deepening of corruption, nepotism, indifference, and incompetence at the state and society level, serious doubts were raised about the capability of political parties, whether belonging to the government or opposition, to deliver.

The turning point which totally exposed the fault lines of the so-called democratic set-up came in the form of devastating floods to the extent that various political leaders, including Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan, and Altaf Hussain began to talk about either bloody revolution, anarchy or the disappearance of Pakistan from the map of the world.

The loss of the writ of the state in various urban centers, emergence of powerful mafias and no-go areas, surge of religious intolerance and violence, ethnic cleansing in parts of Balochistan and targeted killings in Karachi indicated the gradual erosion of state authority and the deepening of insecurity among people.

The implications of the US-led war of terror on Pakistan, particularly the growth in suicide attacks, periodic drone attacks in tribal areas and military operations to weed out terrorist groups in Swat and Waziristan further added to the vulnerability of Pakistani state.

It is for the first time in the history of Pakistan that a country of 180 million people feels so frustrated and angry that aggression and violence is noticeable here and there. The destruction caused by floods further deepened the threat of anarchy and disorder. From a historical standpoint, the situation in Pakistan is a ripe for revolution and the opportunity to bring change which can provide basic security and relief to the overwhelming majority of people. But, looking at the sociological, political and historical landscape of Pakistan and its people, one fails to argue that there is any possibility of revolution in this country. What went wrong and why the historical process of change which plays a very important role in bringing revolutions is simply not applicable in case of Pakistan?

Four important factors which are relevant to examine stagnation and stalemate in Pakistan's state and societal structures are: first, the absence of a national character or the characteristics of a nation which can at least serve as a common bond and mobilise people in times of crisis. Second, the artificial nature of political leadership which has neither any commitment nor ownership as far as critical issues faced by the people of Pakistan are concerned. They simply do not share any thing with the common people of Pakistan as their lifestyle is far from the ground realities. Third, the culture of greed, patronisation and corruption which has permeated in different segments of Pakistani society and finally, the failure of military, bureaucracy and judiciary to help stabilise the country by strengthening democracy and the rule of law.

A major reason responsible for the process of degeneration in Pakistani society is the lack of better education. When 30 percent of the population of Pakistan which is composed of youth lacks good education, the outcome is the deepening of social backwardness.

Considering the magnitude of crises faced by Pakistan, the only way out is to think for 'out of the box' solutions. This would require pursuing an approach in which the emphasis is not on derailing democracy but to strengthen it by exerting popular pressure on those who wield power or are out of power. Having experienced repeated betrayals on the part of various political leaders and their indifference during the time of recent floods, one can expect a critical mass to emerge and bring peaceful change.

Since people, regardless of disempowerment, are the real stakeholders, no change in Pakistan can be brought without their meaningful involvement. So far traditional solutions have been presented for dealing with crises of different nature like inviting the military to step in or the restoration of democracy, but it is time one tries to seek a non-traditional approach to crisis management. The out of box solution also requires that the threat of military intervention ceases to exist because military takeover by four generals further messed up the situation and caused serious damage to democracy.

One also needs to look for individuals who have good reputation and are not only selfless but are also committed to the country. Unfortunately, large-scale corruption, absence of the rule of law, and mafias marginalised people who could have played a pivotal role in providing an alternate leadership to the country.

Certainly, out of the box solution has no place for a violent revolution because this country has no tradition which can mobilise people for revolution. Also, what is the guarantee that after revolution, people of Pakistan will be better off? In fact, two popular movements in the 1960s and 1970s and experiencing a decade of democracy (1989-1999) caused so much pessimism and bitterness in Pakistan that the possibility of bringing change through a revolutionary course diminished. Perhaps, it will take a lot of time to bring in a culture of political awakening in Pakistan, particularly when there is absence of any leadership capable of motivating people for a revolution which, instead of bloodshed and chaos, can bring a qualitative change in the lives of people.

The only thing which has not clicked so far is the emergence of a dynamic leadership. Pakistan's biggest misfortune is the absence of selfless and honest leaders. Leadership vacuum in Pakistan is becoming dangerous because those who propagate hate, aggression, and violence can establish their constituency, take over state structures by force and impose their way of life.

There should be people who are able to convince different interest groups about the need to bring a peaceful change in the country. Since no major political party has remained non-controversial in terms of power, it is time to explore those individuals and groups who are better and will not let people down if given an opportunity to serve them. If things do not change for the better and the status quo is maintained, the outcome may be further fragmentation and violence in the country which 180 million people of Pakistan can certainly not afford and it will also not be in the interest of major powers or countries of the region.

The writer teaches at the Department of International Relations, University of Karachi and is Director, Program on Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution.

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