Dec 03, 2017 Dr. Niaz Murtaza Comments Off on Taming politics
Post-2008 politics has followed a few unstated rules based on the twin cities having a tacit no-nuclear-first-strike pact in place. Pindi will not use its nuclear option (coup) first if Islamabad doesn’t first use its nuclear option (clipping Pindi’s wings). Politicians will rule but Pindi will run the security and foreign policy domains. In return, Pindi will avoid politicking if its core powers aren’t threatened.
Zardari tried putting the ISI under civilian control initially under US advice. But faced with a furious backlash from Pindi, he gave up soon and remained meek subsequently. Nawaz too kept his desire for civilian supremacy well under check. Yet, despite civilian meekness, this elite political pact is unraveling after 10 years. There are many hints and even some evidence that Pindi is becoming restive and, like in the 1990s, wants to covertly manage politics even when its core interests are not threatened.
The targets of this political engineering seemingly are our main parties. Early signs of this strategy emerged in 2015. Carried away by its success in crushing violence in Karachi, Pindi exaggeratedly felt it could end sleaze too. Whether the intent was really this or merely bringing to heel politicians, the drive against PPP failed on both aims. This month, further evidence emerged with the failed attempt to arrange a marriage between two MQM factions.
Finally, in PML-N’s case there are more hints than solid evidence yet. PML-N leaders hint at Pindi’s hand in Sharif’s disqualification. The verdict itself is so weak it encourages speculation whether judges not built in Iftikhar Chaudhry’s mold would evict an elected PM on such flimsy grounds sans Pindi’s support. Sharif faces more solid proof of sleaze in NAB cases. So, the unfair de-seating may soon become moot. But it has instigated political instability. The electoral entrance of fringe religious groups and rumors about mysterious calls being made to PML-N MNAs further muddy the water.
Rumors about Pindi’s minus-3 and even minus-4 formulae (Altaf, Zardari, Nawaz and Imran) had started appearing in 2015 on social media. As of today, Altaf stands fully eliminated and Nawaz partially so. Imran’s fate is in balance in SC and ECP cases. Of course, all this may not be the result of Pindi’s plotting since our politicians carry sufficient skeletons in their closets to convict them. But engineering by Pindi is not the right strategy for removing the gaps in our politics. So while the proof may not yet be solid enough to strongly accuse Pindi, the hints are strong enough to put out a cautionary note against devising such a strategy given past failures.
Pindi’s forays into politics are seen by many as the inevitable result of the follies of politicians. There are two variants to this logic. The first assigns noble aims to Pindi: politicians mess things so much that it has to intervene to save the country. But this logic defies evidence. Politicians have never messed things so badly. In fact dictators have messed things more. The second variant is more cynical. It argues that the follies of politicians allow Pindi to grab power in the garb of being savior. This variant is closer to our situation. But there is nothing inevitable even about it. There are many states where governance is also poor but where there are no deep states itching to step in. In fact, among major states, such temptations afflict establishments now only in a small group which can aptly be called the TEMPT (Thailand, Egypt, Myanmar, Pakistan and Turkey) Club.
Yet, there is strong support for Pindi’s politicking among many educated people who view politics via only a moral lens. Such a lens is critical but when used alone it only generates blind fury and unrealistic demands for unconditional, full and instant change but not enlightenment or understanding. Thus, it must be supplemented with a political economy lens which provides better strategies and realistic time frames for political change.
The PML and MQM are currently the two parties facing the most flux. There is much wrong with them when viewed from a moral lens. But a political economy lens helps in analyzing how some of their follies emerge from strong needs within society and not just the evil aims of their leaders. The MQM is being asked to give up its name and ethnic politics based on the view that these serve only the needs of its leaders. But more than jobs and fly-overs, the MQM provides a sense of unity and identity to Mohajirs. Defanging its violent arms is proper; forcing it to abandon ethnic politics is not.
Similarly, the PML is the embodiment of patronage and dynastic politics which produces sleaze. Controlling sleaze is necessary but only via civilian accountability tools and sound verdicts. But trying to demolish the PML-N instantly can affect Punjab’s broader political economy that thrives on patronage.
This all thus requires patient handling rather than crude political engineering by those afflicted by the toxic mix of ignorance and arrogance.
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