Cause for thought

By Rifaat Hamid Ghani

          Pakistan’s hybrid politics may also be dubbed mongrel in that the product is apparent but origins uncertain. That is not all – there is a growing anxiety that present hybridity could progress from the mongrel to pariah: What might follow?

What used to be mainstream parties – not just in terms of their national vote-banks but also in orientation and focus – have adopted the PTI’s signature mode of accusatory venomous rhetoric. Coalitional incumbents can also indulge in a self-glorification the unfairly free media helps it to propagate, while denying the facility to the opposition. Such, since quite some time, is the totality of Pakistan’s political language. Most of us have stopped listening; but political fatigue and passivity can cost.

The demands of a democratic market are facing short supply. Systemic experimentation has gained topicality with armchair intellectuals. How long before it can be made apparent as the demand of the streets?

The PTI rose to its commanding heights on the basis of repetitive populist gabble somewhat relieved by a carnival sort spiel for its jalsas. To give it its due, it also mastered – or was permitted – the art of using the politics of mass protest to effectively paralyse civic life and obstruct administrative functioning at a national level. Initially it needed the likes of Tahirul Qadri (trailblazing a league of favoured expats) but that brood’s contribution was later eclipsed by the stalwarts of the Faizabad dharna.

Even in what should be sober inclusive federal incumbency with due respect for provincial autonomy and fault-lines, the PTI remains fixated on its exclude, denigrate, and oust-the-other-fellow mode with the PPP-governed Sindh province: Although it stoically resists toxic intoxication in speaking of the PML(Q); and dexterously plays Jekyll and Hyde as required with various factions of the officially former MQM which once held urban Sindh in a vice. Moreover, it has patented its own code of honour for what lesser citizens perceive as assorted Mafiosi that play cartels its way.

It would be mistaken to think there is only talk and no effect: the institutional bulwarks of parliamentary democracy are being steadily eroded; and the personality cult around PM Imran Khan, the PTI party leader, and a heightened centralization of power in his office brings us uncomfortably close to totalitarian style politics. Totalitarianism negates the founding ethos of Pakistan and is unlikely to be tamely accepted at a national level. Or even be maintainable over a period of time: witness the political fates of sundry generals or even a ZAB. 

Unless they mend their ways; the incumbents as well as the parties seeking incumbency in future elections, are assuring success in what has become a common objective: making sure that politically the other fellows in the game reach a screeching grinding halt. Meanwhile, what of the country?

Another term for a country inoperative administratively and politically is ‘failed state’. That prospect clears the way to military assumption of civil political space: For, given the regional surround, internal chaos is unaffordable. In certain circumstances there is no gainsaying the entirely constitutional declaration of emergency powers.

Some may interpret that as the surest way for our nuclear-powered state to escape external ‘remedial’ intervention the western world has shown much pre-emptive aptitude for in the Islamist context. However, misapplied and misconceived internal military action (or inaction) undertaken in conjunction with overtly professed political necessity also inflicts wounds and leaves deep scars that can fail a state. The games being played in inter-mixing nationalist aspirations; ethnic sensibilities; sectarian sentiments and religious public discourse; civic complaints and public grievances with political point-scoring verge on the nationally cannibalistic.

Much depends on the dispassionate wisdom of those in the establishment – military, judicial, and bureaucratic – and their ability to withstand self-advancing political enticement. How, for instance, will squabbling arising from cantonment board polls, the ECP vs EVM conduct of elections, and the resistance to rapidly increasing circumscription of freedoms of speech, assembly and expression be handled? Will they be treated as law and order issues to be curtailed rapidly and ‘expediently’ or will the deep state and establishment pressures be for the PTI government to revisit the wiser heads in its party that were compelled to leave it rather than go along with it?

Footnote: It is bitter cause for mirth that the government of the day vociferously criticises the opposition for lacking the substance and legislative administrative programme and execution that are due from the government of the day not a government in waiting.