Mantra of Change in Pakistan
By Babar Sattar, The News, September 24, 2010
The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.
Pakistan is in dire straits and its decent into chaos needs to be arrested urgently, we hear. Is the Bangladesh model a solution, as some suggest, with the military cleaning up political stables in a short span of time and paving ground for 'true' democracy? But isn't that what all our dictators set out to do and instead multiplied the country's miseries by becoming part of the problem? And then the army is just not interested in an overt role in politics we are told, partly because it is still recovering from Musharraf and partly because such a role is unconstitutional. So then shouldn't the Supreme Court contrive a mechanism to oust the ruling regime -- the devil incarnate and root-cause to all ills in the land of the pure -- and save the skies from caving in upon Pakistan? And should the Supreme Court be unwilling to engineer regime change? Can't alliances within parliament be reordered to bring about an in-house change?
It is indisputable that we crave and need change. But what must this change look like? The Bangladesh model didn't do away the role of politics, political parties or civilian government. Its paramount focus was on reforming the election commission and creating credible electoral lists as prerequisites for acceptable elections. And thus after a brief interregnum the same old mainstream political parties were back in business duelling it out. The fundamental weakness in all reform models involving khakis is that these are transitional arrangements by definition that hope to fix deep-seated institutional and cultural problems within the realm of politics quickly, and with a stick. Even if we accept that formal statutory reform can be instituted in such fashion, behavioural changes and evolution of institutional norms and ethics is certainly not amenable to force.
Even other than this basic structural flaw in khaki-led models for change, expecting the army to cleanse the system amounts to a misdiagnosis of the problem. The civil-military imbalance in Pakistan has been a cause and not a consequence of our ailments. Despite the return of civilian rule, the military remains the most powerful institution of the state as well as the most resourceful political actor. A new army chief can make the institution more or less involved in representative politics due to a change of approach in securing the army's institutional interests. But such change at the top doesn't transform the fundamental nature of the institution's interests or the shared desire of its high command to continue to play a predominant role in defining Pakistan's national interest.
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