Since its very inception in 1947, Pakistan has been grappling with various crises—political to economic, to social, so on and so forth. Every new government, political and military alike, came up with plans to put the country on the path of prosperity and development but the problems have increased manifold and have even become more complex. Unfortunately, the government neither really understood the crises nor did it attempt to resolve those.
The current situation of protests, agitation and sit-ins (dharnas) in the country manifests that the crisis lies deep beneath the surface. After getting independence from the British colonial Raj, Pakistan should have developed strong democratic norms and development of inclusive political culture, but all this remained a distant dream. Muslim League, the founding party, was a coterie of feudal elites of particularly the areas included in the territories of today’s Pakistan. These people, who had been loyalists to the British Raj for their vested interests, were ignorant of the needs of the people. The British gave them various privileges in reward of the services they performed for the Raj. The same continues till today as these people are now called the winning horses of political parties in their respective constituencies and all rival parties are ready to embrace them into their folds. These winning horses are now such powerful that they have the capacity to manipulate the whole electoral process; leaving no room for the poor classes to contest the elections.
The second most important factor behind country’s instability is the fear of Indian domination which engulfed the country right after the Partition and played a key role in turning Pakistan into a security state. The armed forces took it n themselves to safeguard the ideological boundaries of the country besides defending its geographical borders. The emergence of US-USSR Cold War provided the Pak Army with an opportunity to equip itself with modern weaponry with the help of American aid. And, with frequent involvement in matters falling in the domain of political leadership, the institution became overwhelmingly powerful. In this way, the men in uniform also learned the art of controlling the politicians which need patronage to keep them in political power that is necessary for them to safeguard their vested interests.
Military, thus, remained powerful during the civilian regimes and restricted the civilian government to but a limited authority. Now, the situation is grave as, on the one hand, if military has wielded enough power to out the civilian regimes, then civilian institutions are corrupt as well as inept, on the other. It is due to this state of affairs that a large segment of society is still deprived of even the basic amenities of life. Poor governance under the guise of democracy has created a sense of wariness among the people of Pakistan and this resentment can be instrumental to toppling any so-called ‘democratic’ government.
This has rendered the people of Pakistan into a state of confusion as they sometimes start appealing to the establishment to take over and sometimes an urge for democracy take roots in their hearts. The confusion of the people is always cashed in on by the political and military institutions. They remain unaware of their democratic rights. That is why they, most of the times, are vulnerable to any oppression by the ruling elite.
The military governments also used the democratic ways to get legitimized their governments. They used the tool of people’s participation like referendum, elections, particularly those for local bodies, to engage the people through the same political actors. It may be deduced that political elites and army are the main shareholders of powers both in military and civilian rule; the only difference being the percentage of the share which changes with the regime change. The people of Pakistan under either form of the government are at the losing end.
Now, the most pertinent question here is that as to how we can get out of this crisis. The answer is simple: it is the political institutions that need to change their modus operandi first as no democracy is fruitful without good governance. The first step toward this process should be to use the policy of inclusiveness which means that all the people of the country will enjoy the fruits of public service without any hindrance and political interferences in the administrative matters. When all people share the public resources, the feeling of alienation among the masses will be alleviated. The civil service, which is corrupt from top to bottom and is politicized as well, needs immediate reforms to be responsive, transparent and accountable.
Local government which is the most important part of a democratic setup remains leashed during the political governments. Local government should be institutionalized so that people may themselves solve their problems. Surprisingly, it were the military regimes that gave due space to the local governments; and probably one of the biggest reasons why people support military rule and remain wary of political setups. Implementation of ADPs through federal and provincial MPs is a wrong strategy and has always damaged the democratic process.
Pakistan relies heavily on foreign aid and loans and has miserably failed to develop its own capital resources for development. The progressive direct taxation is only solution to generate capital for development. Tax machinery needs a complete overhaul in order to make it more efficient and transparent.
Education and health remain always neglected by the government. Public sector health and educational institutions are very poor in terms of quality and standards whereas those in the private sector are affordable to the rich only. Education sector, in effect, is the manifestation of the class system that has permeated our society. The need of the hour is to revamp the whole education system.
The role of military in civilian domain and foreign policy need major revisit. The policy of having a peaceful neighbourhood is in the interest of Pakistan.
The people of this ‘land of the pure’ are the ultimate losers in this scenario, as the fruits of independence never reached to them. The time requires us to understand the authority structure in Pakistan and give awareness and priority to the citizens of Pakistan who are the real owners of this country.