As another democratic transition is under way, it is necessary to remind ourselves of the reversal of the usual civil-military leadership, where the military establishment was on the defensive in 2007 and people had an elevated level of belief in civilian governance, hopes have dimmed as of today. There are clear signs of political alienation. The country’s political leadership not only could not exert influence over contested areas of national discourse namely the foreign and security policy vis-à-vis the West and its war on terror, it failed to reclaim its own domains of control such as economic policy (the role of the military establishment in CPEC is a case in point).
On its face, the democratic process can claim some credible successes. During the first half (2007-13), the PPP-led government restored an overly-joyous judiciary albeit under public pressure, conducted the Swat operation, passed the 18th Amendment, legislated about women’s rights, streamlined G-B by awarding administrative control equal to the provincial level, increased economic cooperation with China and Iran, awarded Balochistan greater economic rights, and gladly passed on the reins of power to the PML-N post the 2013 elections. During the second half of the democratic decade, agricultural growth increased, inflation came down as compared to the 2013 level, tax revenue increased along with national energy production, several projects under CPEC were signed and were begun, Zarb-e-Azb in the-then Fata was launched and supported, and the constitutional amendment to declare Fata as part of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Pakistan also redirected its foreign policy more towards Moscow, Beijing, and Istanbul than to Washington. The fact that the two parliaments completed their respective terms in itself is a commendable feat given the political history of Pakistan.
However, during the democratic decade, the overall ‘quality’ of governance deteriorated quite significantly. The WGI indicators of good governance as approved by the World Bank — voice and accountability, political stability and absence of violence, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, rule of law, and control of corruption — show that Pakistan struggled on all accounts, losing in most of them or at least showing stagnation. As the democratic process succeeded on some policy levels, why has it been impotent to ‘deliver’ in terms of ‘quality’ of good governance?
The rugged nature of civil-military relations requires a fresh re-evaluation in the interest of political stability. Eminent local, as well as foreign scholars, have argued about civilian supremacy as the only solution bringing stability in the country. Any such solution, the argument goes, must rest upon the unquestionable civilian control over national security and foreign policies as well. Constitutionally, since Parliament is supreme, it must exert its control over all the institutions of the country, including the judiciary and military. The political class has failed to live up to the challenge of succeeding on several issues, including the WB’s and other institutions’ indicators of good governance. Corruption allegations, among other charges, are damaging to the legitimacy of the political class; irrespective of the reality that civil-military wrangling allegedly resulted in the ouster of Nawaz Sharif, it remains a fact that he miserably failed to provide an adequate trail of the wealth he and his scions amassed in Great Britain and elsewhere.
Expecting that the current political class will bring the military establishment under civilian control is unthinkable. Assuming there is a widespread agreement within contemporary political leadership to bring the institutions under civilian control, the future politics in Pakistan will invite institutional clash. Since political leadership is corrupt, or at least not as clean as it must be to win the ‘institutional war of civilian supremacy,’ the popular support will always tilt in favour of the military and judicial establishment. We will see a repetition of the similar allegations of embezzlement levelled against the next leadership as well, quite easy when the leadership is hereditary. As long as politicians will keep misdirecting their energies towards mutual wrangling and institutional rows, they will keep performing rather poorly on the indicators of good governance.
The narrative of patriotism, whether we like it or not, is in favour of non-democratic forces. As shown by numerous surveys that parliament and politicians receive far less approval from the public. Any continuity in the institutional clash will further erode the public’s belief in democracy.
In almost all countries where democracies succeeded in taking over the control of state institutions, civilians came forward with a cleaner record of both legitimacy and performance. In Pakistan, one must, of course, ask why parliament moves at fast-track legislation process whenever higher stakes of the political leadership are directly involved. If the political leadership and parliament wishes to win over public hearts at large, it will have to deliver by ensuring a settlement with the other institutions. Overcoming the trust deficit between parliament, judiciary, and military requires a greater focus on the part of parliament to deliver on issues of quality governance.
Pakistan, therefore, needs a new political contract between its institutions. The broader outline of any such contract may follow three most significant principles. One, the defence establishment must be given privileged control over foreign and security policy vis-à-vis South Asia, China, Russia, and Washington. It means that the national narrative on outstanding international political and economic issues should accommodate the concerns of the military establishment. Any such assurance will assuage the military’s desire of interference in political affairs; the choice, once left to the people of Pakistan, will not affect the nature of political outcome no matter which political party runs the government. Two, the judiciary and parliament should overhaul the whole judicial structure, including the role of police and law-enforcement agencies. The process should be designed with a unidirectional goal of providing fast-track justice to the aggrieved. Three, parliament and democratic government, while accepting a less significant position in foreign and security policy, must concentrate on voice and accountability, political stability and absence of violence, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, rule of law, and control of corruption — the indicators of good governance.
It is correct that the proposed contract of governance is asking democratic forces to relinquish their 70-year-old claim as the only legitimate entity of ruling the country. This claim, however, requires pre-qualification of self-accountability. Unfortunately, in the wake of corruption, bureaucratic nepotism and denial of legal equality, political leadership has lost chances of corroborating its legitimacy through performance. Instead, our leaders have relied upon the loopholes of the judicial system to win ‘technical’ justice. The concept of ‘technical’ justice as a proof of innocence, we need to realise, provided temporary and personal reliefs to various political stalwarts but tarnished the image of the political class as being the legitimate force controlling and governing the country.
Political leadership must show an approach of adjustment with other institutions to ensure a long-term continuity of democratisation in Pakistan.
By: Dr Samee Lashari