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Mainstream, VOL L, No 30, July 14, 2012

Of Gilani’s Exit and the Culture of Pakistan’s Political Instability

Sunday 15 July 2012


Pakistan has been struggling with political instability since its very birth. There have been serious and threatening problems in its political system regularly and these have had ramifications upon the very development of the state and its reputation before the international community. The sociological fallouts of the identity and legitimacy crisis of democracy in Pakistan—trust deficit among masses in successive governments, political leadership crisis, the democracy and law-and-order deficit leading to the routinisation of political coups and subsequent forming of military governments and dictatorships, the saga of rampant political corruption, poor economic development, dismal HDI, poor health care and concern, power woes, sense of alienation among the masses, fragile judiciary, flourishing violent sectarian crisis, alarmingly growing religious fundamentalism, creation of terror factories, maintaining fear psychosis among the commons by vested interests, suppression of minorities and general security flaws, etc.—have actually manifested as both the means and end products of the sustained political instability in the South Asian nuclear armed state.

It goes without saying that Pakistan is a state of a strong political culture in terms of the political awareness/sensitivity among the general masses born out of its vicious and turbulent historical past. But despite being in the zone of high political culture, it is a fragile, impoversihed and dilapidated democracy. Political instability has become a routinised social fact not because of any conflicting ethnic diversity or any resurgent cultural encounter in the state but precisely because of the immature political leadership that goes to any extent when in power and, most importantly, the factor of identity and personality crisis among its top helmsmen or political elite whose priority is not nation-building but fulfilment of self-motives, attempts to enjoy coveted posts, tendencies of nepotism, the character of undermining each other and finally the quest for arbitrary and unchallenged power.

It also goes without saying that Pakistan owes its culture of political instability largely to its military rulers/dictators who staged hassle-free coups against the civilian leaders from time to time not because they felt dissatisfied or were concerned about the general masses, and particularly about the subaltern, neglected or marginalised sections of the society, but purely for the hunger for power and out of the craze for creating something bereft of sense or rationale. It is worth remembering Pakistan’s bleeding history that prompted them to snatch power and impoverish the already malnourished democracy besides a dismal state of relations and immature disjunctions between the judiciary, executive and legislature, which have time and again wrongly intruded in each other’s juris-diction and thus shaped up a dichotomous and dysfunctional clashing relationship, thereby aggravating the country’s politically volatile condition exacerbated largely by the power-hungry military.

Also the society split which is the current social reality about Pakistan and both the estrangement and dismay of the Pakistani populace have sought escape routes sometimes in Benazir Bhutto’s return into the political landscape and now in Imran Khan’s valiant entry into politics via the Tehreek-i-Insaaf. This is the clearest indication of the wide gulf between the institutions of state and society and the story of the continuing political instability and uncertainty in the country despite a civilian government in power. History is testimony to the fact that right from the tyrannical regime of General Ayub Khan (overthrowing Iskander Mirza), to the crisis-ridden period of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, followed by the fundamentalistic era of the self-styled General Zia-ul-Haq to the corrupt regimes of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif to power-hungry General Musharaff’s forced rule and military interventions to the ruthless murder of Benazir Bhutto, Salman Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti, to the self-proclaimed presidency of (Mr 10 per cent) Asif Ali Zardari, to the cold war between Ashraf Parvez Kayani and Gilani (regarding the dismissal of the Defence Secretary, (Rtd) LT Gen Nadeem Khalid Lodhi, and anti-Kayani statements by the latter) and the infamous memogate and finally to the last nail in the coffin again by Yousaf Raza Gilani’s contempt of court both for rescuing and pleasing his boss, Mr President, trespassing even the judiciary’s orders, it is a legacy and culture of political indiscipline and instability in Pakistan. Of all this mess and saga of mass suffering and uncertainty over a period of time only the judiciary has been regaining its status in Pakistan, which is a healthy sign in such a dismal state of affairs. Once again revealing the legitimacy crisis by creating the unnecessary tussle between the executive and judiciary, Gilani’s contempt is a clear sign of confrontation between the institutions of justice and the power of the leadership. Therefore, the breakdown and legitimacy crisis within the constitutional framework has come to limelight once again. Also the continuing constitutional aberrations committed by successive rulers and the myriad broken promises by both the military and civilian rulers to the common masses have led to an unbridgeable gap between the Pakistani citizens and its politicians. Basically the prolonged family fiefdom and weakened judiciary along with rampant corruption in all circles has marred the situation and subsequently shaped up the geography of anger, terrorism, hatred and uncertainty in the state.

The current political situation of Pakistan can well be assessed as the outcome of a leader-ship of compromise. It has wrongly been understood that lack of a clear majority of any one political party and continued coalition politics is responsible for the political instability in Pakistan or coalition governments enjoy less support because it can be safely argued that around the world, Pakistan is not the only country running coalition governments. And the example of India, whose political system is very much a coalition but not politically unstable, can be cited here. Also it is argued by some analysts that secessionist tendencies have led to a general political instability due to internal strife, ethnic clashes and the politics embedded in these. Secessionist and separatist movements are confronting India and many other countries as well but India has not faced any such instability and uncertainty regarding its future. In Pakistan’s case what is happening is actually the result of a faulty leadership, opportunist politics, the sole greed of serving individual interests rather than setting national goals or functional governance etc. Also the saga of the resource crisis and problems of entering into destructive alliances, futile treaties, international agreements just for foreign aid and continuous dollar flow keeps the lamp of instability burning. Moreover, rampant corruption among the Pakistani political elite and identity crisis of leaders fettered to elite family politics and, above all, power hunger and certain internal forces working for the disruption of political stability and exposing pseudo-democracy are largely responsible for such a situation.

Last Word

IT is usually believed that both politicians and diapers need to be changed ever so often and for the same reason. Thanks are due to the judiciary of Pakistan for translating that belief into a reality. Yousaf Raza Gilani has operated and worked in such a fashion that smoothly brought about his ouster. The disgraceful exit and disqualification of such a top PPP leader from office is at least a good indication of Pakistan’s current state of democracy and law-and-order situation, which have otherwise always been so uneven, chaotic and perceived to be too fragile and corrupt by the international community. At least, this projects the fact that now the judiciary means something in Pakistan and it is reclaiming its lost glory. It will also serve as a lesson there to those men in power who treat themselves as being at the top of the world. Especially to the new man sworn in recently as the 25th Prime Minister, even who had charges of corruption on him in the past. Moreover, Gilani’s ouster by the court is a healthy sign for Pakistan’s weakened democracy and simultaneously it speaks of the sustained legacy of Pakistan’s erring political leadership which has still not drawn any lesson from history and is continuing with political as well as legal offences in a democracy that is increasingly turning precarious.

It seems political stability in Pakistan is becoming on unaccomplished dream. However, it may not be wrong to say that the judiciary is gaining its due status (though it is debatable whether the judiciary can dislodge the person selected by the people of the country or if the judiciary’s clash with parliament chosen by the masses can go on for an indefinite period), which is a good sign. And this is reflected in its noteworthy but harsh decision against Gilani and by its order removing him from the PM’s post. Thus it has become clear that law is attaining genuine supremacy in Pakistan as well. Political stability can only be achieved if the authenticity of the institutions, social justice and personal authority/power are properly recognised.

Dr Tareak A. Rathar is a Central Asian Social analyst and Senior Assistant Professor at the Centre for Central Asian Studies, University of Kashmir, and Adfar Rashid Shah is a Ph.D candidate of Sociology at the faculty of Social Sciences, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

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