By Brigadier Samson Simon Sharaf
Political stability has evaded Pakistan since 1947. Bureaucratic intrigues, repeated military interventions and exclusion of popular governments have fortified the role of elites. They have directly and indirectly toppled governments to ensure that Pakistan’s political clock clocks what they want. These elites have exploited the many gaps in political structure of Pakistan for entrenchment, wherein even apparently popular governments once in opposition adopted a similar approach. According to Rafay Alam: “There has been no revolutionary exertion of rights in this part of the world; it is not difficult to conclude that the Pakistani state did not acquire a fresh personality at its birth and that instead, it inherited the worst possible mindset for running a country.” Similarly, Dr Mubashir Hassan has often made slanted references to this invisible force capable of paralysing political governments.
If there was one phrase to describe it, I would say: “The mindset of 1935 haunts Pakistan like a ghost with many lives.” This mindset is singularly responsible for Pakistan’s political, geographical, and constitutional crises. Many a times, the politic body has been placed on a dissecting table for surgical procedures by butchers. It is perhaps the only notion in Pakistan’s political history to have acquired permanence.
In the 1930s Great Britain opted to gradually develop self-governing institutions in India, with the aim to progressively evolving responsible self-governance as an integral part of the British Empire. A significant group in British polity was convinced that sufficient imperial safeguards were needed to control and guide the institutional evolution of the dominion of United India. They believed that the native were just not up to it.
The Legislative Act of 1935 enacted by a country with an unwritten constitution was extremely detailed with punctuated ‘safeguards’ designed to allow the colonial mindset to intervene whenever it deemed fit in its own interests.
Both India and Pakistan adopted the 1935 Act as a provisional constitution. It would make an interesting case study why India and Pakistan arising out of the same colonialism followed different routes to political and constitutional development and why one defied imperial logic whilst the other complied.
India managed to break away from this colonial legacy, produced an enduring constitution and put policy above all state institutions.
Pakistan repeatedly failed its constitutional tests to vindicate the thesis of native inefficiency. There never was any supreme policy whilst interventions, coups and constitutional crises continued; legitimised by the generic term of national interests ironically akin to imperial interests of 1935. At every step, constitutionalism became a convenient casualty to the notion of necessity. Consequently, personal and institutional auras eclipsed the rule of law. Rather than public humility and service, authority and prestige became the currencies of power. The vision of Quaid-i-Azam was forsaken.
As military diplomacy between Pakistan and USA grew, so did the disdain of national institutions in the minds of ruling military elites. A linkage by no coincidence, the notion has often legitimised itself on behalf of the interests of USA and yet dared to pursue policies to the contrary.
In post 1947 era, amid the tattered and non-existent system where much had to be evolved from the scratch, the military emerged as the most organised institution. Kashmir war of 1948 brought the military to the centre stage of defence and foreign policy. Original authors of the Kashmir Liberation became traitors. Heavy reliance on the army for projects of national development led to further intrusions. The constitutional crises of the 50s strengthened bureaucracy and its power to bend fragile political leadership. It also evolved a culture of intrigue. Mirza’s elevation to the president and that of General Ayub to the minister of defence completed the triad that continues to patrol Pakistan’s political institutions and acts as a check and safeguard on national interests. Ever since, this group of opportunists, corporate interests, military men and religious zealots have teamed to overawe elected regimes in the name of national interests. Politicians have been convenient fodder.
This thinking has also affected the political parties of Pakistan. If 1973 has to be taken as a constitutional landmark, then the rigging of the 1977 elections by Bhutto was the worst self-defeating exercise. In utter contempt to the aspirations of the people, Bhutto felt he needed more time for his policies and therefore, win he must. Much before these elections, he had dismissed legitimate governments in the provinces, harassed opponents and ordered punitive measures. Though there are many other reasons for his removal, one glaring reason was his sense of indispensability and political ambition to over regulate. By the time, he was eliminated; most of his stalwarts and revolutionaries had abandoned him.
Nawaz Sharif, himself a creation of this notion, ended in exile for pursuing policies contrary to what he had been groomed for. Yet twice in the past, he had as opposition leader, helped the same forces destabilise the government of Benazir Bhutto. Right now though the temptation is great, he is caught between his attributes of confrontation and innate sense of political survival.
This destabilising dynamic has also consumed dictators. Bhutto used the anti-India bogey to telling effect to remove Ayub Khan in 1969. Again in 1971, his famous words, “Pakistan has been saved” were meant to isolate Mujibur Rehman, but ended up in breaking Pakistan. Perhaps Musharraf’s out of box solutions for Kashmir marked by back channel diplomacy never augured well. He was gradually pushed into an incalculable matrix of indispensability versus vulnerability, forcing him into a spate of blunders that cost him his uniform and presidency.
The notion has also spread squeamously into the constitution in the form of checks and balances between the president and the prime minister. Effectively, it is the president who keeps all the checks. It is believed that Musharraf had sought assurances that Asif Ali Zardari would not become the president. He was made to believe that he would not and yet he did. Thus his parting words: Pakistan Ka Khuda Hi Hafiz.
Could this be the mindset that President Zardari keeps referring to? He would know better being an accidental product of political gratification and NRO.
The writer is a retired officer of the Pakistan Army and a political economist.