There is a renewed interest in the stability of Pakistan and its future, especially against the backdrop of events in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Will there be an upheaval? If yes, will it be led by the moderate civil society or by radical groups?
Recently, the Pakistan Studies Programme at the Jamia Milia Islamia organized an international conference on the subject. A predominant belief in India is that the military in Pakistan will remain the primary glue in terms of holding Pakistan. Many, both inside and outside Pakistan believe that as long as the Pakistan military stays cohesive, Pakistan as a country will also remain cohesive. The question therefore is whether the Pakistan military is united enough to keep the country on course.
Undoubtedly, Pakistan’s military plays a central role in holding the country together. Even its critics agree that it is the most important and stable institution within Pakistan. To say that an unstable Pakistan is not in the interest of its military is to state the obvious; this apex body will ensure that the country does not move towards situations similar to those witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt.
Having said that, it must be also be maintained that the above proposition is an over simplification of other factors that are in existence and are emerging slowly but steadily. The political parties – led by the PPP, PML-N, MQM and the ANP, although at the receiving end for their failure to effectively govern the country, perform a significant function. Consider a situation, hypothetically, where there are no political parties in Pakistan. In fact, most of the present problems in Pakistan were a result of Musharraf’s ill-informed pursuit to keep mainstream political parties away from the 2002 elections. This paved the way for the entrance of religious parties along with Musharraf’s cronies (Read the military’s, led by the PML-Q) who supported the war against terrorism. Musharraf and his regime systematically targeted mainstream political parties; for instance, many believe the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the subsequent blame on the TTP was highly suspect and requires further investigation.
Since the 1970s, the military has been the primary cause for the destabilization of mainstream political parties. This situation was exploited by opportunist political leaders leading to the thorough discrediting of their species in Pakistan. Despite this, political parties still have a major role to play in Pakistan. All it requires is strong, forward-looking leadership in each mainstream political party to help gain momentum and become a factor to be reckoned with. The future of political parties is not as grim as normally suggested, and those who write them off are doing the nation a great disservice.
Another emerging factor that could positively impact Pakistan is its media, which is perhaps the most vibrant and independent enterprise in the entire subcontinent. There is of course the likelihood of a section of the media behaving irresponsibly, as in any other part of the world. However, on a more positive note, it has become the new voice of an expanding middle-class and a vehicle for demanding accountability. Thus, although the media is often touted as sensational, there is much reason and rationality at work.
Also, unlike the earlier decades, there is a growing middle class in Pakistan today, in addition to a youth bulge which is looking for a path and the guidance that could lead them into a positive future. The vibrant social, print and electronic media, lawyer’s movement and the support for a judiciary are expressions of a growing and conscious class that demands good governance and looks beyond the past. Of course, a section of this class of people is looking towards the TTP as well. But is this due to the attraction of radical parties/groups or the failure of mainstream parties? An example would be the motivations that make parents educate their children in madrassas. It must be noted that this tends to occur because mainstream education in Pakistan is either dysfunctional or beyond the economic reach of most people.
Thus, while the military is currently considered the foremost guarantor of stability in Pakistan, the contribution of other factors cannot be denied, indeed, the international community might be led to make erroneous decisions based on this assumption. Just as Musharraf successfully managed to manipulate the West into believing that there was no alternative (TINA) to him and the military, so should the opposite hold true for Pakistan now.