Dynamics of Politics in Pakistan - Current Developments
Prof Hasan-Askari Rizvi, Political and Defense Consultant, Lahore
Prof Rashid Khan, Chairman, National Centre for Recruitment, Lahore
Prof Hasan-Askari Rizvi:
Three overlapping conflicts:
If there is a lot of interest in India about the current developments in Pakistan, there is also a lot of interest within Pakistan with regards to its political future. The current situation in Pakistan can be described as a period of 'uncertain transition'. 'Uncertain' can be understood as a three-dimensional overlapping conflict including the following.
Between authoritarianism and participatory demands
Between moderation and religious extremism, and
Power struggle between different forces in view of the forthcoming elections.
Coming to transition, there is a process of change in Pakistan today, in which the system is moving away from a Musharraf-dominated political order emphasizing unity of command, centralization (which is peculiar to the military), where the Parliament is weak and Musharraf functions as a pivot of power supported by the military in his policy. There is now a movement away from that kind of political order, but the direction of this transition, whether it is with or without Musharraf is not very clear though it is likely to get cleared before next February. However, change does not imply a radical change in Pakistan, but one with a lot of continuity. There will be more space available to civilians, political leaders and processes in the future, a space that was not available to them in the past one year. The military, however, shall continue to remain important and a model of civil-military hybrid is likely to evolve with a tilt of balance towards the civilians. Within this framework, it will still be a bargaining political model and the outcome of this bargain will depend on the context and the issues at hand. So far as security issues are concerned, which include war on terrorism, the military shall continue to have more weight even when civilian political leaders are in command of the political system.
Coming to the conflict between authoritarianism and participatory demands, the notion of Musharraf being at the pivot is being questioned since the past one year or so, along with the resurgence of political forces in Pakistan. The political system that Musharraf had put forward in 2002 did not develop strong roots and has not become a viable system. It is more state dependent, supported by the military and the ruling Muslim League. Elections are likely to take place in the last week of December or maybe first week of January.
The lawyers' movement that shaped up earlier this year in protest against Musharraf's attempt to remove the Chief Justice of Pakistan reflected its capability to challenge the political system, although they were not part of the formal political structure. This instilled a great degree of confidence among the Pakistani civilian political forces. This is different from how it was maybe even two years back, when, civilian forces were not in a position to assert itself against a political order which enjoyed the support of the military and the bureaucratic apparatus. Even some civil society groups have become more assertive today. Besides this, the media especially the press and the private sector TV channels are relatively free, thus contributing to change. Further, the increasing autonomy and assertion of the judiciary has also challenged the existing structure, facilitating a transition. Not only the Supreme Court but even the High Courts are asserting their autonomy in Pakistan now.
Religious extremism and Violence:
Religious extremism, especially the Taliban group, is on the rise mainly in the tribal areas and frontier provinces in Pakistan. The interesting thing about these groups is that their basic agenda today is domestic and following that, Afghanistan. Kashmir is no longer a primary target or important concern. This reflects a growing sense of alienation between Pakistan's military, intelligence agencies and these militant groups since 2004 onwards. Even from 2004- 2007, both sides were showing some restraint. The state was not pursuing them to the last and this restraint gave these groups some space to function. The militant groups were also not directly challenging the state. Certain government officials had also been sympathetic to their cause which helped them further. Government was also trying not to alienate the new Islamic political parties like the MMA. At times they functioned as a political front for the militant groups. After the Lal Masjid incident, however, it seems that the radical Islamic groups have declared war on the state. They interpreted that incident as the beginning of a new policy towards the Pakistani state because if the state was allowed to get away with Red Mosque then it would repeat such incidents in future. Since then, suicide attacks by these groups have been on the rise in Pakistan. This is going to be a major challenge in the domestic front even to a civilian government. It has necessitated a more inward-looking policy in the state.
Issue of transition:
There is greater expression from political forces today for a participatory system and a civilian dominated order, but even as things change in Pakistan, the system will still be deficient in democracy. The quality of democracy would depend on many factors. To begin with, the survival or non-survival of Musharraf is an important consideration at hand. Even if he manages to survive, he would not be in a position to be as assertive as he was before. His position as a pivot of power would be therefore largely compromised.
Musharraf is now seeking alternate sources of support. Understanding with Benazir is one option though there are problems with this cooperation. This cooperation is based on divergent interests and therefore, unstable. While Benazir is interested to make a comeback into the politics of Pakistan with the help of this deal, Musharraf is hopeful of her help for political survival after the elections, owing to her party's popularity.
If Musharraf quits, the military will facilitate a constitutional political change in Pakistan. They are not looking for another takeover as it will not serve their purpose. They are likely to behave like they did in the immediate aftermath of General Zia-ul-Haq's death. They continued to be an important power in Pakistan, but they allowed the constitutional process to go on and a new President to come in, while they sat in the background. A similar situation is likely to emerge if Musharraf quits. If the Supreme Court disqualifies Musharraf, then his options are very limited. In case the judgment is very clear and categorical in its content, he shall have no time for moving an amendment in the constitution. The provision of Emergency shall also not help him to stay in power because Emergency does not address this issue. Even if he stays as army chief and makes sure that his party wins, it may not help him in the long run, because the factors that would go against the declaration of martial law at this stage are very significant and there will be a constraint on him and he may not be in a position to salvage himself even if he declares martial law. If the judgment is very categorical even military will not support martial law.
How to ensure a coherent, stable political system in the face of multiple political fragmentations?
How to deal with extremism and terrorism which has become more inward looking, being dependent on the military?
How will issues of socio-economic inequities in Pakistan be addressed by the political government?
How will the issue of the civilian-military relationship be resolved, as the military would still be in power?
The major focus of the political system that would emerge in the next few months would be domestic, internal, issues of religious militancy, Balochistan, and political demands. The new government would not be in a position to push the Jihadi card forward anymore due to the domestic issues that would confront them.
Radical Islamic groups are not likely to take over the state of Pakistan, but they will continue to be a headache for all political groups. There are religiously conservative people in Pakistan but they are not in favor of Jihad.
Pakistan's economic policies will not change radically in the near future with a change in government. It will continue to practice liberalization, privatization, looking for foreign investment etc. Only a few stylistic changes may come about with a new regime.
Peace process with India will not be disrupted as there is a major consensus in Pakistan with regard to this issue.
Provincial autonomy is going to remain a crucial issue in Pakistan in the future.
Professor Rasheed Khan
While there is uncertainty in Pakistan, the experience of the past five years exhibit signs of a definite move towards a definite direction in Pakistan's politics. There is complete consensus on the idea that Pakistan would be a parliamentary democracy and a federation. From the experience of the past five years it is very clear that there has been a move towards strengthening parliamentary democracy. Pakistan's political system would eventually gravitate towards the Constitution of 1973, in which the balance of power would be tilted towards the Prime Minister. Political development in Pakistan would inevitably move towards a constitutional system. However, unless the issue of Article 58 (2) of the Constitution is resolved, there will be no political stability in Pakistan.
Militancy is not just confined to FATA - militancy is joined by local forces. It also receives help from foreign militants who provide unprecedented motivation/ money. Further the militancy is also supported by madrassas all over Pakistan by providing recruits/ money. Militancy is a highly complicated matter and cannot be resolved by military action alone. Pakistan politics is facing very fundamental changes, like that of the removal of the Chief Justice and the change within the political parties. Two events have had an important impact on the politics of Pakistan. They include, 9/11 and the Pak India peace process. The Pak India peace process is already being cited as a reason by certain political parties to minimize the role of the army in Pakistani politics. When there was a question of distribution of funds between the Centre and the provinces, the MMA, a religious party, argued that since we are now going to have peace with India what is the justification of giving more funds to the Centre. These funds should instead be transferred to the provinces.
What is the role of the US in the current developments in Pakistan?
Depending on the mixture of power between military and civilians, what would be the status of nuclear possession?
What is the nature of political alliances coming up in Pakistan? What are the electoral prospects of these parties?
After Zia- ul Haq, Pakistan did experiment with a civil-military dyarchy, but this did not achieve an institutionalization of political structures in the long run. What are the chances of the same thing happening again in Pakistan after the elections?
Certain ethnic groupings are getting more prominence in Pakistan today. Is it because civilians are acquiring greater space in the politics of the state?
How is the process of nuclearisation process going to be affected with a change in government?
What is the role of the Middle Eastern states in politics of Pakistan?
What is the army's role and capacity in FATA?
- So far as the next government is concerned, the US is also interested and working towards an understanding between the civilian and the military. From the standpoint of the US, Pakistan shall continue to remain an important ally in its counter terrorism policy. Pakistan may not be as cooperative as the US wants it to be so far as Afghanistan is concerned, but without Pakistan's cooperation nothing is possible. In that sense, Pakistan may be perceived as a necessary evil by the US. The new government will maintain cooperative relations with the US. The military is in favour of cooperating with the US though they are resentful of US counter terrorism policy. But, relationship with the US would continue to be important even in the future, for military modernization. Though Pakistan receives a lot of equipment from China too, but all hi tech sophisticated weaponry and military equipment is provided by the US. Therefore, though there is a lot of criticism of the US at the civilian level, the official policy of Pakistan towards the US will not change.
- Nuclear assets are controlled by the army and they will continue to remain under the physical control of the army. So far as decision making is concerned, the Prime Minister shall be one of the players in along with the army.
- The political alliances in Pakistan are now in a flux. Though there are two or three major alliances, none of these were electoral alliances. Within a month or so the lines would be very clearly drawn as to how these parties would contest and their future prospects. Some of the major political parties like the ruling Muslim League, the PPP etc would continue to remain important in the elections. Then there are some Islamic political parties whose fate would depend on their relationship with the religious extremists. Religious extremists, who have become very strong of late especially in the North West Frontier Provinces, are against elections and if they manage to dissuade the people against voting, it may go against the Islamic political Parties. In the elections, individuals are not really important; it's the groups which will decide the fate of individuals.
- If the system of diarchy is revived, it is difficult to predict how it is going to take shape. Between 1988- 99, a similar model existed which came under strain from time to time. However, over time two things happened. The civilian leadership accepted a kind of restraint on certain areas and had an informal understanding with the army with regard to issues like the nuclear policy etc, which were strictly under army control. A military coup took place in 1999 only when this understanding failed and also because Nawaz Sharif tried to tame and control the military. That threat would continue. The main challenge for any government in Pakistan would be to strike a balance between the army and the political constituency.
- It is true that as space becomes more available to the political forces, the regional question and the ethnicity question would become more prominent as they would also like to have a share of the pie. As long as the system stays within the overall participatory framework, there may not be very serious problems. MQM is a good example of how an ethnic community has used its electoral victories to increase its bargaining power. It always has some assured seats in the National parliament and the provincial assemblies which helps them bargain. The People's Party is another important party in Sindh. As far as the frontier provinces are concerned, interestingly not merely the Pashtun nationalists who are traditionally secular, but also those Pashtuns who are part of Islamic political parties, are now demanding more provincial autonomy. Traditionally Islamic political parties were not seen as champions of provincial autonomy. But, after they formed their own government in the NWFP, they realized that lack of resources is one major constraint on what a provincial government can do. Apart from distribution of resources, another demand would be for more provincial autonomy, and if a civilian government comes to power in Pakistan, it would grant a few more powers to provincial assemblies.
- As far as Balochistan is concerned, it is a clear case of non participatory development which the present government was following. Though the government spent a lot of funds for the region, none of the local people were involved in the decision making process which led to a feeling of exploitation among the people. Again, Balochistan has rich natural resources and the people apprehend that the government is taking away these resources from them, in collaboration with some foreign powers. There is also the issue of national identity which is crucial in Balochistan. The people fear that they will be rendered into a minority in their own land, because if development takes place, non Balochi population would move into their province from other parts of Pakistan, especially Karachi, and outnumber them. These two issues fuel the nationalist question in Balochistan.
- The nuclear policy in Pakistan is controlled by the NCA- National Command Authority where the top military leaders and political authorities are sitting. So far as the broad outline of the policy is concerned, there is a sharing between the Primes Minister and the military top command. However the physical control has always been with the army and that system is not likely to change even after a change in government.
- Middle Eastern countries play a very important role in Pakistan. States like Saudi Arabia, UAE are sympathetic to Pakistan and they often take part in diffusing political conflicts in Pakistan, in addition to financial assistance from time to time.
- The army does have the capability to control the revolt in FATA and sustain its operations there. In FATA there are three kinds of forces which are battling now. One is the local force which is funded by government of Pakistan and the local administration and they are very poorly equipped. The second is F.C., frontier forces, who are mostly Pashtuns, and they have a tendency to make compromises and let the militants escape from the hideouts. The third is the army which has been very unprofessional in its role. There is a creeping demoralization regarding their role in FATA. But, it has not lost will. It has the capacity, power to fight militancy.
- The main problem in FATA is that the military operations and economic development are not being accompanied by a plan for political reforms. Political parties should be increasingly allowed to function there. Adult franchise should be introduced and the people of FATA should be brought at par with citizens of other parts of Pakistan so far as their fundamental, constitutional and legal rights are concerned.