Divided but United

Written by Fakhar Ahmed  •  Special Features  •  June 2013 PDF Print E-mail

With Nawaz Sharif back in power, Pakistan needs to stand united despite ethnic and political differences.

During the last sixty five years of independence, Pakistan has fought three wars with India, suffered 30 years of military rule, faced feudal-biased democracies, endured the fall of East Pakistan and the rise of Bangladesh, survived some of the severest floods and earthquakes in history, and handled international conspiracies. At present, the country faces the worst economic, political, security and energy crisis; has to reach a consensus over Kashmir and deal with a combustible situation brewing up in Afghanistan. Despite a torrent of such calamities, the nation has survived.

Following independence on August 14, 1947, the influential lobby consisting of local feudal lords and the upper class that rendered their support to the British Colonial empire in the sub-continent, became a part of Pakistani politics. India, however, ensured that the land holdings and feudal estates were cut to size for its own good. The 2013 general elections in Pakistan saw the rise of a similar lobby of feudal and upper class actors. With the dust settling on May 11, Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan Muslim League (N) emerged victorious. The unsettled question of being elected based on regional, ethnic and respective provincial vote count despite a grave possibility of rigging of the elections cannot be ruled out. The smaller provinces of Sindh, KPK, and Balochistan are facing a wave of terrorism and violence, and are left out on the national front.  Akin to the 2013 elections,  the elections in the 70s also created a political divide between the political groups of East and West Pakistan, hence fueling the separation of West Pakistan and leading to the emergence of  Bangladesh  as an independent state.

Today, the smaller provinces express their dissatisfaction over the unequal distribution of their political rights. Where the Urdu speaking community of urban Sindh made tremendous sacrifices and migrated from India to Pakistan in 1947, in Balochistan, tribal leaders led Baloch nationalist’s parties to believe that their basic rights as citizens and political freedom are being suppressed. Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab, has been subjugating the smaller provinces over the years. A similar situation exists in areas of rural Sindh where the majority voted for feudal lords. Political leaders from Punjab believe that the political parties in Sindh and Balochistan possess armed groups and provide safe havens to miscreants for their political existence.

The province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which neighbors Afghanistan, has its own plethora of problems and is a victim of terrorism. The province largely voted for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led by Imran Khan, who has made lofty promises to change Pakistan’s status quo. Extremist groups continue to exist and function along the porous borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The nation stands divided yet united. The newly elected democratic government of Pakistan will have to face serious challenges during its first 100 days in power. From a rotten economy and a corrupt political system to a looming energy crisis and permeating terrorism, the new government faces an uphill battle.

With international forces gearing up to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in 2014, the situation validates that influential and international players supported the long military tenures in Pakistan, and  many  foreign interest groups continue to play an active role in Pakistani politics. The country has a long way to go before it can attain political maturity, sovereignty in foreign policy, or a sustainable economy. Interestingly enough, Western democracies supported General Zia ul Haq when they wanted the Taliban and the Mujahideen to fight against the Russian invasion in Afghanistan. Similarly, international democracies supported General Pervez Musharraf when they planned to conduct the War on Terror in Afghanistan, against the Al-Qaida. Even though Pakistan tends to benefit from a 7% to 8% GDP growth rate under military regimes, it is often during the same time that western powers suddenly value the tenets of democracy and exert pressure for power to be handed over to feudal and rich influential ‘democrats’ who, with few exceptions, have no professional competence of good governance. It is no surprise then that the country often falls at the brink of going bankrupt during democratic regimes.

Today nearly 34% of Pakistan’s population is living below the poverty line as defined by international standards; more than 5 million children do not go to school; lack of potable water, power shortages, and an ever increasing population is making the country a victim of social injustice, bad governance, and corruption. Thousands of mothers die each year while giving birth and thousands of children die of basic illnesses due to lack of proper health facilities.

Unfortunately in Pakistan, the election-based democratic mechanism and state machinery is beyond the reach of a professionally competent, middle class, honest leader. The process to elect parliamentarians in Pakistan is managed by the Election Commission of Pakistan but the lower cadres of the judiciary and teachers from the state’s education department manage the election process. These officials depend on feudal lords and influential groups to receive promotions and transfers. Therefore, they are unable to control rigging, even if no corruption comes into account. However, with the influence of a strong judiciary and a vibrant electronic, digital and social media, the dynamics of the democratic electoral process in Pakistan have changed.

It is imperative that power brokers and authorities make decisions on merit and understand public perception, as Pakistan can no longer sustain feudalism, a single province-led democracy or a military rule. The power brokers of Pakistan view the emergence of Imran Khan as a popular leader but not as an experienced or mature politician who can address Pakistan’s current turmoil. Khan’s dialogue-based strategy to tackle the war on terror failed to impress the Pakistan military or certain Western interest groups who have been embroiled in this war for over a decade. Pakistanis are waiting to see if Imran Khan can deliver in KPK, which will prove to be the first test of his campaign rhetoric.

Karachi, generating more than 65% revenue for Pakistan, has been at the center of Pakistani politics, held staunchly by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). MQM, by virtue of powerful but small numbers of parliamentarians, has to co-exist and form an alliance with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) that previously had a stronghold in Sindh but conceded defeat in the 2013 elections because of its poor performance.

Nawaz  Sharif is the first prime minister in Pakistan to take office for a third time and has formed his cabinet with a majority of politicians belonging to Punjab along with some old faces claiming to have professional credentials but having failed to deliver in the past.

Pakistan’s three major institutions: the military, the judiciary and the media, have an almost larger than life influence over the state of affairs and the ruling party has to carefully select its future course of action. A large group of intellectuals in Pakistan are temporarily willing to support Nawaz Sharif’s government for the time being; closely monitoring his performance depending on the first 100 days of the new government.

A fierce, independent and free media has allowed for political maturity and is adamant to uncover corruption, missteps and injustices conducted by the new government. Shahbaz Sharif, the current third time elected Chief Minister of Punjab has a better image for being a good administrator and illustrates the capacity to deliver. This time, however, the delivery has to benefit across the board and not the pro-government Punjabi elements alone. The new government will also have to show supreme leadership with regard to two new avenues of economic development; firstly with China, to manage and develop the Gwadar port and secondly, to focus on the Iran Pakistan Gas Pipeline project which the West continues to oppose. Another key issue is to manage the strategy on the War on Terror and define the role, which Pakistan will assume in the region. Political analysts claim that Nawaz Sharif is a changed man and is expected to handle things in a more mature fashion. This makes the first 100 days crucial for his leadership. Sharif has gathered enough numbers in Parliament to enjoy power but power has to support provincial autonomies and respect ethnicities so that Pakistan stands united. 

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