Recovering from a crisis

Aasiya Riaz
Thursday, Nov 24, 2022

In a TV interview a few weeks back, former prime minister Mr Imran Khan rather disdainfully said that he was not afraid if martial law was imposed: “If they want, they may impose martial law. What are they scaring me for?” He did not just stop at that brazen statement but added to it further by saying that what is happening now was not even happening during Musharraf’s martial law.

The sense of irony in his statement is not lost on anyone. He seemed to imply that what possible greater control could the military exercise in the country in the form of a martial law that it was not able to do in the hybrid model honed and perfected over the years? Having worked with this hybrid model for nearly four years also makes him the prime participant and a star witness of the existence and machinations of this hybrid system. Martial law, he literally meant, could be no worse than the present control.

His statement also reflected a disregard for where such an escalation could have led the country to in the future. With such complete and total control of the system that the military can oust, bring in and send home any public leader in as quick a succession as they please, what is left to be afraid of?

Many serious eyebrows were raised at the seemingly astonishing thought-process of a public leader who on the one hand believes in public support as his real power and on the other hand could still egg on a martial law. However, the question worth exploring is whether he actually believes that only public support is the source of his real power. In fact, a larger question that begs to be answered is whether any mainstream political leader believes only public support unlocks the door to premiership in Pakistan?

Lately, we have all heard loud and every so often incensed claims of achieving neutrality, almost like achieving an elusive nirvana. The only thing is that constitutionally required neutrality cannot be described as an achievement. No professional is ever rated just for trying to achieve basic discipline every now and then while violations keep amassing.

After the (previous) law minister resigned, one would have thought the prime minister as head of the federal cabinet, and himself an elected leader, would have defended and shielded his cabinet colleagues from undue criticism. Instead, he issued a statement of condemnation on ‘unjustified’ sloganeering. Six days later, the federal government notified Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, federal minister for economic affairs, to have the additional portfolio of law and justice, demonstrating the government’s capacity of realpolitik to save its own skin by sacrificing a cabinet colleague at the altar.

The decision to become and remain apolitical would have been more comprehensible had those privy to developments on the appointment of the army chief not publicly hinted of a deadlock on who should be appointed the next chief. Why did the question of who was to become the next chief become one of such consequence and consternation if there is now a firm institutional will to follow the constitutional requirement of not engaging in any political activities whatsoever?

The truth is that the nature of the crisis has hurtled past the stage where public pledges alone can help the country. What we are witnessing are radioactive shockwaves of the crises allowed to develop over time. It is not just a one-off wound that can be cauterized and treated. Pakistan has experienced and suffered almost a consistent fallout of this hybrid governance in every sphere without heeding valuable lessons in the interest of the republic.

Our journey to recover from these crises has to begin with a fair and earnest acknowledgement of the problems -- including biases, flawed ambitions without a care for consequences, prejudices and power without accountability. This might not be effortless to navigate for anyone and would certainly not be easy in the eyes of any institution, party or the public. But we need recognition by all that we witness harmful outcomes because of our disconnect with realities and requirements of governing a complex country.

The next most important step is to ensure a free and fair election and letting the chips fall where they may. Our election management system has everything that it takes to ensure a free and fair election, be that constitutional guarantees, legal regime or administrative capacity. We had this capacity prior to the 2018 General Election also but this electoral capacity was deliberately compromised through ‘project manufacturing change’ which began in 2014 and culminated in 2018.

Pakistan has suffered grave consequences for not allowing fair political mandate before. Respecting the public’s choice to vote in or vote out anyone they like is the first step towards steering clear of political interference.

The writer is an analyst working in the field of politics, democratic governance, legislative development and rule of law.