VIEW: Of conspiracy theories and recipes —Imtiaz Alam - Sunday, October 03, 2010

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What the executive is not doing may make no big difference, what the judiciary is doing may be self-defeating, what the military establishment is doing may be absolutely untenable, what the bureaucracy is doing may not produce any semblance of good governance and what the media is doing may be the last nail in everybody’s coffin

The adjournment of the implementation case of the NRO judgement to October 13 and creation of a full court bench to hear the review petition of the federation against some unwarranted parts of the NRO judgement by the Chief Justice of Pakistan has poured cold water on the hopes of those who have been giving dates for a change of government. Most disappointing, for these conspiracy mongers, was the meeting between the president, prime minister and the chief of army staff (COAS) at the Presidency that sent a loud message favouring the current democratic dispensation. But this was not to bring an end to the rumours; the conspiracy theorists go far beyond the wild imagination of potential conspirators.

A section of the media continues to propound all variants of government change and one is at a loss to make anything out of what is being so vociferously dished out on one TV network/newspaper or the other. If you probe these armchair theorists and question the speculative linkages, contradictions in their story, reliability of their sources and ambiguity of their forecasts, you get nowhere as they would struggle to take you somewhere. What is, after all, at the heart of all these wild speculations that have so far been proved wrong in the past two years? Are they a pathetic reflection on the sorry state of affairs of our country, which finds no recipe for its protracted and multiple predicaments? Has the system become so unstable or ungovernable that it requires, at best, a democratic and constitutional change and, at worst, a military or popular revolution? Has the clash between the judiciary and the executive reached a point where there is no way out left for the adversaries to hold back their guns? Or is it the government failure that requires immediate uplift or change?

Are there such interested stakeholders or power players whose prestige, interest and power are in jeopardy at the hands of the sitting president or the Gilani government? Has the government really failed to an extent that there is no option left for a more powerful establishment but to bring a change through whatever means? Are the Americans and other international players finding it difficult to do business with the civilian leadership or are they are now close to throwing in the towel on what they may perceive as an incorrigible state? Has the international community arrived at the conclusion that the government is so corrupt and inefficient and the Pakistani establishment so adamant not to change that they are left with no option but to apply a squeeze? Is it the same amateurish, egotistical and selfish old powerplay that is causing so much uncertainty? Has a section of the media gone crazy? There are, however, more questions than answers.

Indeed, more than the speculators, there are speculations that come out of uncertainties abounding and continuing tension among various pillars and the institutions of a floundering state that is at war with itself and others. Given the economic meltdown, shortage of energy, continuing terrorism and lawlessness, a bigger military engagement on both the fronts and increasing expenditure on the war on terror, stiffening conditions of the donors in the absence of viable economic growth/investment, scarcity of resources in a dependent economy devastated by massive floods and one of the most inefficient and corrupt bureaucracies in the world (not the creation of this government), the national scene is prone to any kind of destabilisation regardless of who runs the government. Governance is only relatively relevant to a manageable situation. It is least relevant to a void or zero-sum-game being played by various actors of the state.

A major catalyst can explode the uncertainty and hopelessness into a devastating destabilisation. This could come in a myriad ways and for myriad reasons: an escalation of intrusion by the NATO troops on our side of the Durand Line, which is likely to increase if we do not do our part against the sanctuaries in North Waziristan or elsewhere; yet another terrorist attack by non-state actors in India; a high profile target killing; a thoughtless confrontation between the executive and the judiciary; a mass strike against even a genuine effort at increasing revenue or drastically cutting down the untouchable non-productive expenditure; a glaring and ghastly corruption case of the top guns; a conflict with NATO or/and Indian forces; stoppage of aid and assistance and exposure of big financial cheating on the part of our institutions and a simple fiscal breakdown when the fiscal deficit crosses eight percent of the GDP as is being anticipated.

The crises are truly apocalyptic and are much bigger than the capacities, talents, resources and faculties of all institutions and the political forces put together. What the executive is not doing may make no big difference, what the judiciary is doing may be self-defeating, what the military establishment is doing may be absolutely untenable, what the bureaucracy is doing may not produce any semblance of good governance and what the media is doing may be the last nail in everybody’s coffin –not just Mr Zardari’s or politicians as a class. Everything is on the boil, everything is in the doldrums and everyone is spoiling. To make things worse and leave the country without a recipe is that the state has become a battleground among various institutional fiefs run by narrow-minded egotistic patriarchs who refuse to gently work within a system and without a clear direction.

Not all politicians have behaved, but most have, even though they are cursed as a class by a time-tested design. Parliament has done a remarkable job; so has a policy of reconciliation that has resulted in stable coalition governments, passage of the 18th Amendment and the NFC Award with consensus. But the politicians are resourceless, powerless and helpless. What they could do, they have not or could not do given the legacy of authoritarian emptiness. A poor team at the Centre and no team in the provinces have made things worse. Keeping ministers with bad optics was another handicap, which is the characteristic of the court of sycophants that our personality-centred parties maintain. But what is the alternative?

This country has seen all variants of governance — military, quasi-military, civilian-authoritarian, technocratic regimes, liberal-democratic, conservative-democratic, socialist-populist. Those who are talking about a revolution are only calling for anarchy. There cannot be a Khomeiniite, Kemalist or Taliban-like revolution in Pakistan, as the country is divided among over five dozen sects, ethnic, terrorist militias and extremist groups with a small time Ayatollah waiting to take over his party of the would-be fief at war with all other fiefs. Do not tell me about these technocrats who have served every other dictator and have brought the country to a pass. But the responsibility squarely lies on the government and it must act by radically reforming itself and showing the door to all who have brought it to such an awkward position. Let it convene a national conference with all stakeholders on board to evolve a national agenda of change for the better and it can hire the services of able technocrats to achieve national goals and reform governance.

Things can get better if parliament puts its act together and creates the broadest national consensus along rational, democratic, tough and forward looking lines on the following issues and put every institution in its due place, as suggested by the Citizens for Democracy:

1. All organs of the state to work within the parameters of the constitution and frustrate any effort at change through undemocratic and unconstitutional means while remaining within their limits, respecting each others’ legitimate constitutional space, people’s mandate and ensuring independence of the judiciary, a free media and a transparent and accountable governance.

2. All major political parties and stakeholders must sit together to evolve a National Agenda on (a) terrorism; (b) the economy (macro-economic policy, state corporations, taxation, non-development expenditure, energy, rehabilitation and reconstruction of the flood- and terrorism-affected); (c) foreign policy; (d) national security and neighbours; (e) transparent and accountable governance and across the board accountability and (f) Balochistan.

3. All state and non-state actors, institutions, political parties, civil society and above all federating units must join their forces to take the country out of its current predicaments on short-, mid-, and long-term bases for peace and prosperity within and without.

The writer is Editor of South Asian Journal. He can be reached at

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