Last week’s physical brawl between a government-backed member of parliament in Islamabad and one of his political rivals immediately triggered a wave of reactions from across Pakistan — some supportive while others adverse. The powerful reality of the proliferation of privately-owned TV channels only helped to show the episode in graphic details across Pakistan. Ultimately, the sorry saga revealed the equally sorry state of politics across the highest political forum in Islamabad.
Notwithstanding the shameful details that came to light in this event, a step taken backward to reflect upon the episode must only reveal a deeper malaise surrounding Pakistan’s politics. The brawl in itself is hardly unprecedented across any democratic country in this world. Lawmakers have often the law in their hands in several Asian and European countries where democratic frameworks have deeper roots than in Pakistan. Ultimately, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League — Nawaz (PML-N), led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and the opposition, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI), led by cricket legend-turned-politician Imran Khan, whose members were involved in this sorry event, will have to continue to coexist in parliament until at least the next elections in 2018.
The more troubling dimension, though, is the failure of leading political parties to push Pakistan’s legislatures into forums for discussions on key national issues. In the heat of the moment following this latest event, there is a danger of Pakistan’s political pundits overlooking a fundamental gap in the way politics has progressed. In almost a decade since former General Pervez Musharraf was forced out in 2008 and mainstream political parties took charge, Pakistan’s outlook has descended southwards. While ending the army’s hold on the south Asian nation and a return to democracy should have been a step forward, Pakistan has tragically stepped backwards in more ways than one.
Widespread stories of corruption associated with individuals with political power have led the way that democracy has progressed. But more troubling has indeed been the way Pakistan appears to have lost direction in laying the course for a more progressive future with stakes for all across the board.
Today, the future as described by Sharif’s government appears to be singularly led by the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) — a China-financed string of infrastructure and power-generation projects with an estimated price tag of more than $55 billion (Dh202.29 billion). Hardly a day goes without a high-profile leader referring to the initiative as the ultimate hope for the future. And yet, leaving aside that future prospect, which lies many years down the line, there are more immediate and far too seriously pressing challenges that lie unaddressed.
The evolution of Pakistan’s economic trends, for instance, is often the source of pride for Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, a former accountant-turned-finance minister. He has time and again claimed success for overseeing a turnaround in Pakistan’s economic trends. Yet, the period for which he claims success has also seen a continuous decline in Pakistan’s agricultural outlook, which remains the direct or indirect source of income for more than half of the country’s population.
The so-called interventions announced by the ruling structure during its tenure have been far too few to help Pakistan’s farming community emerge from its worst crisis, caused mainly by a global drop in commodity prices. Though international commodity prices have recently begun to recover, the fruits of that recovery will take time to reach Pakistan.
Meanwhile, on the country’s security front, which should have been the single most vital area of work for Sharif, the record speaks for itself. The prime minister began his tenure in 2013 with an ill-advised move to negotiate an end to years of conflict with the Taliban. In doing so, the Taliban only won time to prepare themselves for their ultimate and still continuing battle with the Pakistan army.
Though the battle lines are clearly drawn, Pakistan’s parliamentary framework has yet to provide a comprehensive national security framework that has been discussed and debated in detail and presented to the public as a consensus document. The only saving grace for Pakistan has been the presence of well-organised armed forces with a strength of more than half a million, that continue to lead the battle against militancy.
And yet, that in itself must remain a source of the ultimate irony. If indeed it is the military that has to lead the battle exclusively without active civilian support, the pertinent question is just one: How can democratically elected politicians claim to be capable of independently ruling Pakistan when the military alone must conceive and fight the battle to save the country?
The battle to save Pakistan is much too serious to be ignored, as the country’s present-day political structure has done in recent years. With elections due in just over a year, its unlikely that Pakistan’s ruling structure will indeed venture out to revisit its own failures with a view to redressing past mistakes. Going forward, the country is tragically just condemned to witness more of the same as Pakistan tries to deal with the worst set of challenges ever confronted in its history.
In sharp contrast, though this week’s episode in parliament was indeed unfortunate, it stands out as nothing more than a blip in a series of events that highlight a clear deterioration in Pakistan’s outlook. More vitally for Pakistan, the country’s future is at stake beyond just the democratic fabric, which is served by a set of self-serving ruling elite.
Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matters.