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Five causes of the crisis

August 14, 2014

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Never have the unfortunate people of Pakistan been so full of apprehension about their future on Independence Day as they are today. What gives their anxiety sharper focus is the realisation that in the confused, slogan-dominated debate on the state’s affliction, the root causes of the crisis are being studiously avoided.

The first basic cause of Pakistan’s endemic crisis is the failure to create a modern, democratic state. The colonial administration inherited at independence was totally unsuited to the demands of a democratic state based on the equality of citizens. It was also at variance with the principles of a democratic federation of equal and autonomous units that the Lahore Resolution of 1940 envisioned.

During the period 1947-1956, when the Govern­ment of India Act of 1935 was used as the basic law, the vision of a democratic polity got dimmed and anti-democratic actors found opportunities to establish and nourish authoritarian traditions.


The state apparatus has failed to adapt to the needs of a democratic dispensation


The constitutions adopted over the past six decades have merely replaced colonial authoritarianism with indigenous plutocracy. This entity is lower on the democratic scale than even the state established in India under its constitution in 1950. The scholars looking for reasons for Pakistan’s predicament will find an answer in the speech of Dr Ambedkar (one of the most far-sighted politicians this subcontinent has had) that he made after the adoption of the Indian constitution bill that he had ably piloted:

“On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will be recognising the principle of one man one vote, and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. … How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove the contradiction at the earliest possible moment, or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has so laboriously built up.” (Emphasis added)

Throughout the years of independence Pakistan has suffered because of the curse of inequality. Not only are citizens unequal in an economic sense they are not equal in the political sense either. There is no political equality between Muslim and non-Muslim citizens; all non-Muslims are not equal, nor are all Muslims equal to one another. So long as a majority has its political decisions made by landlords and pirs, or is caught up in its struggle for national rights, the people cannot sustain a democratic polity.

Pakistan’s troubles will not end until the rural masses are freed of their bondage to the landed aristocracy and pirs, and citizens of less populous provinces, including the Baloch, have the same rights as the Punjabis.

The second cause of Pakistan’s crisis today is the failure to adapt the apparatus of the state to the needs of a democratic dispensation. Even when Pakistan’s rulers have tried to be good to the people, the state apparatus has frustrated them. How the state apparatus ensures non-implementation of the laws on the statute book is known, and the reason is not always incompetence.

All setbacks suffered by the various leaders who possessed constitutional authority were the doings of the state apparatus, eg, Nazimuddin’s fall in 1953, Ayub Khan’s in 1969, Bhutto’s in 1977, and Nawaz Sharif’s in 1999. Pakistan’s politicians must find a way of redesigning the state machinery and acquiring control over it, otherwise they will not only remain vulnerable they will also be led by the administration to make wrong, even fatal, choices.

The third main factor of instability is the presence of the theocratic seed in Pakistan’s genes — now grown into a big tree. Weak and misguided regimes have pandered to the theocratic lobby to an extent that it is now holding the state to ransom. The interpretation of belief and the ideology based on it, offered by the orthodox clergy, is incompatible with the democratic, federal and egalitarian imperatives of the state. Besides, it is obstructing resolution of conflicts, domestic as well as external.

To appreciate this situation, students of politics will find a study of Prof Moonis Ahmar’s book Conflict Management & Secular Pakistan, immensely rewarding. The sooner Pakistan gives up its theocratic aberrations the better.

The fourth cause of the crisis is the imbalance in civil and military relations. The defence set-up has almost always been autonomous of civilian authority, especially the democratically elected one, and this has adversely affected the functioning of both. While the military’s views on security must carry due weight the exclusion of civil authority from the formulation of security plans or defence strategy is manifestly harmful.

Strangely enough, the army still says that it follows the civilian government’s directives but no civilian authority in Pakistan has tried to remove the imbalance in its relations with the military through institutional mechanisms. Unless this flaw is removed, Pakistan will not find a way out of the woods.

Finally, the myth that there can be situations to which the Constitution offers no answer has created huge problems. Unfortunately, the judiciary has lent respect to this myth in the pursuit of its class and ethnic affinities with authoritarian adventurers.

There is no situation for which a constitutional solution cannot be found. The Constitution had a solution in 1977 (fresh elections) and also in 1999 (judicial remedy). And the Constitution’s silences or ambiguities can always be overcome through the procedure of amendment.

Thus crises have been caused by a refusal to use the constitutional route for the resolution of issues and not by non-availability of constitutional remedies. Reliance on the myth of constitutional deficiency to justify extra-constitutional intervention will keep the crisis alive.

Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2014