A flicker of hope?

Published January 23, 2022
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

THERE can be little doubt that the security situation is taking a turn for the worse with the TTP stepping up its attacks on Pakistani security forces, with the past week alone witnessing an incident a day. The targets included a police post in Islamabad.

It was reassuring to read news reports that the army chief visited the Peshawar garrison where, during a briefing at the Corps HQ, he reiterated the army’s resolve to face down any terrorism threat and take the fight to the terrorists.

Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa paid tribute to the sacrifices of the shuhada belonging to different tiers and organisations that are part of the security forces and said their endeavours had created an enabling environment to deliver development and services to the merged districts.

While this focus was appreciable, what is not is the pointless debate about the presidential system unleashed in the media which bears the hallmarks of a ‘sponsored’ effort given the antecedents of most of the characters and the sections of the media leading it or participating in it.

What’s the point of looking far and wide for solutions when we have the answers in the Constitution?

They are flogging a dead horse. The presidential system has been tried, tested and found to be flawed and failed in a country where devolution of power to the provinces backed by an equitable share in national resources is possibly the only way to ensure harmony among the federating units.

Read more: The latest debate on the presidential system is as useless as the many ones before

Each attempt at a presidential system from Ayub Khan’s basic democracy to Zia’s solo flight to a partyless hybrid system to Musharraf’s solo takeover and then a contrived hybrid, failed to deliver anything to the people. Not just that, such centralisation must shoulder the blame for the country’s breakup in 1971 and more recently the turmoil in some of the smaller provinces.

Ironically enough, the much-derided parliamentary democracy (where the derision comes mainly from the protagonists of authoritarianism) on each abject failure of the presidential system has been welcomed back even in diluted form to bail out the autocrats and deliver a modicum of stability.

Those running on-screen and online polls (inaccurate as they are by definition as they are not even remotely representative of the popular will) have not even bothered to pause and ask themselves what constitutional mechanism will see their desire or dream turn into reality.

That they have not done so is an omission not born out of a lack of intellectual depth or the inability to think through things but is more indicative of how much contempt the sacred document is held in by their trial balloon sponsors.

The superior judiciary may have raised questions in many minds in recent years when they appeared to have sided with authoritarianism rather than elected public officials but even then their actions had to be limited to the confines of the law, albeit a loose interpretation of it.

But a structural change to the system proposed in the Constitution can’t owe itself to the interpretation of their lordships but will have to be referred back to the people in an exercise where it will be subjected to the severest of tests and any attempt to shove it down the throats of Pakistanis may entail a fierce backlash.

In our critical economic and security environment, unleashing such strife may be tantamount to committing mass suicide and the most adventurous of minds and the richest of imaginations and ambitions will surely be tempered by that thought.

The idea and the campaign propelling it will be stillborn. So, what’s the point of looking far and wide for solutions and taking insane risks when we have the answers in the 1973 Constitution? Some informed sources offer an explanation.

They say that this debate reflects less a desire to change the system but is more an expression of unhappiness of powerful national players with the NFC award and allocation of resources to provinces under the autonomy provisions of the Constitution after the 18th Amendment.

The pie at the centre has shrunk as a result and the dire economic conditions have made it smaller. The result is less generous availability of funds to those leading what the National Security Policy describes as ‘traditional security’ and, therefore, the anger.

There can be no underestimating the security challenges facing the country, even if we are to blame ourselves for creating so many of those ourselves, and resources have to be made available both for armament (a physical need) and also for pay, perks and pensions seen as vital for morale.

Surely, the solution isn’t in subverting the Constitution and loosening the ties that hold the federation together in a harmonious whole; the solution is ending these pointless and largely clueless hybrid experiments and restoring a democratic order reflecting the people’s will rather than the heartburn of this institution or that.

Only a truly representative system will have the ability to speak for the majority of the people and reflect their concerns, aspirations and their collective needs. Such a system will have the wherewithal and the legitimacy to take tough decisions.

And once these decisions — whether for resource generation or whatever is needed for economic regeneration — are taken despite being painful, a turnaround can happen. When the economy grows, the size of the cake grows. The beneficiaries will be in all areas.

All else has been tried multiple times and met with abject failure. Even as these lines are being written, there are suggestions that contacts and delicate negotiations are happening between the establishment and those they consider the likely public representatives in a fair electoral exercise.

Read more: The truth about the all-powerful presidents in Pakistan

Let’s see what is being discussed and if at all it is being done with sincerity of purpose aimed at the public good. If it is indeed substantial as some, perhaps a tad too optimistic, sources and analysts are suggesting, then the result will also be good. This sceptical man is not holding his breath.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.


Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2022



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