Moment of truth

Published May 26, 2024
The writer is a former inspector general of police
The writer is a former inspector general of police

“ALL authoritarian regimes encounter resistance to their rule in one form or another, and all respond with a mixture of repression and co-optation,” wrote Francis Fukuyama in his 2014 magnum opus Political Order and Political Decay.

The Pakistani state, in its current phase, has become an authoritarian kleptocracy. Political dynasties and the leadership at the helm are busy cultivating support through clientelism, patronage, and nepotism. Cronies and sycophants form webs of authority attracting networks of tribute-paying clients, exposing a sharp dichotomy between rulers and citizens.

Why do we find ourselves in this thick fog that does not allow us to find a clear path to progress and prosperity? Why have we become so enamoured of dirty tactics? Why does our public discourse, in the words of David Brooks, amount to “tit-for-tat crudities”? Can our self-inflicted wounds heal? It’s time to search for the truth.

Those at the helm of the state at any given time matter a lot. Unfortunately, the vision of our founding father of a democratic state and an enlightened society was sabotaged by the nefarious nexus of a political administrator and the first-ever native army chief in 1958. The dream of a democratic polity went sour, and the nation never recovered. Constitutionalism and the rule of law were sacrificed at the altar of a military-presidential dictatorship. The task of nation-building was assumed by a military junta and powerful civil bureaucracy that co-opted influential and compliant politicians looking out only for their personal interests.

Will history repeat itself, or will we see the rectification of mistakes?

Celebration plans for the ‘decade of development’ fizzled out when street protests by students and lawyers erupted, followed by another military coup in 1969. The self-proclaimed chief martial law administrator and president presided over the breakup of Jinnah’s Pakistan. The results of the 1970 elections were not accepted by the junta, which refused to accept rule by the leader of an East Pakistan-based party that had won a massive mandate. Revolt and resistance broke out, which even brute force could not curb. Aided by external forces, the country broke up. The lessons of military misrule should have been learnt. But old habits die hard.

The democratic interlude faced political upheavals during the 1970s. The 1977 elections triggered a wave of protests. The army chief, selected arbitrarily by the political leader, imposed yet another martial law. His promise of early elections never materialised. Faced with the consequences of the return of a popular leader deposed by him, he reopened an old murder case file. A complicit judiciary handed down capital punishment, sending the popular leader to the gallows in 1979. Thus was born a political dynasty from Sindh based on the legacy of a gross injustice meted out to a political leader who had mass support.

To counter that political force, born of resentment and rage, another political family was manufactured in Lahore from the military engineering foundry. This family of traders was co-opted to counter the public rage and install the eldest of the siblings as the ruler in Punjab. The military ruler presided over yet another decade of political decadence in the 1980s until he fell from the skies in a fateful air crash in 1988.

The 1990s witnessed a game of political ping-pong between the two political dynasties from Lahore and Larkana. Both sides and their leaders were ushered into power through political engineering by the military establishment and deep state. When the leader from Lahore refused to take dictation, he won huge public support and returned with a vast public mandate in 1997. However, the Kargil fiasco led to his ouster in 1999 by the then army chief that he himself had appointed.

Both political dynasties, installed and dismissed by the establishment between 1988 and 1999, were condemned to be sidelined after creating a king’s party from the cadres of the same parties. However, nudged by external factors, the leadership of both the mainstream parties was given a reprieve under the military dispensation.

Both leaders returned from almost a decade-long exile from Saudi Arabia and the UAE respectively. One returnee defied the military dictator’s plan and expressed support for the unjustly deposed chief justice. Many linked her assassination in 2007 with ‘rogue elements’ in the establishment. We saw the return of her political dynasty that year; it was defeated by the Punjab dynasty in 2013. Meanwhile, the security establishment groomed an alternative to both. A national sports hero emerged as a political force. The balance was shifting to another political power base.

The sports hero won the 2018 elections, allegedly because of the political engineering and machinations of the deep state. The army chief appointed by his predecessor was given a three-year extension by him in 2019, triggering a safely ensconced chief to engineer a political coup d’état by throwing the extension-granting leader under the bus and bringing back his political adversaries to the seat of power.

The sports legend had by then become a victim of the machinations of the establishment and the deep state. Despite his arrest and disqualification and denial of his party symbol for national elections on Feb 8, his party emerged as the clear victor with a massive mandate, which was denied through Form-47 fraud and a blatant disregard of the rules. We have witnessed the worst persecution and repression orchestrated by the institutions of the state. A coalition of losers is in the saddle, thanks to the deep state’s machinations.

This is now our moment of truth and a test of character for those heading key state institutions. Will history repeat itself in this benighted land, or will we see developments that lead to the rectification of mistakes made by the security establishment and politicians, who must sit together to agree on a new charter of governance, leading to democratic and civilian supremacy over non-elected and unaccountable organs of the state. Above all, it is the judiciary whose independence and fearlessness will lead us to the rule of law and administration of justice.

The writer is a former inspector general of police.

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2024

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