A number of factors and forces, internal and external, have been at work to create conditions for a rethink of national perceptions, attitudes and behaviour. It was the stand taken by a Chief Justice of the country against the arrogant dictates of a powerful military ruler that triggered the historic lawyers’ movement that ultimately, along with other political developments, forced the dictator to quit and go into exile. He was succeeded by a government led by a political party leadership that owed much of its success to a deal struck in the shape of a special legislation, which, more or less, absolved thousands of politicians of the crimes allegedly committed by them. In this nefarious compromise, foreign powers, too, were involved. This successor government also resisted the restoration of senior judges of the land, including the Chief Justice. The long march of lawyers and politicians, however, succeeded in the reinstatement of the Chief Justice and his colleagues. It is the triumphant Supreme Court and the High Courts, which have been literally overseeing, monitoring and holding the venal and unprincipled administration in check.
The other harbinger of change has been the increasingly independent media, especially the numerous TV channels. Day and night the television in Pakistan has been not only keeping the people informed about the latest news, but also providing education on national and local affairs. The dozens of talk shows aired on the television, which make politicians, businessmen, ex-civil and military officials, civil society reps as also well informed media men and women talk to each other, have served to raise the awareness levels of the masses. How influential these channels have been was demonstrated by the instant projection of Waheeda Shah’s case, as referred to in a preceding paragraph. The last dictator tried to control the media but failed. There are reports of the present government wanting to do the same. It, too, will not succeed.
A third force or factor in this change process is the unrelenting thrust of globalisation, which manifests itself in various ways and shapes. It impacts in all fields - political, economic, social and cultural. One of its most potent and swift instruments is the Information Technology Revolution, in particular, in the shape of the internet (emails, Google, Twitter, Youtube and Facebook etc) and the fast and furious spread of the mobile phone. The electronic networking is, indeed, a mighty force that can speedily send and spread messages and mobilise movements, as seen in the emergence of the Arab Spring in the Middle East.
Another manifestation of the globalisation phenomenon was the rise of the so-called Al-Qaeda, its unprecedented and sudden attacks in New York and Washington and the counter invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq and the ongoing war against international terrorism. Pakistan has been a victim of this horrendous conflict and has grievously paid heavily for being involved in it.
It is in the light of these three powerful and critical factors or forces that one may view and review the existing conditions, problems and challenges facing Pakistan.
The PPP-led government has managed to muddle through for four long years despite widespread discontent because of its incompetence to manage the economy, bad governance, lawlessness and rampant corruption. The credit for navigating the increasingly challenging scenario goes to Mr Asif Zardari and, to a considerable extent, the PML-N, as the major opposition party for letting the federal government get away with its wayward ways and capricious shenanigans. Again as luck would have it, the government has, in General Kayani, an Army Chief who has been reluctant to take over as a matter of a deliberate policy despite tempting conditions.
One may here refer to the embarrassing, and even humiliating, way the Americans have been treating us. Take the case of the Kerry-Lugar Act - how the aid promised to Pakistan has been linked to a number of bizarre conditions, which question the sovereignty of the country. Also, the unleashing of US Special Forces in the guise of advisers and contractors (made manifest in the person of Raymond Davis), the non-stop illegal drone attacks, the sudden withholding of funds meant for army operations and the deliberate killing of Pakistani soldiers. This show of maltreatment has been partly due to a perception in Washington that the government in Islamabad, which came into power because of a deal midwifed by America, was weak, vulnerable and easily pliable.
The Pakistan army’s resistance to US arrogance and arbitrary ways has created a distance between the two and there is, at present, a crisis of confidence. There are also irritants in regard to GHQs relationships with some of the Taliban factious and the way the endgame in Afghanistan is to be played out. Because of the steps taken by Pakistan after the Salalah killings, the US-Pakistan relations have hit a rough patch. These relations are expected to be reset in the light of Parliament’s recommendations. But one thing is clear: The old warmth between the two countries will be absent in the new rules of engagement as and when finalised.
These external and internal changes and challenges have given rise to the emergence of a resurgent Imran Khan’s Tehrik-i-Insaf, which has been fast graduating into a major political force popular with the youth all over the country. Its huge rallies have activated other political parties, especially the PML-N and religious political entities.
As stated above, the media and, more so, the judiciary will influence the determination of the new or revised approach to politics and governance in Pakistan. The memogate, the hauling up of the Prime Minister in the NRO contempt case, the Abbottabad Commission report, the implementation of court directives in a number of scandalous corruption cases and, above all, the fallout of the mehrangate are bound to generate changes in the way the country is to be run in the days and years to come. Together the outcome of these cases will also affect the result of the coming crucial general elections.
Pakistan is certainly in the throes of change. And, hopefully, a change for the better!
n The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and political and international relations analyst.