Pakistan's politics of deep despair
The coming week shall define Pakistan's future course and direction, as 106 million voters will choose a new parliament and provincial assemblies. What lies ahead for this nation in turmoil?
Two weeks ago, Pakistan's controversial verdict of the Accountability Court had shocked the nation. Acquitting Sharif from charges of corruption, the Court had ruled that Nawaz Sharif owned properties and assets in London, that were acquired beyond his financial means. Sharif was dishonest, therefore, unfit to hold his office. For their crimes, both Sharif and his daughter Maryam, were awarded long prison sentences, including fines.
This has been a watershed decision in the nation's checkered history.....generating broad consensus, that the punishment awarded to Pakistan's Prime Minister was perhaps, 'extra' judicial. There is also a widespread belief, this particular corruption case is a warning to the nation's political forces. And, one camouflaged attempt on the part of Pakistan's military establishment, to undermine the autonomy, previously enjoyed by civilian politicians.
Pakistan is a country, where civilian rule is controlled by its army. It is totally enmeshed in an open, long and painful battle for survival. Nearly 70,000 Pakistani citizens have lost their lives in terrorist related episodes of violence. Statistics further reveal that 12,000 security personnel have also sacrificed their precious lives, in the nation's battle against extremism. We have witnessed the terror of 9/11, which forever, has changed our world. Until 2001, Pakistanis were unaware of suicide bombers. And, before the Pakistanis were able to grasp, the mega city of Karachi had become the foremost battleground, in the war against terror.
A ferocious battle has continued to rage, in the shape of target killings, suicide bombings, terrorist attacks on military installations, and acts of terrorism against soft targets that have included the school children. For reasons of safety today, anybody who is somebody, and lives in Karachi must employ private security guards to secure his family and his property.
The American Intelligence community's new global estimates predict that Pakistan will be one of the few nations, doomed to become a failed state by 2030. The mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai massacre and head of the banned religious outfit 'Lashkar-e-Tayeba' (Army of the Pure), Hafiz Sayeed has made no serious effort to veil himself or his extremist stance. He is no less a 'celebrity', who has made his mark in the good books of Pakistan's army. This religious leader is a political elite, who loves to appear on national TV shows, calling for the total destruction of neighboring India.
On more occasions than one, Hafiz Sayeed has called for 'jihad' (religious war) against the US and Israel. Again, shuttling himself in and out of the porous borders with Afghanistan, the head of Afghan Taliban, Mulla Muhammad Omar had been making waves in the past, between ISI (Pakistan Army's Intelligence Wing) safe houses located in Karachi and in Quetta. It has been said that, the Emir of Al-Qayeda, Ayeman Al-Zawahiri had also gone into hiding in a villa, similar to the one, that his close compatriot, late Osama bin Laden had lived, close to the garrison town of Abbottabad.
There are no misgivings to the fact that the fastest growing nuclear country in the world is Pakistan. Perhaps, even greater than Great Britain. The nukes are fully in the hands of the army generals of Pakistan. Without any doubt, the civilian government has virtually little or no control over Pakistan's nuclear assets.
In his three tenures as the country's Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif had been unable to manage even a working relationship with the army's leadership. Asif Ali Zardari, another player, a criminal mastermind and a corrupt politician, could only manage a nominal influence over the ISI. It was this organization that had blundered with the security of his wife and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was eliminated from the political mainstream.
To say the least, despite shortcomings, Zardari has survived. It was his good fortune, in the arena of Pakistan's politics, that he was 'favored' to become the first elected civilian leader, who had eventually survived to complete a full term of office. And, also succeeded in transferring power to his elected successors. Besides being the President of this riddled nation, he had served prison sentences granted by Pakistan's military court. He has been jovially referred by all as Mr. Ten Percent....someone, who had been internationally recognized as the country's living symbol of corruption.
When Nawaz Sharif returned back to hold the office of the Prime Minister of Pakistan, for a third time in the year 2013, it was a remarkable next turn in his own sojourn, or his odyssey. In the aftermath of a bloodless coup in 1999, Sharif had been removed from his office.
Through personal connections and goodwill that he enjoyed overseas, both President Clinton and late King Abdullah, had managed to get him out of his confinement, and further ensured his escape to Saudi Arabia, where he lived in exile. Sharif's decision to withdraw Pakistan's military forces from Kaargil in 1999, had prompted his downfall.
Unknown even to the civilian leadership, Pakistan and India had then unwittingly withdrawn from a nuclear showdown, that could have destroyed the region, in the wake of military engagements, along with very grave consequences of nuclear fallout.
Tired of the faces that have ruled over their fate for nearly two decades, Pakistanis have longed to see one new face, capable of leading the nation. Could this be the smiling face of Imran Khan? Perhaps, out of sheer desperation, the nation had looked towards Imran Khan, the former cricket hero, who won laurels and the World Cup for the country in 1992. There is absolutely no room to doubt that the ISI is covertly assisting in Imran's election campaign. Perhaps, he was the long shot, at best.
Imran rose up to the occasion by towing the lines, which most army Generals have loved. To a great extent, he is anti-American, anti drone, capable and prepared to make deals with the Taliban. This is a recipe needed to stop the terror in the bud, in Imran's own home. We realize though, he has matured enough to reimagine Pakistan's direction, in a world that had changed.
Let us be honest. Whoever wins this elections, will inherit an economy and government that is floating in a very deep quagmire. Nearly 66 percent of 185 million Pakistanis are less than 30 years old. Of the remaining, 40 million children of ages between 5 and 19 years, do not go to school. Fewer than 1.20 million people in the entire country are enrolled as tax payers. Power blackouts are truly primeval and endemic. Access to clean water in scarce, even though catastrophic floods keep coming back. Therefore, the stunted growth has not exceeded 3 per cent in the last decade.
The army of Pakistan works efficiently under the shadows. The COAS ( Army Chief) emerges from really the dark shadow of a group of a dozen corpse commanders, who run this army. In the shadows again, far from public rancor, Pakistan-US relationship had quietly continued. Baluchistan's provincial capital Quetta, is also Taliban's capital in exile. The Americans continue to monitor the cell phones of all persons of interest.
Pakistan's leaders, whether elected or installed by military coup, have failed to change the country's status quo. Each one has followed his or her regime devoured by the elites, they had hoped to displace, and/or engaged in the same patronage politics, as the regime they had overthrown. Rightly so, no one has been spared from this messy assessment.
As the election campaigns continue to inch forward, fully charged and in high gear, a Judge of the Islamabad High Court has made startling allegations against our security agencies. Point blank, he has asked the men who hold the guns, to stop meddling in the judicial and political affairs of this country. Furthermore, he claimed that the Chief Justice of the Islamabad High Court was approached to ensure that Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Mariam remained behind bars, till the election process completed.
Do the people of Pakistan harbor any doubts that the ISI is totally involved in manipulating judicial proceedings? And also the electioneering process? Unreported in the media, for reasons of control, the Army personnel do get the benches of the higher Courts formed, at will.
Judiciary's freedom has been divested. It remains fully in control of those who hold the guns.
Pakistan's unbelievable journey of the last seventy years, has been a journey of a celestial body thrown out of orbit, drifting about, in an a corner of our Universe, with its baggage of nuclear assets. And also, its checkered history. It has struggled with violence, extremism and poverty. More than a third of the population are illiterate. The annual per capita income is less than a meager US$ 2000. It has endured the kiss of instability, punctuated by bouts of military dictatorship.
Can this celestial body move on securely forward into the fold of another system, that is willing to accept the crippled nation with open arms?
The writer is a former educator, based in Chicago (USA)