The Invalid Vision of ‘Cleaning Up’ Politics

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As the security situation took a nose-dive the familiar complaints were doing the rounds. The main thrust of the complaints was ‘bad politics’ pursued by the Center. Islamabad was being blamed for distorting Sindh’s genuine political landscape; essentially not accepting the peoples’ mandate and allowing the majority party PPP to form the provincial government. Many argue that the Center , in giving a free hand to the MQM has contributed to a deteriorating security situation. The traditional rivalry between the MQM and Jamaat-i-Islami was now playing itself out. With the administrative machinery under the MQM governor’s control, the MMA’s district set-up has been virtually paralyzed by the MQM. Traditional t! urf battles were reignited since MQM, which had boycotted the Local Bodies elections. The relatively weak power structure of the Nazim was feeling threatened.

In addition to the electoral power scene tensions heightened on the broader power scene. As if the microcosm reflecting the broader security challenges confronting Pakistan, in Karachi the unprecedented attack on the corps commander’s convoy left 10 Pakistanis dead. Endless speculation regarding the attackers followed; was this part of the Karachi power play’ in Karachi, an ‘inside job’ or a reaction to the Wana Operation ? Subsequently after arresting and cross-examining half a dozen suspects the federal government announced that “terrorists” with sectarian and al-Qaeda links were responsible for all the recent terrorist incidents in Karachi.

Pakistan continues to confront the most difficult security situation by virtue of it having become, in the eighties, the operational and ideological base of the American-Saudi financed international Afghan covert war against the Soviet. In the nineties the same covert war apparatus, including the human power, became operationally and ideologically autonomous and began targeting its financiers. Beginning of 2002 when it was denied logistical support by most its ideological mentors in Pakistan, anti-US and anti-Saudi warriors began turning its guns towards Pakistan too. The intensity of their operations in Pakistan grew in d! irect proportion to the army-controlled Pakistani State’s operations against those it had mentored in the eighties and the nineties.

The complex Wana Operation has become the Pakistani State’s most tangible and concentrated “anti-terrorist” operation. Not surprisingly the Pakistani State finds itself sandwiched between the US pressure to ‘do more’ and the anger cum skepticism of many Pakistani people and politicians who argue about the inherent risks involved for Pakistan in continuing with they perceive to be an American dictated operation. The fact is that in executing its responsibility of protecting the life and property of its citizens the State mus! t wisely disarm and disband all sub-state groups that are in possession of heavy weaponry or are involved in using Pakistan’s territory, which includes the tribal belt, to plan armed operations within or outside of Pakistan. This plain truth has become a casualty of both, the often non-transparent inter-action of the Pakistani State with the United States and of the largely State-manipulated civilian political power.

In addition to this key security issue there is much more that has become casualty of what has been an effort to ‘clean-up’ politics and bring in “genuine democracy.” Foremost the credibility and legitimacy of the effort itself has been the prime casualty. With the same faces back in parliament, in the two King’s parties, the PML(Q) and the anti-Bhutto PPP, in the cabinet and the induction of over 1000 serving military officers in civilian posts, the ‘cleaning up effort’ is viewed as a completely bogus, even if well-meaning, exercise. At best it is seen as power-play orchestrated by the military-controlled State. While there is no denying that quasi-democracy does exist, the tragedy of the collapse of State institutions that began in the fifties continues. The future of democracy in Pakistan, against the back d! rop of non-credible State institutions including the judiciary, the Election Commission and the police force, remains bleak.

The positive impact of democracy on political power and on the public is best experienced when it operates within the context of credible State apparatus. What is positive impact ? Primarily that it holds those in power accountable from multiple sources including the ballot, the judiciary and the Election Commission. The latest manifestation of this fact has been the outcome of the Indian election. Igniting shock waves across India and proving all national and international political pundits wrong, the ballot-based accountability dislodged the BJP–”led NDA party. The average voter’s conclusion that under BJP her/his economic condition deteriorated while destructive communalism had increased, ruled the day. Two earlier examples from Indian political history of reining in of political power through credible ! State institutions were the Supreme Court’s ruling against emergency rule imposed by Prime Indira Gandhi’ and the judiciary’s role in the Bofor’s scandal involving Rajiv Gandhi. India can therefore boast of genuine democracy which functioning within the context of largely credible State institutions, solidly empowers the average voter. Common and collective wisdom legitimately dictates the meanderings of India’s political history.

Pakistan has a reverse story to tell. Its political meanderings have largely been manipulated by the civil-military bureaucracy which threw up the ‘cabinet of talents’ in the fifties, Junejo’s PML in the eighties, and Nawaz Sharif dominated PML in the early nineties. This has left State institutions bereft of credibility and democracy drained of its principle virtue of accountability. Here manipulated political configurations have often crumbled under the pressures exerted by the power play that erupts between the mentors and what they create. The falling out between Junejo, Altaf Hussain and Nawaz Sharif and the army dominated State illustrate this fact. Perhaps the most telling story of what a nation is doomed to e! xperience against the absence of credible State institutions like the judiciary, the Election Commission and the police and a well-meaning khaki effort to ‘clean-up’ politics, is our own.

The individual architects of this effort have gradually and grudgingly accepted the impossibility of succeeding in ‘cleaning up’ politics to usher in “genuine democracy. The explanations for the failure to ‘clean politics’ have ranged from “environmental contradictions” to the need to adopt “pragmatism” and give up “idealism” and from the need to adapt a Pakistani version of democracy instead of following “western style” democracy. Whatever the merits of such explanations the one definite conclusion to be drawn from Pakistan’s political experience is that ! ‘cleaning up’ of politics alone is an invalid vision. As is the personalized attempt to end “sham democracy” and bring in “genuine democracy.” Such attempts, however well meaning, lead to more distortions within the power context and in the State apparatus. Pakistan’s foremost need is the reformation of its State apparatus; principally the judiciary, the Federal Public Service Commission, the Election Commission, the police force. This alone will create conditions for genuine rule of law.

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Nasim Zehra is a Fellow at the Harvard University - Asia Center. She contributed this article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Massachusetts, USA.

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