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ANATOMY OF STUNTED POLITICS IN PAKISTAN
Politics is an activity of exercising and sharing power for the self management of a society. This activity is considered normal and legitimate when performed by civilian groups (political parties) on the basis of broadly agreed principles. This ‘normal’ politics is missing in the history of Pakistan.
The politics in Pakistan has been in ‘stunted’ form. There is long history of military take-over of state power (1958-1971, 1977-1988, 1999-2008). Even civilian rule (Jamhuriat) remains within the regime norms set by military establishment.
What hindered the growth of normal politics in Pakistan, what made it stunted and weak that it has failed to protect itself, the citizens, the institutions and the constitution of the state? Answers to this question can be located in multiple factors, foremost being the legacy which made Pakistan a decolonized state, a new born state and a confessional state at the same time.
This made its role complex and challenging. Territorial, demographic and ethnic peculiarities burdened the state more than anticipated. Leader -centered, top heavy political class could not cope with the stress of leading and building new institutions of state.
It failed to give the people a constitution for a period of nine years (1956) since the formation of the state (1947). The first constitution declared Allah as the source of sovereignty and all laws were to comply with Islam, which was subject to interpretation of Ulema who were not representative of people. With this constitution, political class denied itself the opportunity and choices for the growth of liberal politics.
The office of Governor General (1947-1956) weakened the parliament severely which remained without real control over the executive. Skewed demography of west and east Pakistan and the fear of Bengal majority discounted the idea of universal adult franchise and direct general elections.
Presence of strong religious Pirs and Vaderas prevented the growth of political parties as representatives of masses. Religion prohibited the possibility of critical approach of politicians towards the issues of society. It was used at various times to declare that elections are unIslamic, or rule by women is not permitted or land reforms are unIslamic. Introduction of basic democracies (with electorate confined to 80,000 councilors) further retarded the growth of political parties for long time.
With ‘Garrison State’ setting the priorities of society, political class found itself without a meaningful job. Geopolitics turned Pakistan into a satellite state while political class remained a helpless spectator of erosion of sovereignty.
Politically advanced East Pakistan declared its independence (1971) and country’s first civilian rule under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto acquired the ambitions of Bonapartism (1971-1977) This again was not normal politics and it ended with military rule under Zia Ul Haq (1977 -1988).
Introduction of Nizam-i-Mustafa by Zia Ul Haq further blurred the distinction between state and society, necessary distinction required for the growth of liberal politics. Pakistan’s contemporary political class is still struggling with the legacy of this nizam. Political class could not acquire a sovereign control over the state power even during the democratic rule by PPP under Benazir Bhutto (1988, 1993) and PML under Nawaz Sharif (1990, 1997, 2013).
Military retained its control over defense, nuclear policy, intelligence, FATA , Baluchistan policy and foreign policy also. During the last military takeover under General Parvez Musharf (1999-2008) army acquired the status of a new class with its penetration of civilian and business set up. Political class which enjoyed the popular support was forced to exile and conservative parties with narrow sectional base occupied political space as junior partners of military establishment.
Current democratic PTI government under the leadership of Imran Khan, although won a majority on the agenda of Tabdili is very often termed as selected government or puppet government rather than elected government by popular media and opposition. When will Pakistan have a government with full political character is matter of a guesswork.