The post-NRO dynamic – by Talat Masood

In these times when Pakistan is beleaguered with multiple crises — a major insurgency, constant fear of terrorist attacks, lurking danger of economic melt-down, political infighting etc — it is additionally burdened with the unique challenge of managing the fall-out of the NRO verdict. Indeed, this could be characterised as one of the most difficult periods in the country’s history. It also shows how complex and inherently difficult the transition to democratic rule from a military dictatorship is, especially when it is incubated by foreign powers in connivance with chosen domestic power centres.

The NRO was a product of political compromises. The Supreme Court judgment on it was, therefore, generally welcomed bringing the high and mighty in the orbit of justice and setting a precedent for accountability. There are no two opinions that accountability, if institutionalised and applied universally, would surely benefit and strengthen the country in the longer term. The problem however, is that these are not normal times and contemporary Pakistan is a fragile state with weak institutions. Besides, it is common knowledge that politicians alone are not responsible for bringing the country to this pass. The blame has to equally shared by all other major institutions: armed forces, judiciary, bureaucracy and media.

In these circumstances the post-NRO situation has to be managed with prudence and maturity so that it does not bring the whole system down with it. It would be foolish to postulate that the coalition government will survive without President Zardari, who clearly is the lynch pin of the PPP. Moreover, the country is already on a slippery slope and current in-fighting and mistrust between pillars of state could propel it in a downward spiral.

In a democratic country, a leader facing trial will normally resign in order to ensure fairness and would not be able to devote full attention to their government functions. The situation here is different and complex. President Zardari and members of the PPP-led coalition government have no intention to quit but would be individually defending their cases in the court of law and seems have decided to fight it out politically as well. President Zardari is already on a political trail across the country posing as a martyr with the underlying message that he and the PPP leadership has been victim of judicial victimisation starting from its founding father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto and now potentially him. The other point he is making that there is a conspiracy against democracy by all those forces traditionally opposed to civilian rule, probably implying the military, judiciary, certain sections of bureaucracy, intelligence services, etc. The reality is that these institutions are dissatisfied with the performance of the government although to what extent these allegations are true and how serious they are in dislodging him is best known to only a few.

President Zardari’s repeated assertions that he is a champion of democracy and that will defeat all forces pitched against him misses a crucial point that governance and democracy are not synonymous. When people are critical of him, and there are many across the board (quite a few silently complaining within his own party), they are in fact criticising the quality of governance and his style and propriety. Now that President Zardari has come out from his hibernation and his fears of personal security are relatively less, he should ensure that democracy and governance are not posed as alternatives. It represents a false and misleading dichotomy that should be rejected. The government needs to show commitment towards governance; only then can it come out of the current quagmire. People expect a democratic government to deliver and are not prepared to accept empty slogans any more. Even if the element of conspiracies is present, it cannot be flagged as a substitute for solid policies and good governance. In fact, the best way of countering conspiracies is better governance and more democracy.

On the question of democracy, President Zardari needs to do more both at the government and party level. Any further delay in the constitutional amendments, especially pertaining to repeal of the 17th Amendment, is no service to democracy. Moreover, it is time that the PPP is transformed from a party of patronage and parentage and started running on sound democratic lines. Instead, it should engage in serious competitive politics by setting higher standards of performance in legislation, governance and policy formulation. So far the results are disappointing. Being the single largest party it should undertake reforms within its ranks so that other parties too follow suit.

Of course, in defence of President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani one can argue that when the fight is for survival than governance takes a back seat. It is, therefore, equally the responsibility of those forces opposing President Zardari that they remain within the bounds of the Constitution and let parliament decide his fate. I think the army also has to come clean about its role in national affairs. It should truly devote itself exclusively to professional responsibilities. The last six decades of experience clearly demonstrates that its traditional role of influencing political evolution or balancing and policy formulation has proved to be generally counter-productive. In any case, time has come when our armed forces should cross the mental threshold and stay away from any direct or indirect involvement in civilian affairs.

Apart from other factors there has to be a realisation that the nature of warfare itself has been changing fundamentally, especially in the last two decades. Military power is only effective if other elements of national power are balanced and mutually supportive, and institutions of the state do not have an antagonistic relationship. We have a classic example of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Iraq that collapsed from within or were unable to face the enemy effectively due to internal loss of vigour. In our case, when the military is fighting an insurgency and relations with India are tense, the support of people is crucial. This only comes if the state- society and army- civil relations are good and there is mutual respect.

The writer is a retired lieutenant-general. Email:

Source: The News



Latest Comments