An elite conflict — by Salman Tarik Kureshi

Incompetent or do-nothing or internally divided parliaments, however constitutionally or otherwise appointed, failed to satisfy the people’s demands. They therefore left a vacuum of effectiveness, into which stepped the more action-oriented, better organised institutions: the civil bureaucracy and the army

Poor President Zardari! Here, on the one hand, he is the duly (and, moreover, constitutionally) elected president, the heir anointed of his martyred wife, deeply involved in the processes of rescuing the nation from the follies of his predecessor and the violence of the extremists. However, on the other hand, his name is rapidly becoming a term of household mockery and, as it seems, an extraordinary concatenation of groups is lined up to kick him until he is down and to continue kicking him after that.

He is presently shielded by his sovereign immunity as president (was this immunity, as some unkind souls suggest, the prime reason for his having sought the office of president in the first place?). But now a petition has been filed before the Election Commission arguing that candidate Zardari could not have qualified to contest for this grand office in the first place had the NRO not been in force, since he had been convicted by a Swiss court and a subordinate Pakistani court. Since the Supreme Court has annulled the NRO as unconstitutional, therefore, actions under it, such as the acceptance of candidate Zardari’s nomination, become null and void and of no legal effect. Therefore, candidate Zardari was not qualified to contest in the first place! It follows that, should this petition be upheld, he will stand disqualified from office with retrospective effect. Further, that he may then have to face the allegations against him without benefit of immunity, causes his too-numerous detractors to crow with delight, but apparently raises no anxieties about the confusion and institutional damage that could arise.

Well, the issue is sub judice, so one must refrain from comment. However, given the observed locus of present-day judicial tendencies, and the cautionary cries from persons of the eminence of Aitzaz Ahsan, Asma Jehangir, Athar Minallah and Ali Ahmed Kurd notwithstanding, the direction of popular speculation is apparent. President Zardari has emerged from his presidential bunker and is swinging out at perceived political foes outside his party and conspiratorial “non-state actors”. But, with perspectives distorted by this single-minded focus on the travails of the co-chairman of the PPP, are we not losing sight of the fact that the “corruption” brush can stripe many others as well? Note the recently resuscitated issue of written-off bank loans. Think of the allegations of financial shenanigans against the PML-N from their times in power. And, of course, during the Musharraf era, creation of the Q-League was said to have been facilitated by massive write-offs for certain notables. Without condoning corruption among politicians (or among the business elite, civilian bureaucracy and military officialdom), one is forced to ask: what is all this leading to? A cleaning-out of the entire political leadership?

Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, in a recent article, has suggested that a non-elected coalition of middle-class elite groups, including members of the Bench, the Bar, civil society, armed forces and media commentators, is attacking the elected political order. This is not for the first time and it has everything to do with the location of real political power.

Let’s face it. At bottom, our educated middle classes, whatever democratic noises they may make from time to time, do not really believe that our elected politicos have the professional or administrative skills required to run a modern state. Whether professionals, bureaucrats or military officers, this is a class that places a premium on executive effectiveness and therefore can usually be counted among those who applaud the periodic military incursions into statecraft.

Looking beyond Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, what one is seeing is perhaps another manifestation of the late Hamza Alavi’s thesis of ‘the over-developed state in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh’. His reference is to the well-trained and organised civil and military institutions created by British rule in the subcontinent, contrasted with the low levels of development of other groups in society as a whole. In India, the Congress Party, crafted by Nehru and Patel into being the political arm of the national bourgeoisie, succeeded in establishing the primacy of democratic political institutions over this “steel frame of the administration”.

In Pakistan, where the national bourgeoisie was weak and lacked an effective political organisation, this did not happen. Here, political parties, peopled in the main by representatives of the administratively backward rural elite or by populist spell-binders of dubious intellectual depth, failed to gain control over the real wielders of power. The civil-military oligarchy therefore assumed an autonomous role, independent of the interests of the dominant local classes, resulting in a dichotomy between a weak ‘democratic’ political culture and a stronger ‘administrative’ political culture. One result has been the kind of governmental seesaw we have experienced, where nominally democratic governments of low levels of political and administrative competence have alternated with authoritarian regimes led by civilian and military putschists.

It is instructive to see how this process got under way. The very first parliament this country had, the first Constituent Assembly, was convened under the presidency of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah himself. It was not primarily a legislative body, being also a Constituent Assembly, meant to frame a Constitution for the new dominion of Pakistan. But seven chaotic years were to pass, during which the members of this first Constituent Assembly made and unmade provincial governments, played musical chairs and plotted, intrigued against one another and indulged themselves in low-level patronage and petty financial corruption. As is only too obvious, they entirely neglected the task of framing a Constitution, the nearest to which they approached was the retrogressive Objectives Resolution.

In 1954, Governor General Ghulam Mohammed sacked the Constituent Assembly, with the tacit aid of Generals Iskander Mirza and Mohammed Ayub Khan, and, after a brief hiatus, more or less handpicked the members of the Second Constituent Assembly. A busy time was to follow. Pakistan became a member of the US-sponsored SEATO defence pact and thereafter of the Baghdad Pact (subsequently CENTO), thus making this country a strategic element in the American Cordon Sanitaire around the USSR and China, and ensuring the inflow of weaponry, technology and funds to our armed forces. American aid for the economy, under the PL480 and US-AID programmes, was negotiated. The provinces of the Western Wing were amalgamated into the ‘One Unit’ province of West Pakistan, with its capital at Lahore. The Tamizuddin Khan case was briskly contested, leading to the infamous ‘doctrine of necessity’ judgement by Justice Munir. A new Constituent Assembly was created, which finally framed a Constitution for Pakistan.

Does the scenario of those days sound depressingly familiar? A democratic parliament fails to deliver on its legislative objectives, does not fulfil the ordinary tasks of administration and governance, is accused of corruption and mismanagement, and is superseded by an unelected cabal.

Incompetent or do-nothing or internally divided parliaments, however constitutionally or otherwise appointed, failed to satisfy the people’s demands. They therefore left a vacuum of effectiveness, into which stepped the more action-oriented, better organised institutions: the civil bureaucracy and the army. The ‘administrative’ framework of power periodically trumps and supersedes the ‘political’ framework…until the next time the people agitate against authoritarian rule.

Dr Ayesha Siddiqa’s middle class coalition can therefore be seen as the striking edge of the ‘administrative’ oligarchy today, preparing to strike yet again and set in motion the seesaw whose swinging has so retarded our development as a nation.

Are our leaders — of our various political parties, of our parliament and our provincial assemblies, of our civil society organisations — listening?

The writer is a marketing consultant based in Karachi. He is also a poet

Source: Daily Times



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  1. Sarah Khan
  2. Thank you