Political profile in 1996

Dec 28 - Jan 03, 1996

It is for the first time in Pakistan's history after so many years that numerous political events of high significance have taken place in one year's time. The year 1996 saw the sharp decline in economic progress and a steady deterioration of state-owned institutions. Frustration among people deepened and the feelings of insecurity at various levels grew at an alarming rate. On the eve of its 50th anniversary, Pakistan is facing a major dilemma: how to restore the image of the country internationally and how to revitalize the trust and confidence of people over the pillars of governance? As the country is moving towards 1997, uncertainty on the political front is on rise and one is not sure about the accountability process and other measures adopted by the caretaker government to clean-up financial and administrative mess in the country.

Nine important events and developments should be mentioned in the annual political profile of Pakistan for the year 1996. These events and developments are:

1. The open tussle between President and the then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto leading to the dismissal of her government on November 5, 1996.

2. The internationalization of extra-judicial killings in Karachi during 1995 and early 1996.

3. Tussle between Benazir's Government and Judiciary as a result Supreme Court's      historic judgement on March 20.

4. Deterioration in Government-Press relations.

5. The advent of Imran Khan in national politics.

6. The worsening of economic crisis and the threat of Pakistan being declared as "default" by the World Bank and IMF.

7. Intensification of Opposition-Government tussle in the second and third half of 1996.

8. The murder of Murtaza Bhutto on September 20, 1996.

9. The worsening of corruption and the rating of Pakistan as the second most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International.

10. The assertion of Jamaat-e-Islami against the present political set-up.

Dangerous stalemate

When Benazir's government was caught in the vicious cycle of economic crisis and confrontation with the President, Judiciary, Press and Opposition some political circles had warned of serious consequences if the stalemate in national politics was not broken. The level of government-opposition polarization became so deep that the future of democracy in the country was threatened. At least ten major issues became quite known during the year 1996. These issues were:

a. Corruption.

b. Accountability.

c. The rule of law.

d. Threat of military's interference.

e. The emergence of a third political force.

g. The partiality or impartiality of caretakers.

h. Erosion of the credibility of public institutions.

i. Massive price-hike as a result of heavy taxation and mini budgets.

j. Influence of IMF and World Bank in the country's economy.

k. The question of tax payer's money.

If we analyze important political events and issues during the year 1996 we can deduce following points.

1. The state was becoming ungovernable. There was so much of lawlessness and insecurity in the country that people were openly inviting any force which could free them out of PPP's rule. It was not only political instability which had created concerns among people, the most important area of frustration was economic disorder and chaos. The budget announced in June 1996 was followed by couple of mini budgets. Over expenditures of the establishment and politicians at the expense of tax payers had created bitterness and hostility among people and disgruntled elements were threatening of not paying taxes.

Credibility gap

2. The trust and confidence of people in political and economic institutions had eroded. The absence of the rule of law and the failure of the government to provide minimum social justice to the masses created a great credibility gap between people and the government. For the first time in recent history, the process of accountability has been partly institutionalized with the appointment of a Chief Accountability Commissioner and other measures to uproot the menace of corruption.

3. Because of economic disorder, heavy borrowing of the government from banks and over spending the international lending agencies like the World Bank and IMF issued several warnings to Islamabad. Yet Benazir's government did nothing to alleviate the concerns of these organizations. When the economic situation became very critical, it merely took cosmetic measures to control spending and bank borrowing.

4. Tussle between President and Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, between Benazir and the Judiciary and between Benazir and the Opposition made things awful for the people. The long march of Jamaat-e-Islami against PPP's rule and Nawaz Sharif's threat of resignation from assemblies made things worse for the country.

5. The emergence of Imran Khan in national politics and his campaign to uproot corruption and to establish the rule of law created fresh hopes for a better leadership. Despite the contradictions in the theory and practice of Imran Khan, his drive for power has widened the possibility for a third political force and some circles see him as a lesser evil as compared to PPP and PML (N).

International embarrassment

6. Extra-judicial killings in Karachi alienated large sections of Urban Sindh from state policies. Nasirullah Babar's success in controlling lawlessness in Karachi was, however, at the expense of human rights and it caused embarrassment for the country at the international level. From the second quarter of 1996, Karachi became governable yet the political process to remove to grievances of people in Urban Sindh was not launched.

7. The declaration of Pakistan as the second most corrupt country of this world created a sea of embarrassment for the country at all levels. It was asked by many circles: what are the things which could be a source of pride for Pakistan? The country achieved supremacy in corruption and got no recognition in important fields, including Olympics. As a result of 30 billion US dollars of foreign debt and 850 billion rupees of internal debt the country has been caught in a vicious cycle of economic chaos. So far no government has been able to reduce, if not uproot corruption or effectively launch the process of accountability. The absence of the rule of law and the rise of several mafias has made things worse for the ordinary people of the country. It was in the backdrop of such pessimistic and unfortunate circumstances that Benazir's Government was dismissed by the President and elections were announced for February 3, 1997. It is another matter how much relief people have got as a result of Benazir's dismissal. The process of accountability launched by the caretaker government has become a source of more condemnation than appreciation. People are asking why those responsible for loot and plunder for so many years have not been punished and why the burden of government and the establishment is being passed on to ordinary people? People are also confused about the elections and they are not sure how the process of accountability will take off when the caretakers have not even taken action 5% of bank defaulters, financial criminals and those responsible for political oppression.

Possible scenario

The paradoxical nature of Pakistan's politics has made things difficult for the people of this country. Political events taking place in the year 1996 has provided several opportunities to people at the helm of affairs to reform the system before it is too late and there is a total breakdown of order. If we analyze the current political trends we can arrive at following conclusions.

First, confusion, chaos and complexity would remain in Pakistan's politics, at least for a foreseeable future. The reason is: in the absence of an educated, visionary and honest leadership we cannot expect a better people to come to power in forthcoming elections. Even if there is a hung parliament and no party is able to form a government on its own, it will be very difficult for a handful of honest members of parliament to bring change in the system. Second, the military-bureaucratic establishment would continue to hold power because the political leadership has failed to prove its credibility. There is not a slightest indication that the bureaucratic-military-feudal elite is willing to give up its privileges and perks. It would require a lot of sacrifice on their part to reduce, if not eliminate the plight of masses. The burden of unnecessary expenditures are being passed on to the tax payers, particularly those who have fixed income.

Second, any party or a coalition of parties coming to power as a result of February elections will be in a very difficult position, politically and economically. It would remain dependent on the President and the "real establishment" for its survival and would hesitate to adopt radical reforms in the country. As a result the socio-economic conditions of people would remain unchanged. The threat of eighth amendment would deter any future government from challenging the status quo. The only possibility for change comes from a different political verdict in February elections. If the verdict is unacceptable to the "real establishment" another crisis will confront the country. Therefore, Pakistan's political scene is so confused that any thing is possible.

Time for basic change

Concluding, one can figure out numerous complications in Pakistan's politics. The year 1996 has been full of events and the forthcoming year will be influenced by the happening of preceding year. It is time we try to put things in order before it is too late. On account of several socio, economic and political problems, Pakistan cannot afford on-going political schism. It needs a break from political squabbling. This would require change in the attitudes and perceptions of politicians and the establishment about issues which are vital to our country. Instead of wasting time on non-issues, our politicians should try to resolve the problems of people so that Pakistan can emerge as a stable country in the next century.

(The writer teaches International Relations at the University of Karachi)