THE POLITICO-ECONOMIC CRISIS IN PAKISTAN
SYED ALAMDAR ALI (email@example.com)
May 11 - 17, 2009
For the last more than two years, Pakistan has been in the grip of a legal crisis. Without going into further details of how the issue was resolved and who aided in the resolution, we take an account of the norms in our society that led to the creation of such circumstances about two years ago in a peculiar manner. A key factor in the crisis is the problem of inequality and social injustice. In spite of a 7 per cent growth rate in 2006, a major proportion of our population still survives on less than $1 a day, and more than 60 per cent of the population is chronically malnourished. This points towards a growing exclusion of the majority from the benefits of this growth. Moreover, the eagerness of Pakistani government to pursue neoliberal policies has led to the privatization of basic social services, thus putting these out of reach of those who need them most. Public discontent with the regime is largely due to this drop in living standards, exacerbated by a rise in the price of petrol and basic goods.
During the year 2007 Presidential power was becoming increasingly dictatorial, a fact that has heightened public anger and frustration and has been condemned by civil society and the country's intellectuals. In addition to this, the president has made a series of serious political mistakes that started from the action of then Chief Justice Iftikhar Ahmed. Given the weakened state of the ruling party and the non-existent institutional power structures, the lawyers did not find it difficult to channel public anger and position himself as the spokesperson for the regime's opponents. It would, however, be erroneous to assume that the people of Pakistan were split between the supporters of the ruling party and the lawyer's movement!
It was evident from the fact that despite President's calls for general gatherings at that time, people continued to favor the judicial crisis because that was the only issue available to the public to show their anger.
From a historical perspective, the current crisis is an episode of a decades-long crisis. Previous regimes, whether Civil or Martial Law have come and gone, neither able to understand nor resolve this crisis. This is the fifth time in the country's history that a popular uprising has spread as wildfire. The three previous ones took place in 1968, 1977, 1988, and 1999. This is a cyclical trend to these uprisings which seem to occur every ten years or so.
The current crisis has provided a unique opportunity to revisit the principles of democracy, citizenship, and human rights. Our local societies have now realized this, and perused a general conference of society and a constitutional referendum, as well as equal participation in all political processes. Based upon the historical review and the nature of current crisis the following conclusions and recommendations can be suggested to resolve any further such situation in the future.
The fact that needs to be realized is that every crisis ultimately turns out to be a political and economic problem. The discrimination is to be avoided in favour of the interests of the ruling group of people. Instead, all decisions are to be taken in the best interests of the country and people of the country.
The ruling group of people has increasingly held judiciary hostage. Consequently, big push for the independence ultimately comes from the affected people of the country in the extreme situations. The political leaders have always abdicated their roles after elections and hence the crisis acquires a life of its own. The perception on the ground develops after military takeover is that troops are believed to be involved in aggravating the violence. The public therefore reacts by showing their anger coming on the roads.
The Lessons that have been learned to avoid any such situation in future. Any political conflict that is not resolved initially with wisdom turns out to be a serious political crisis, therefore any political disagreement requires a political settlement to promote national reconciliation and unity at very stages. Such a political settlement must be one that reconciles and heals the nation and reflects the best interests of all Pakistanis. A political settlement is necessary to manage a broad reform agenda and other mechanisms that will address the root causes of the crisis.
Such reforms and mechanisms will comprise, but are not limited to, the following:
Comprehensive Constitutional reforms;
Comprehensive electoral reform - of the electoral laws, the electoral commission and dispute resolution mechanisms;
A truth, justice and reconciliation commission;
Identification and prosecution of perpetrators of violence;
Respect for human rights;
Legal and Judicial reforms;
Commitment to a shared national agenda in Parliament for these reforms;
Consolidating national cohesion and unity;
Tackling poverty and inequity, as well as combating regional development imbalances, particularly promoting equal access to opportunity;
Tackling unemployment, particularly among the youth;
Reform of the Public Service;
Strengthening of anti-corruption laws/public accountability mechanisms;
Reform of Public Finance and Revenue Management Systems and Institutions;
Addressing issues of accountability and transparency.
Other legislative, structural, political, and economic reforms are as imperative.
Apart from all above it has also to been recognized that this settlement is not about sharing of political positions but about addressing the fundamental root causes of recurrent conflict, and we should reaffirm our commitment to address the issues.