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The anatomy of politics

Politics is the means to power, and power enables proximity to resource. This is the essence in any political process. At times ideology tampers with this simple equation – and that is when big things happen.

But this isn’t every day, and when that happens history is made and/or geographies change. In a less than explosive ideological fermentation, when politics is sedate and routine, as is the case in many a nation-state that finally find stability, politics is less historical and more opportunistic.

At times a political force comes into power because the alternates are simply not good enough. A democratic process is mostly a case of a choice being only a shade better, never the outright best, and that remains democracy’s major constraint. There are never explosive changes, only incremental aggregations. The Tories won the recent elections in the UK not because they had done fantastic things during their tenure, rather they were weighed with the burden of the incumbency and it was largely believed that such unremarkable tenure needed to be replaced. But Labour failed to make the mark.

There were other minor dividends though; a third force in the Scottish National Party found its footing and carried the election in Scotland causing minor tremors in the Tories camp about the popularity of the nationalist sentiment. The SNP has a separatist agenda, though it lost the referendum to the Tories on breaking Scotland away from the UK. Such freakish developments make for an interesting mix of political possibilities that will now consume a lot of the time in the UK’s political debate.

But that is all a few thousand miles away from here, though the evolution there remains instructive. We chose to model our own parliamentary democracy on the lines of our ‘colonial masters’. We had to have a political system, and we chose the one that we were more familiar with, which is just fine. The parliamentary democratic process, over our own experience, has thrown up the relatively ‘better ones’ – principally speaking – as our governments, giving them that all important proximity to resource. In an immature political system where external manipulation was possible, some were contrived winners while others won because of an incidental wave of sympathy. Only in Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s case can we ascribe ideology and a rejection of the incumbent system of governance as the real drivers of electoral success.

Most of what ZAB followed up as policy institution also had a strong ideological leaning though history might judge him to be not fully in sync with the common mood. Had he pulled it off he just might have been the game-changer that today’s politics continues to seek or is pretentious enough to claim. ZAB’s political experience is also instructive for all those in politics who think instantaneous transformation of both the society and the political culture is possible. As ZAB learned, and as Imran Khan finally succumbed to, was that to win at the game that is in play, one has to play the same game. Improvements in the political culture are possible but will come with time.

There are two predominant weaknesses in Pakistani political culture. One, the proximity to resource has been misused pervasively as a means of personal enrichment and in building industrial empires and amassing unparalleled wealth. Two, politics stands at a point where there is an emblematic struggle between those who wish to retain the political culture associated with the tradition of familial enrichment and those who challenge such paradigm of misuse but lack the numbers to give them the necessary power to upturn such appropriation. And perhaps thirdly, not yet having been tried at all with proximity to national wealth and resource the questions on the fidelity of such third-force claimants to the new paradigm remain untested.

That may make the case for the untested PTI to be given a chance to wring the changes and remodel the political culture with respect for the rule of law. To that end, the PTI will do well to study the failure of Labour in the recent UK elections in making headway when all seemed destined in that direction. Labour thinks it wasn’t Centre enough and was strung too far out to the Left to have a broader public appeal. The ‘swing vote’, always the decider in these contests, wasn’t convinced yet of new Labour’s ability and capacity to navigate Britain through contemporary challenges; such as Immigration, retaining the Union in face of fissiparous nationalism, and balancing UK’s position in the EU.

On what basis or policy planks does the PTI claim the mantle in Pakistani politics? What are those three or four issues that should force the electorate to think differently? Honesty is no policy in statecraft. To seek an electoral victory only on the basis of not being corrupt – to be tested still – may find a similar disappointment as Labour did in the UK.

The PTI has another problem to contend with: it has the power in KP and will be tested for delivery there. Briefly, there are perhaps three major issues that bedevil Pakistan: fighting terror and militancy; turning the economy around – and that has an inalienable relationship with political stability; and significantly improving the paradigm of governance of which ending corruption is only but one part. The PTI’s performance in KP isn’t exactly trailblazing in any of these areas.

The PML-N and the PPP, as the two major political forces, are both undergoing different sets of scrutiny. The fidelity of the PML-N’s electoral victory of 2013 is under serious challenge in a judicial commission as well as through some damaging decisions by the election tribunals. The PML-N also has something going for it: one, if it can hold election irregularity as the more pervasive reason in a compromised election, it may save itself the ignominy and seriousness of election fraud through deliberate rigging; this remains a patently judicial undertaking.

Two, the number of seats where such compromise of the process is suspected is comparatively small and may not cause the entire election to be annulled giving the opportunity to the PML-N to complete its tenure. And third, a heavy investment by China comes just at the right time for Pakistan to reinforce the recovery process in the economy. Law and order in Karachi seems to be getting better as is military’s spectacular progress in the war against terror. Things look good for the PML-N. An unanchored PTI, just as a slightly unripe Labour in the UK, may not be the force to spoil the PML-N’s day.

The PPP is sadly crumbling from the inside. The party of Bhutto and Benazir seems lost in the woods and is unable to breach the growing sense of insecurity betrayed at the various levels of leadership. It remains a decisive moment in the manner of how the party deals with the challenges. The crying call is for the party to become a public entity and not a private limited enterprise.

Pakistan’s political culture is in serious need for a rethink of its familial antecedence into platforms of public association with public ownership. The case of the PPP is the first stone cast in that direction. In here too there is also much to learn from UK’s political experience – most heads of the losing parties announced their resignations as they conceded defeat.

The writer is a retired air-vice marshal, former ambassador and a security and political analyst.

Email: shhzdchdhry@yahoo.com

Shahzad Chaudhry, "The anatomy of politics," The News. 2015-05-12.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political process , Political parties , Political leaders , Political solutions , Politics-Pakistan , Nationalist sentiment , Electoral success , Parliamentary democracy , UK elections , Zulfikar Bhutto , Pakistan