Politics Interrupted

Feb 2013

Pages 1 2 | اردو

On the first day of Qadri’s sit-in near Parliament, all eyes were on the cleric, the military and the judiciary. The question of whether or not these three forces were acting in concert with one another is, in Pakistan, a question of political perspective. Liberal analysts have for the past few years spoken about such a nexus, alleging that it seeks the removal of the elected government and its replacement by a “technocratic” civilian government supported by the security establishment. Even if we avoid the polarized debate around this question and assume that Qadri and the Supreme Court were acting in absolute independence from each other on January 15, 2013, it would still be reasonable to say that the net effect of their actions brought Pakistan dangerously close to a soft coup against the elected government.

With the opposition parties rejecting Qadri’s Long March and Imran Khan refusing to join him at that point, little remained for the cleric but to seek an exit from his confrontational protest. This was provided to him by the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government and its coalition partners in the form of a “compromise” agreement. The most important fact about this agreement is that it is guaranteed only by the ruling coalition, not the opposition. Leaving aside his more ludicrous demands during the Long March, it appears that Qadri’s main concern was that the military and the judiciary be taken aboard openly as “stakeholders” in the process of forming the interim government for elections. His “compromise” agreement with the government promises merely that Qadri will be consulted in the process, and no more than that. In short, it appears so far to be a face-saving exit for the cleric and his supporters gathered in Islamabad.

Considering that this will be Pakistan’s first ever transfer of power from one elected government to another, the mainstream parties face a tough challenge in upholding constitutionality throughout the process. It was, therefore, an encouraging sight when the opposition parties clearly lined up behind the constitutional prerogative of the elected government to govern, just one day after Qadri began his hullabaloo in the capital. One may safely refer to January 16, 2013 as a day when elected institutions were decisively strengthened against the combined pressure of three unelected forces: the military, the judiciary and an attempted putsch by a mullah.

Having said that, the entire Tahir ul-Qadri episode, along with spiraling ethnic, sectarian and criminal violence in the country, suggests that the whole democratic project in Pakistan must be re-conceived. If the unity of parliamentary parties was a fine moment in our march towards democracy, one must remember that it will not get any finer than this. In a country wracked by economic malaise and conflict, the working masses expect—and deserve—far more from elected governments. For a population suffering the ravages of neo-liberal economic policies, the commitment of its ruling class to a parliamentary system holds little real significance. Existing electoral politics are based heavily on a system of patronage with political parties struggling to gain the loyalty of local elites in any electoral constituency. In such an electoral process, what is contested is not actual questions of wealth redistribution, employment or civil liberties, but kinship networks and cynical number games. The mainstream political parties have so far failed to offer an alternative to neo-liberal social and economic policies which have to be enforced by the coercive apparatus of the state—one that includes sectarian outfits like those that laid waste the Hazara community.

Perhaps, it is not for nothing that unelected messiahs are able to rattle parliamentary democracy with such impunity. Perhaps, there is a reason why electoral politics can be repeatedly held hostage by the military and other unelected institutions of the state. Democracy may well be administered through a constitution, but its basis is not in some abstract concept of the rule of law. Popular legitimacy is the final basis of democracy. If democracy is not deepened in Pakistan through increased participation and economic justice, there will always be a political crisis in the country: the crisis of popular legitimacy.

Ziyad Faisal is a student of economics at the Universita Bocconi in Italy. He is affiliated with the Awami Workers’ Party and the National Students’ Federation in Pakistan. He tweets at @Ziyad_F.

Other articles >>

Help Tanqeed continue to bring you strong analysis and great journalism. Donate, so we can carry on the conversation.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Tags: , , , , , , ,

One Response to Politics Interrupted

  1. […] rule. Malik Siraj Akbar and Sajjad Hussain Changezi discuss the  aftermath. Ziyad Faisal considers the politics of another protest: the Tahir ul-Qadri march on […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *