May 4, 2013 1:56:51 am
The transition in Pakistan will depend on the maturity shown by the main political players after the election. Political chaos will only benefit the extremist conglomerate Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan
Analyses generally tend to take one of the two trajectories while looking at Pakistani politics: the positive approach,counting whats good,or the cynical one with a list of whats wrong. Neither presents the full picture because both tend to use different and differing lenses. An additional problem in these elections relates to the extra-constitutional variable of terrorism,one that is exogenous to electoral politics.
But first the analytical binaries. Binaries are not very useful in focusing on the grey areas wherein the reality resides. Very often,whats not good I deliberately eschew saying whats bad has to be put in a context. Consider the example of the caretaker government.
Its not advisable to have a caretaker government. The concept is flawed. It creates an unnecessary policy hiatus between the outgoing government and the incoming one. The conduct of the state cannot be put on hold and yet,in many areas,thats exactly what has happened because the caretaker government,precisely for the limits placed on its functioning,is not mandated to take those policy decisions.
Best of Express Premium
Yet,within the context of Pakistani politics,this anomalous mechanism became important enough to be injected into the constitution through an amendment. As with the current caretaker governments in the Centre and the four federating units,the three-stage procedure is hugely cumbersome,time-consuming and costly. Despite these minuses,it is difficult to fault the concept or its implementation at this stage because the parties distrust each other to a point where elections cannot be held by the outgoing government.
How does one look at this then? The proponents would say its a development; the opponents will describe this as a weakness. Both are right in the selection of their facts. Even so,both ignore the fact that pluses and minuses require a balance-sheet with a bottom-line. What is important at this stage? No elections,or the certainty of power transfer and an acceptance by all political actors that no one is rigging the results ex ante?
The answer most certainly should be in favour of the latter. That being so,we can say that while the concept is flawed,it aims to beget a result which is useful and which,in the longer run,can help get rid of the concept of the caretakers altogether. It also indicates that while the political actors distrust each other,they have reached a stage where they are prepared,consensually,to agree on a procedure to enhance trust in the electoral exercise. This shows maturity and must be appreciated within the reality of Pakistani politics.
Of course,we now have a new situation created by an actor external to the electoral process. Three parties the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP),the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM),and the Awami National Party (ANP) are under attack from the extremist conglomerate that calls itself the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The TTP wants to sideline the PPP,the MQM and the ANP so that other parties are returned to parliament with big headcounts,parties that the TTP thinks are more amenable to negotiating with the group and stopping military operations against them.
This strategy has made the TTP prevent this political trio from mounting an energetic political campaign. The trio now says that if the results get heavily rigged in favour of Imran Khans Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf and Mian Nawaz Sharifs Muslim League (N),they the trio will not accept the results. This is a new situation and one that the caretakers cannot deal with.
The pressure is on the caretakers and the Election Commission of Pakistan. If the PPP-MQM-ANP combine carries out its threat of not accepting the election results,the ensuing situation could become chaotic and the entire exercise of creating the caretakers could fall by the wayside.
So,while the concept did not envisage a terrorist threat,the threat has become the central focus and could derail the election process ex post facto.
The problem is twofold and paradoxical. It doesnt serve any purpose to postpone the elections because that wont lessen the TTP threat; but not postponing them means the possibility that the trio under threat could use an electoral defeat as an excuse to throw the process awry.
Were this to come to pass,it would be most unfortunate because with the exception of the MQM,the other two parties,the PPP and the ANP,were likely to lose even without the TTP threat. As I wrote for The Express Tribune Wednesday,It [defeat through poor governance will be difficult to assess,in any meaningful or even acceptable way,whether if they do [lose they lost out to other parties because of this threat or their poor performance.
An additional strand of the TTP strategy could also be to cast doubts on the exercise. If this does happen,the transition would become another difficult phase. Ironically,while the army is fully on-board on the question of elections and the democratic transition,it is an actor outside the electoral process,other than the army,that appears to be controlling the outcome.
It is difficult to fault the political actors for this. But what can be said is that they will have to show the same level of maturity post-election (by accepting the results) which they did before it if they want the transition to take place successfully. Any political chaos will be a gain for the TTP.
Another issue is to put the violence in a perspective. While the PPP-MQM-ANP political combine is being attacked,the affected areas in Karachi are few and the impact on the political activity is not very big in percentage terms. However,in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,the ANP has been totally sidelined. The media is dealing with perceptions rather than percentages. That is not wrong but presents a somewhat skewed picture. It is important that while reporting perceptions,the media and the political actors do not lose sight of percentages.
The writer is editor,National Security Affairs,Capital TV
🗞 Subscribe Now: Get Express Premium to access our in-depth reporting, explainers and opinions 🗞️
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.