The Grand Compromise

The Prime Minister makes brave speeches. With great confidence she inaugurates the wheat growing season and the People’s Works Programme. She is nominated for prestigious international awards and she accepts the nominations gracefully. She visits foreign countries and is received with considerable ceremony. The western media loves her. She is the symbol of democracy. She is also the symbol of Islam for she keeps her head covered, does not shake hands with males and gives Iftar parties in Ramazan. Wherever she goes, crowds gather.

The provincial chief ministers, too, are an articulate and lucid lot. The one in the Punjab insists his conflict with the Centre is ideological, but he chooses not to define the Centre’s ideology or his own in case such a definition may lose him some support. The one in Baluchistan threatens to join the Punjab in its struggle against the Centre. The Sindh chief minister also makes brave speeches. He promises confidently, an end to terrorism and violence. Yet, with every speech he makes, the law and order situation in his province deteriorates. Wherever the chief ministers go, crowds also gather.

Then there are scores of ministers and many more scores of advisors. Their number increases with every minor crisis and so does their flamboyance. As crowds do not gather where they go, they carry their crowds with them. Meanwhile, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who under the 1985 constitution has more powers than the PM and CMs combined, stays in the background. He does not like crowds, so wherever he goes, none gather.

The people of Pakistan, however, are becoming increasingly alienated from all this hectic activity that passes for politics. The sale of newspapers has fallen drastically. The enthusiasm with which people watched the television news in the early days of the democratic government, is no more. In political circles, the struggle against retrogression and exploitation has been replaced by lobbying for benefits, jobs and doles, in spite of the fact that both retrogression and exploitation continue unabated. In intellectual circles, the debate on social and economic issues has gone into the background. Petty gossip concerning the personal lives of the new rulers in Islamabad has taken its place. The sense of relief, freedom and expectation of the post-election period has also vanished, and the ritualistic gatherings and speeches arranged for the rulers are becoming increasingly reminiscent of the Zia and Junejo eras. Behind the comings and goings of important foreign dignitaries and the pomp of PM and CM attended happenings, there is a growing weariness, and among the more aware, disgust. There is a sense of déjà vu. It seems that the old saying “history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as a farce,” is true after all.

The reason for the growing alienation and weariness of the people of Pakistan from the manner in which they are governed, is the immense gap between the country’s reality and its political expression. Various reasons have been given for this gap by those political observers who have not become a part of the post-election Pakistani establishment. Some say that the present state of affairs is due to the fact that the PPP government does not wield sufficient power and yet it is forced to behave as if it does. They, however, do not tell us who or what forces the government to behave in this particular manner. There are others who blame the situation on the immaturity and inexperience of the key figures in government and their inability to follow procedures, to deal effectively with the bureaucracy and to muster support in the assemblies. There are still others who feel that the newly elected government is following a policy of laissez faire as it is too weak to take any major decisions. They feel that such decisions may annoy powerful vested interests which the government cannot afford to do at present. So why not tax the people instead.

Whatever the reason for the present state of affairs, one thing is certain, that the cause of the situation we find ourselves in, lies in the nature and results of the 11 year movement for democracy against the Zia government; in the reasons for which the November elections were held; and why only a part of the power was transferred to the elected representatives of the people.

Traditionally, the feudal system in Pakistan, and in British India before that, gave full political support to the country’s military and bureaucracy. Together, they constituted the establishment. The radicalism of the urban communities or of small pockets in the countryside, was overwhelmed by the power that the feudal exercised in the rural areas, and in the case of elections, by the vote banks they controlled. Eighty percent of the country’s population then lived in the rural areas. Thus, the feudal system ensured legitimacy to the decisions and the structure of the establishment in the country.

The 1970 elections saw a change in this state of affairs with the emergence of two populist parties, the Awami League in East Pakistan and the Pakistan people’s Party in the West. Since the establishment could not come to an understanding with the Awami League, we lost our majority province in 1971. In the ‘new’ Pakistan, however, the populism of the People’s Party took over the role of providing the establishment with the legitimacy it required for exercising its powers. An understanding between populism and a conservative establishment, especially one which consumes a major part of the country’s resources, cannot last in the best of circumstances. The July 1977 coup should be seen in this context, the other more obvious factors notwithstanding.

The politics of Pakistan during the 11 years of the Zia government were nothing more than a struggle for power between the establishment and the populist forces. The establishment tried to bypass the populist forces in an attempt to legitimise itself. The populist forces, on the other hand, tried to topple the government. Neither succeeded, and each attempt by the two parties made them modify and soften their original stands, until, with the sacking of the Junejo government in 1988, there was a stalemate. This stalemate could not be resolved because of the nature of General Zia’s personal role in the politics of the post-Bhutto era. So he conveniently died in an air crash and a new agreement (the terms of which, we can only speculate on) took between the two major forces in Pakistan’s post 1970 history. With this agreement, the political stalemate was institutionalised and, with the November elections, it acquired legitimacy. It is reasonable to believe that the agreement between the two parties reflects those respective strengths and weaknesses that created the stalemate. However, it is also reasonable to believe that the relationship between the two cannot be a static one and that each will try to strengthen its position at the expense of the other. For the foreseeable future, the mechanics of this relationship will be the most important factor in determining the nature of conventional politics in Pakistan.

It is interesting to take a look at the reason for the failure of both the establishment and the populist forces in achieving their original objectives. The legitimacy that the establishment required could not be provided by the feudal system because of major demographic, social and economic changes that have taken place in Pakistan during the last 20 years. The size of the urban population has increased considerably, thereby weakening the voting strength of the countryside. In addition, many of these rural areas have been increasingly mechanised; fertiliser, pesticides and new varieties of seeds are in use; banks, insurance companies and small scale industry have sprung up, and the necessary infrastructure to maintain all these services has been created. As a result, trade and commerce have expanded and a new middle class has come into being. In addition, the rural economy in most of Pakistan today, is totally dependent on middleman finance for survival, and not on the old feudal structure. These changes have destroyed traditional relationships which were the backbone of the feudal order and have created an awareness that has finished off the feudal as a vote bank. Thus, it was natural that nominated assemblies and partyless elections, which the establishment experimented with, were not acceptable in these changed conditions.

The causes for the failure of the populist forces in overthrowing the government, are more led for the most part, by leaders whose material and class interests were best served by arriving at a workable compromise with the establishment. This they would have done had it not been for the role of certain key establishment figures, then in power, in Bhutto’s trial and subsequent assassination. In addition, the populist forces were disunited. This disunity was promoted with great effort and expense by the establishment, to the extent that we find a military government in Islamabad supporting extremist regional nationalists. These factors prevented the creation of a wider workable democratic alliance and even the MRD could not go beyond its initial four-point charter. Thus, the political movement against the Zia regime limited itself to a demand for a return to democratic rule. The result was that the country’s economic problems and the pressure of inflation, unemployment and the exploitative nature of an expanding middleman economy, never became issues for the common man. In addition, their causes and their relationship to democracy, dictatorship or any other form of government were never discussed publicly.

Given this background, it is natural that the 11-year struggle against dictatorship in Pakistan gave us the Human Rights Commission, the Prisoners Aid Committee and the Women’s Action Forum, but failed to politically organise and mobilise the workers, peasants and small entrepreneurs. It is also natural that in the institutionalisation of the political stalemate in Pakistan, it was the issues that were raised during the struggle that were considered a priority and it is these priorities that are reflected in the policies of the present government.

However, the major political problem facing Pakistan today is of an economic nature. Our resource base is a rapidly diminishing one while our needs are increasing. Every year, a smaller percentage of our revenues is spent on development and a larger percentage on the establishment itself. In 1977, 29 percent of our revenues were spent on development. By 1987, the figure had fallen to 13. Given the nature of social change in Pakistan, this problem makes the consolidation of this change impossible and is leading to social anarchy and administrative impotence. In addition, this state of affairs determines our foreign policy, our relationships with our bankers, and through them, our economic and development policies. It also determines the relationship between the government and the pre-December 1988 section of the establishment.

The Pakistan People’s Party has chosen to play the role of a legitimiser for the establishment in Pakistan. By doing so, it has opted out of leading the people of Pakistan in politically directing and institutionalising the enormous social and economic changes that are taking place in our country. But then, perhaps, it had no choice. Its MNAs and MPAs-elect would never have agreed to sit in the opposition and deny themselves the benefits that power, even in a curtailed form, can buy.

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