NationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 19

Changing political character of Pakistan

There have been so many developments in the political arena in the last few years in Pakistan, mostly negative, that the main objective of the process to have overall stability in the country and improvement in the standard of life could not be meaningfully achieved. Instead, so many fleeting political changes have made the administrative edifice and economic system quite dysfunctional, leading to an observable breakdown of law and order in the country, which is raising fears of the collapse of the political system as it is already on a collision course.

The confusion and lack of political stability in the country could be gauged from the recent statements of top political leaders of the country. For instance, the other day Prime Minister Imran Khan said that he often thought of having made several mistakes during his tenure and pondered that if he had appointed such and such ministers and advisers the performance of the government could have been better. Then a key federal minister, Asad Umar, during an interview said that PM Imran Khan would dissolve the National Assembly and his government, if somebody from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) tried to blackmail him. The situation among and within the opposition parties also leaves a lot to be desired, as most are at daggers drawn at each other. The parting of ways of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Awami National Party (ANP) with the opposition umbrella organization, Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), and the recent by-election on a National Assembly seat in Karachi are cases in point of profound selfishness and divisions in the opposition ranks. The by-election on the Karachi seat has completely exposed the viability of the political system, including the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). If elections could not be held in a smooth and orderly manner in just a single constituency out of more than 270 constituencies, then what is this entire dispensation all about?

The political changes, including political attitudes and behaviours, are very much interlinked, with large-scale changes in society. In other words, as society is changing at a brisk rate in Pakistan, so is the political culture of the country and there are serious consequences of the changes for society. In this context, the role of, what political sociologists call, “political culture” is extremely important. Political culture of a country plays a very important role in the overall stability or instability of the state. In the case of Pakistan, the political culture is ever-evolving and at the moment there are certain key characteristics of the new political culture of Pakistan, which need to be identified and discussed.

The foremost characteristic of the present political culture of Pakistan is that a power-novice political party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), has been in the saddle. As the party and its head PM Imran Khan are completely new to the power corridors of the country, which is extremely difficult to govern, they have so far failed to deliver. Consequently, there is near chaos and crisis in each sector of governance. It is important to note that PM Imran Khan has mainly come to power on the promise of rooting out financial corruption and misrule. This is again a new development in the political culture of Pakistan, because hardly any political party in the past came to the saddle on the promise of putting an end to financial corruption. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which have ruled the country for four and three times respectively in different eras, came to power every time due to the failure of the other in delivering the much-needed goods. In the 1970s, when the PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had assumed power, it was more due to an accident as the country had dismembered and the remaining Pakistan was to be ruled by the party which had won most electoral constituencies in the country. Even it was not the triumph of ideological politics over the non-ideological rule of General Ayub Khan. Then the PML-N has never been an ideological party and so is the PTI.

The PTI and PM Imran Khan have so far been unable to get any important victory in controlling financial corruption, because of the culture of prevalent misappropriation in the official circles, whether the upper bureaucracy or lower official cadres. Most bureaucrats and officials, who have benefitted from the culture of financial corruption, have been resisting all efforts by PM Imran Khan’s government to put an end to such practices. However, the PTI and PM Imran Khan have also failed to control financial misappropriation because he has been facing stiff resistance from the opposition parties, most of whom remained part of the power circles for long, as well from within his own party politicians, who also somehow benefitted in the past from the culture of corruption in the country.

Another important characteristic of the new political culture of Pakistan is that one main ruling party, the PTI, has been on one side of the political divide and almost all mainstream political parties have become part of the combined opposition. It was nearly the case when the PTI was protesting against electoral fraud and financial corruption by the then ruling PML-N in 2014, and the latter was supported by all political parties in the parliament sans the PTI. In other words, all traditional parties and forces have banded together in opposing the newer entrant to the power corridors, the PTI. This is basically due to the fact that all traditional political parties have stakes in the older political system, which the PTI wants to overthrow. It is noteworthy that since the formation of the PDM, the opposition groups have only emphasized on removing the PTI and PM Khan from power, instead of coming up with a reform or restructuring programme for the political system. Thus, the dominant objective of the traditional political groups and parties in the new political culture of Pakistan is to preserve their interests, while that of their challenger, the PTI, is to overthrow the system. In the last general elections, people at large in Pakistan sided with the PTI, as the old political system and culture could not deliver the much-needed benefits while also could not fulfil the basic needs of the people. The PTI, on its part, as mentioned earlier, has also so far failed to come up with a new system of governance that is beneficial to the majority of people, instead of serving vested interests.

Thus, so many political changes and ensuing political instability and economic problems have made the life of most people of Pakistan extremely difficult. The government will have to deliver now to regain the trust of people in political parties, the present system and democracy.