NationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 07

Evolving political culture of Pakistan

As society is changing at a brisk rate in Pakistan, so is the political culture of the country and there are serious consequences of these changes for society. Political culture of a country plays an important role in the overall stability or instability of the country. In 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 Prime Minister Imran Khan are completely new to the power corridors of the country, which is extremely difficult to govern, they have so far failed to put things in order. Consequently, there is near chaos and crisis in each sector of governance. It is important to note that PM Khan has mainly come to power on the promise to end 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 to put an end to financial corruption.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which have ruled the country four and three times respectively in different eras, every time came to power due to the failure of the other in delivering the much-needed good. In 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 had to be ruled by the party which 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 Khan have so far been unable to get any important victory in controlling financial corruption because of the culture of prevalent financial misappropriation in the official circles, whether upper bureaucracy or lower official cadres. Most of the bureaucrats and officials, who have benefitted from this culture of financial corruption, have been resisting any efforts by PM Khan’s government to put an end to the practices. However, the PTI and PM 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 from politicians, who also somehow benefitted in the past from the culture of official corruption in the country.
Another very important characteristic of the new political culture of Pakistan is that one main ruling party, the PTI, has been on the one side of the political divide and almost all mainstream political parties have become part of the combined opposition. This 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 being supported by all political parties in the parliament sans the PTI. In another words, all the 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 in the recently held grand sit-in by the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), the party head, Maulana Fazlur Rahman, only emphasized on removing the PTI and PM Khan from the power instead of coming up with a reform or restructuring programme for the political sphere. Thus, the dominant interests of traditional political groups and parties in the new political culture of Pakistan are to preserve their interests in the political system 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 it also could not fulfil the basic needs of the people. The PTI, on its part, has also so far failed to come up with a new system of governance that is beneficial to majority of the people instead of serving the vested interests.
A key characteristic of the new political culture of Pakistan is that ideology has become nearly completely irrelevant and political groups which have always claimed to have been ideological entities have become completely marginalized. These include the PPP, the ANP and the Jamaat-e-Islami etc. The foremost reason for the irrelevance of the parties adhering somehow to a particular ideology is that for people issues and needs have become far more important as they are the matter of survival than any ideology with its unfulfilled promises. A closer look at the traditional political culture of Pakistan also reveals the fact that people have never voted in majority for so-called ideological parties. If someone would argue that they voted for the PPP four times, then it must be remembered that the PPP has always practiced the politics of bread and butter as is evident from its classical slogan of roti, kapra or makan (bread, cloth and shelter) to which it put a distorted ideological shroud of Islamic socialism, a complete misnomer.
On the other hand, in the new political culture of Pakistan the traditional political groups competing in the political arena in the name of Islam have become quite irrelevant and marginalized. These groups, which are spearheaded by the JUI-F, followed by JI and various factions of JUI and Barelvi sect groups, have been nearly-completely rejected by people. For instance, the JUI-F in its traditional strongholds of tribal areas and southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the JI in Upper Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Although Pakistanis have never voted to power Islamist political parties at the federal level and they could only get a few seats whenever elections were held in the country, yet these parties and groups have become quite irrelevant in the new political culture.
The changed political culture of Pakistan has serious consequences for society. Majority of people have become quite interested in political developments, thanks to the media’s unprecedented coverage of political issues and governance-related matters. However, seeing the system and ruling parties not delivering, the people are also becoming increasingly disenchanted with the politics of the country.