South Asia

Pakistan Faces a Colossal Crisis, But It Can be Saved

It is about time the genuine complaints of people are heard and women and minorities' rights safeguarded.

According to Imtiaz Alam, this column written by him has been censored in Pakistan where news portals have refused to publish it. The Wire is publishing the article to ensure it reaches a wide audience in South Asia and the world.


Responding to the enormity of crises faced by the Pakistani state and society, leading conscientious civil society activists along with mainstream and Left-oriented stalwarts have come up with an alternative progressive democratic agenda that will safeguard peoples’ rights, uphold the supremacy of a truly representative system and ensure social security for the downtrodden masses.

The agenda seems to be broad-based and inclusive. But it is not sufficient to meet its challenges until all progressive and consistent democratic forces forge a unity, shed their past mistakes and rise above expedient party interests.

Democratic transformation, economic survival and the paradigm shift from a national security state to a social welfare-inclusive federation pose greater challenges and warrant much greater mobilisation of masses if any meaningful change is to be brought in their lives. More than the opposition’s current expedient objectives, at stakes are much bigger issues that are going to define the future of the country.

There can be no doubt that Pakistan is now faced with a colossal crisis. A dependent and fragile economic base can no more take the burden of a disproportionately heavy superstructure of a national security state.

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The International Monetary Fund’s recipes, without bringing changes in the power-structure and moving towards a people-centric development paradigm, cannot salvage the crisis of a dependent and uncompetitive economy, despite an unprecedented doze of foreign loans in recent years. The loans will further worsen a vicious debt-trap.

The crisis has further been exacerbated by political disruptions. Despite serious shortcomings of the past two elected governments, the decade old “democratic transition” is degenerating into a de-facto authoritarian regime, dictated by autocratic forces behind the façade of a sham populist dispensation.

This has, in turn, resulted in the degradation of constitutional rule, parliamentary system, federal structures, authenticity of judicial independence, due process of justice, sanctity of institutional neutrality and in erosion of constitutional limitations on the conduct of various institutions.

For example, thanks to the extraordinary extension of Article 183, judicial “activism” in the last decade witnessed Chief Justices Iftikhar Chaudhry and Saqib Nisar almost taking over the domain of the executive and packing up of successive governments, besides causing trillions of rupee losses to the national exchequer.

In the post-martial law civilian period, instead of relinquishing their extended dominant role during military rules, the security apparatuses have persisted in keeping and extending a much broader roles as if they are the state unto themselves. They exercise power beyond what the constitution has strictly constrained to the matters of security, into being an arm of the civilian executive.

As the autocratic domain extends to every sphere of national life, the freedoms and civil or human rights won earlier through protracted struggles have been drastically curtailed. Due to an inverse application of a “hybrid warfare” pretext, freedom of expression, dissent and media freedom in particular, became the first victim of the long arms of the state.

All kinds of media have been gagged and are being overtly censored as corporate interests coalesce in and thousands of working journalists have been rendered jobless. While critical voices are being silenced, saner sections of social media activists are being ostracised. Peoples’ peaceful rights and internally displaced peoples’ protests and efforts for lawful treatment of “missing persons” are being maligned and suppressed. The great sufferers are women and minorities, whose rights are being trampled upon.

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Baluch people are continuing to suffer at the hands of conflict and no political solution through dialogue is in sight, even though this was envisaged by the National Action Plan. What this stalemate has left is space for hostile powers to meddle with their nefarious designs.

The genuine complaints of the tribal people of the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), who have been dealt immense losses in terms of life and property in the last four decades, are not being amicably addressed.

By TUBS - Own workThis W3C-unspecified vector image was created with Adobe Illustrator.This file was uploaded with Commonist.This vector image includes elements that have been taken or adapted from this:  Pakistan location map.svg (by NordNordWest)., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16496329

The former FATF (in red). Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Consequently, the process of the democratic integration of FATA into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa remains a captive to bureaucratic stranglehold. Political adversaries and critics are being subjected to a witch hunt using a method of orchestrated “accountability”— which stands exposed after the Judge-Tapegate. Federalist structures and the due rights of federating units are being pushed to the margin in contravention of the 18th Amendment. The provinces are being run either though remote control, as are Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, or being subjugated through arbitrary and discriminatory ways, as were Baluchistan and the erstwhile FATA, or deprived, as in the case of Sindh.

As isolationist foreign and security policies continue to keep the country in a tight corner in international fora, including the Financial Action Task Force, the country remains locked up in perpetual conflict with all its neighbours. Despite a national consensus on a National Action Plan and military operations, the existing threat of terrorism and extremism to society continues to hurt the nation since all aspects of the Plan could not be implemented.

Successive governments and authorities have avoided ideologically taking on religious extremism. They have rather continued to use various sectarian outfits and militant proxies to their own tactical advantage. There has been no progress on curriculum and Madaris reforms due to the pressure of clergy.

These are the concerns of civil society. These have persuaded them to call upon the people of Pakistan and all its democratic and progressive forces to pursue the following agenda:

1. The sovereignty of the people and their civil, social, economic and human rights, including freedom of expression, as enshrined in the international covenants and the Constitution and unfettered right to elect their true representatives through a free, fair and un-manipulated franchise must be actualised under a fully independent and powerful Election Commission, as opposed to the farcical and controversial electoral exercises of the past.

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2. There is no alternative to a constitutional, civilian, democratic and peoples’ rule. This should be reflected through a sovereign parliament, autonomous provincial assemblies and authoritative local governments, participatory federations and provincial autonomy, subordination of all institutions of the state to the will of the people (parliament), and a responsible and truly representative government serving the interests of the downtrodden people of Pakistan.

3. The trichotomy of power and separation of legislative, judicial and executive arms of the state have to be observed with a sovereign parliament without any encroachment by any institution in the domain of other institutions. All unconstitutional incursions by the state institutions, such as by the security institutions into matters other than security, and unrestrained judicial “activism” that undermines legitimate governance, must be stopped forthwith.

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File image of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. Photo: Reuters/Thomas Peter/Pool

4. The civil, human and economic rights and freedoms of the citizens, as enshrined in the international covenants and the 1973 Constitution, must be respected and protected by all organs of the state without any discrimination on any basis. Suppression of freedom of expression, due process of law, impunity of state institutions in the cases of missing persons, ban on students’ unions, restrictions on trade unions and professional associations, blatant censorship of media, all kinds of discriminations against women and minorities, and use of violence by state and non-state actors against peaceful citizens must come to an end. A political solution to conflict in Baluchistan is most warranted, by initiating dialogue with alienated Baluch elements in the interest of the people and the province, and to alleviate the sufferings of Baluch people and preempt any foreign meddling. The genuine demands of the tribal people of former FATA must be fully and promptly addressed.

5. A systemic eradication of corruption from all spheres of state and society through an across-the-board accountability of all and under a transparent and a due process of law and credible institution is called for. Promotion of good governance, a democratic and tolerant culture, and eradication of all patriarchal, inhuman and violent practices and authoritarian and fascist tendencies is needed. All forms of discrimination on the basis of religion, sect, gender and ethnicity must come to an end, as envisioned by Father of the Nation, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. This must be a tolerant state that respects the religious and ethnic diversity of its people. An enlightened, civilised, progressive, inclusive and tolerant narrative should define the ethos of our state and society.

6. Pakistan can progress and survive as a democratic, inclusive, modern and peaceful federation on the basis of a sustainable productive base, tuned to address the basic needs and social security of all its people while pursuing goals of regional economic cooperation, rather than being entrapped in militaristic conflicts and becoming a pawn in the hands of competing international or regional powers.

7. A paradigm shift is required from a traditional national security state to an inclusive and holistic vision of human security and development which serves the interests of its people, by providing them with a good quality of life. What this will result in is a modern republic which is at peace with its people and with its neighbours on the basis of equality, dignity and peaceful resolution of bilateral disputes and mutually beneficial cooperation.

Imtiaz Alam is a Lahore-based journalist and a founder president of the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA).