Last week, as Pakistan's foreign reserves fell below 3 billion dollars, the IMF delegation left the country without signing an agreement, and intense political bickering made headlines by the hour. Such moments have come and gone in Pakistan's history, but what makes the present imbroglio distinguishable?
In the past, the military was the all-powerful arbiter with a veto 'stick' that could end a particular crisis, or show the way forward – whether it was popular or not. This time the military, with all its traditional power and influence, is under intense attack and scrutiny from none other than its most recent protege, Imran Khan.
In a dramatic video that went viral, Imran Khan was captured complaining that the Army and the ISI chief were trying to physically eliminate the most popular leader of the largest political party – of course, who could it be other than Mr. Khan himself! Sheikh Rasheed, who for decades confessed that he is a miltablishment oracle, has also been picked up, and this time, the usual quarters are not coming for his rescue.
The army's recently retired leadership were not only directly responsible for the emergent polycrisis, but they also harmed the institution itself, especially its internal discipline and accountability.
Is this wedge indicative of the much-promised 'neutrality'? Or a simple reflection of the fact that GHQ, after the breakup with Imran Khan, is running out of options and is banking on erstwhile unreliable partners, i.e. Zardari and the younger Sharif. Even though this phase may be a temporary dwindling of authority, it has serious ramifications.
The overriding objective of the miltablishment might be to resuscitate its image in the public arena, rather than just playing its 'due role' in managing a national security state. The army's recently retired leadership were not only directly responsible for the emergent polycrisis, but they also harmed the institution itself, especially its internal discipline and accountability.
What Pakistan's history instructs us is that decisions taken by unelected institutions, no matter how technically sound they are, lack legitimacy and often lead to further conflict.
A shocking claim by a journalist has narrated how one general was allegedly conspiring to block the elevation of the incumbent army chief. Such divisions are not new, but the fact that they are out in the public domain and subject of speculation and controversy – harms the image of an institution well-known for its discipline and functionality. Much as we criticize the political role of the army, such a decline – even if short-lived – is a red flag for the state and its vital interests.
As the country attempts to find a way out of the economic crisis, political questions are being settled in the courtrooms. A single bench of the Lahore High Court (LHC) has directed the authorities to announce elections in the Punjab province. The judgment will most likely be challenged in appeals, with the final outcome arbitered by the Supreme Court (SC) judges, which could be another source of instability. Unchecked judicial activism, according to some legal experts, is now leading honorable judges to a 'reimagination' of the Constitution instead of its lawful interpretation.
The earlier LHC judgments regarding the qualification and disqualification of MPAs has not inspired much confidence. During the past months, almost every political contest has landed in the courts. Some of the questions relate to the law, but many are simply political matters that ought to be addressed by legislators, special purpose constitutional bodies such as the Election Commission or the executive. Judicialization of politics ends up distorting the rule of law; and affects the constitutional scheme of separation of powers.
Now that the timing of the elections is an open question, what are the portents for a consensual resolution of the roadmap 2023? The plain answer is that nobody knows.
The ruling PDM coalition seems to be out of its wits, as it has neither the wherewithal to manage the current crises, nor the full support of unelected institutions required in emergency circumstances such as these. The military is 'hands off', as it seems to be engrossed in internal house-cleaning after the Bajwa-Faiz experiment blew up in their face.
In their remarks, honorable judges appear to be questioning the legitimacy of lawmaking, with the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) citing that there was only one honest prime minister in Pakistan's history. Granted that remarks from the bench mean little, for it is the verdicts that matter. However, since the Iftikhar Chaudhry court indulged in 'TV-ticker justice', such remarks directly influence public opinion and run the risk of fueling political polarization.
Now that the timing of the elections is an open question, what are the portents for a consensual resolution of the 2023 roadmap? The plain answer is that nobody knows. The miltablishment may have its preferences, but it would hesitate to intervene openly. The political parties have locked their horns, and appear unwilling to resort to the fundamental requirement of a parliamentary democracy: dialogue and negotiation.
This leaves the option of the superior courts calling the shots, and deciding on matters evidently beyond their jurisdiction. What Pakistan's history instructs us is that decisions taken by unelected institutions, no matter how technically sound they are, lack legitimacy and often lead to further conflict.
Pakistan is at the brink and it urgently needs a political reconciliation that must include Mr. Khan and his erstwhile benefactors. The chances of that happening anytime soon are next to nil. Millions of Pakistanis crushed under 25-30% inflation, which is only likely to increase further, look at the ruling class and its indifference with contemptuous disdain.
If the ongoing meltdown is not addressed, it will lead to social upheavals of such magnitude that they could once again open the doors for authoritarian solutions.