A ‘New Deal’ For Pakistan?

Not only Pakistan needs a ‘New Deal’ like Roosevelt launched in the US, but one that resets political party system while realigning the civil-military relationship – giving military a formal role to ensure national security and prevent socio-economic chaos

A ‘New Deal’ For Pakistan?

In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt offered Americans the New Deal, a series of programs, public work projects and financial reforms to pull the nation out of the doom and gloom of the Great Depression.

The programmes focused on what historians refer to as the ‘3 Rs’: relief for the unemployed and the poor, recovery of the economy back to normal levels, and reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat of the economic meltdown. The progressive measures of the New Deal resulted in the recovery of the economy to normal levels in four short years by 1937, and full employment level after the US entered WWII in 1941. The massive infrastructure projects and the economic recovery acted as a catalyst for the US to consolidate its status as an economic superpower in the decades to follow.

Today, Pakistan’s situation calls for a similar ‘New Deal’, encompassing not only the economic sector, but also a political reset and a new relationship between civil authorities and the military, to formally give the military a role in the governance to ensure that the objectives of the ‘New Deal’ are realised.

In the last four decades, every major political party and most small and regional political parties have been part of the government in one form or other, and have collectively ruined every institution of the country

Pakistan’s political instability and governance challenges are well known. For more than seven decades, the country has been governed by incompetent and corrupt civilian governments, direct military rule or quasi-military rule disguised as civilian government propped up by the military leadership. Politicos and commentators have often accused the military of stepping out of its sandbox and meddling in political affairs, although in most cases failed civilian governments left no choice for the military but to intervene and prevent the nation from descending into anarchy.

Today, the country finds itself at a crossroad. A pair of civilian governments stumbled and lumbered to the finish line of a five-year term earmarked after the last general elections in 2018, leaving behind a shattered economy, soaring inflation, crumbling infrastructure, deteriorating law and order situation, public trust in government institutions at an all time low and the country in diplomatic isolation.  

A caretaker government is in place, presumably to ensure that the next general elections are held in a timely manner so that an elected government can again assume the charge. There are, however, doubts on if and when the elections will be held as the caretaker government is acting as if it is in it for the long haul. It is also generally understood that the caretaker government was hand-picked by the military leadership so that the military continues to influence decision making in the government – and it alone will eventually determine the timing and framework of the next elections.

In the last four decades, every major political party and most small and regional political parties have been part of the government in one form or other, and have collectively ruined every institution of the country. A handful of powerful political families, now in their third generation, consider it their hereditary right to rule the country. The feudal class system, voters’ demographics, the urban-rural divide and the gerrymandering of the electoral map all but guarantees that even if free and fair elections are held, the parties of one or more of the same powerful families will form the next government. Expect no miracles from them, as they have no vision, no plan and no particular skills to run the government. Their only priority would be to continue to maintain their family control of the government and use the national treasury (if such an entity still exists) to further bolster their family’s fortunes. It is then no surprise that the military, the ultimate guardian of national security, is skeptical of holding elections.

So, what then is the way out of this quagmire? A ‘New Deal’ similar to the one Roosvelt launched in the US in mid-1930s, but one that also includes a reset of the political party system and a realignment of civil-military relationship to formally give the military a role to ensure national security is maintained all the time and to prevent social and economic chaos and anarchy.

In her book, Military Inc., Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy, Ayesha Siddiqa skilfully examines several civil-military relationship models in countries around the world, which are intriguing as some of these seem to have worked well in a select few cases. It should be possible to adopt one of these models, or to develop a similar model to suit Pakistan’s unique circumstances.

It is unlikely that a messiah to propose such a ‘New Deal’ will come from the current political leaders, as they all have been tested and tried in the past – and have failed miserably. It is more likely that the military leadership will recognize the need for such an initiative as, in addition to national interest, it is in their own long-term interest to put the country on a stable footing. Not to mention, the military establishment has the resources, capability and power to implement such an initiative.

The writer is a retired engineer based in Canada, and has a keen interest in Pakistan’s political affairs. He can be reached at: zahid110@gmail.com