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Old Wednesday, October 26, 2016
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Default Politics of Confrontation

Politics of Confrontation

By Talat Masood

Imran Khan’s campaign against corruption is indeed laudable and on this few will disagree with him except those who have a vested interest. Corruption as we have experienced wreaks incalculable damage to the economy and the society by impoverishing it. Besides, it shatters confidence of the people in their government and its leadership. One’s respect for corrupt politicians or government employee’s falls by the wayside when you realise they are more interested in amassing wealth than serving the people. Tell tale signs of corruption become obvious when we come across newly built bridges falling apart, as happened in Karachi a few years back, or roads breaking up and in state of neglect. It also manifests when we see corrupt officials living in palatial houses and riding Pajeros, well beyond their means. Of course corruption is not peculiar to Pakistan but is a global phenomenon and more pervasive in developing countries. Pakistan is the 117 least corrupt country among 175 countries, according to the 2015 corruption index prepared by Transparency International. Although Pakistan has shown marginal improvement in the last few years but still remains a cause of serious concern. Corruption is eroding a minimum of 2% of our GDP and it would make eminent sense that combating it be given highest priority.

However, where I tend to seriously disagree with Imran Khan is the methodology he has adopted for its eradication. PTI’s decision to boycott the important joint sitting of the parliament and its subsequent proceedings until its demands are met does not augur well. More disquieting is his announcement of a siege of Islamabad on October 30. In present circumstances if the protests turn ugly it could derail the fragile democratic transition that the country is passing through. Working toward reduction and eventual elimination of corruption would require consistent effort toward strengthening institutions spread over years. This will have to be accompanied by inculcating public awareness and more significantly by ensuring meritocracy in electoral politics. Whereas, demonstrations and street politics that solely targets the Prime Minister would generate a mindset contrary to what is needed for strengthening institutions. Unsurprisingly, this approach of trying to paralyse the state machinery has led people to question if Imran is using it as a cover and short cut for achieving power.

Moreover, this strategy has many pitfalls foremost being it would confirm the belief that our politicians are incapable of governing. Our democracy is already fragile that needs constant nourishment through good practices in which the role of the opposition is critical as that of the government. If Imran undermines the democratic process then he and the country will be great losers and history will judge him poorly. After all, we have a history when agitations led to military rule and the nation paid a huge price. Imran’s greatest challenge is to modulate his movement without destabilising the country and undermining the democratic process. And the best way to do it is through parliament and taking the judicial route.

The country has suffered in the past by adopting a linear approach while dealing with national problems. For years we subordinated all elements of national power by looking at them through the security prism. In doing so education, health, economy and soft power were grossly neglected and national power remained weak. The better alternative for Imran would be to wait until the next elections and let the people decide on the policies and performance of political parties. Meanwhile, he could take the judicial course as well. This would be a more mature approach that will serve the people and his crusade against corruption more effectively. On the contrary, if Imran and his party assume the role of witness, prosecutor and judge then it violates the basic principles of justice and fundamentals of democracy. Imran is probably not mindful that if he succeeds in setting a precedent of settling scores on streets than most likely the country will face an unending practice of bringing down governments through street power rather than the normal route of elections. Imran’s contempt for parliament and democratic institutions betrays his authoritarian streak and impatience for gaining power. Besides, this exercise instead of reducing corruption will weaken the very institutions that are needed to mitigate corruption.

The siege of Islamabad will place the military in an awkward position that fortunately has been steadfast in supporting the democratic process, albeit with certain reservations. But this agitation could place them in an awkward position and compel them to play a mediatory role. Moreover, these protests are being launched at a time when India-Pakistan relations are going through a difficult period and the threat of militancy is far from over.

Imran’s fear that if he is fails to topple the government now than there is every likelihood that Sharif’s government will be able to show results in energy, economy and infrastructural projects and will be voted back in power. So it is now or never. Although one expected that his government in K-P by showing a marked improvement in performance and his emphasis on fighting corruption and good governance would have provided an alternative choice to the electorate. In any case the time for the next elections is only two years away. The current Republican and Democratic nominees in American Presidential elections are nearing seventy so Imran Khan has not reached an age that will prevent him from performing as a PM if he were to get elected.

Imran also needs to be reminded that Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yu achieved remarkable progress in eliminating corruption but he did not go on the streets for capturing power. He adopted the normal and more civilised route of elections and through sheer dogged determination transformed Singapore as model of a corruption clean country. The Scandinavian countries are currently rated among the least corrupt. They have not achieved this by the opposition parties laying siege on the government but through dedicated and untiring efforts spread over decades of national leaders building strong institutions.

The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

Published in The Express Tribune, October 25th, 2016.
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