A state in chaos
By Dr. Niaz Murtaza, The writer is a political economist with a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.
WITH Pakistanis in a ride combining a super-fast roller coaster and a merry-go-round, one cannot resist asking how this cursed nation ended up here. It has faced massive problems since 1947. But the last one year has been very bad given the number of challenges, their intensity and duration.
More bleakly, for the first time no one seems in control during a period when stability is especially needed. Instead, there is chaos under the heavens. The iron fist that long imposed an unhealthy order is losing its grip and seems paralysed. A unipolar system has suddenly become a multipolar one, with many stakeholders pulling it in various directions.
The main stakeholder, which is also a stick holder, is unable to wield the stick to impose order as it did earlier.
The self-imposed umpire has never been this weak since 1971, when it presided over the loss of a wing and lost control for five years. That loss came suddenly; this one came slowly.
The start came with the end of cosy ties with the US that provided money, arms and political support for imposing autocracy. China will not step in to fill the void. Ties with once pet extremists are now tense. Jihadists that were tools to subjugate and indoctrinate society had to be leashed given FATF issues.
But the biggest loss has come from the stormy tiff with the political sidekick expected to serve as a weak façade in a hybrid system. The break followed Imran Khan’s incompetence, maverick acts and desire for autonomy. It has forced the umpire to go back to the PPP and PML-N whom it doesn’t like or trust either.
It has also caused the loss of countless loyal TV anchors and social media trolls that once spread its narrative but who have now gone with Khan. Most crucially, it has lost its narrative to Khan who presents himself as even more anti-US, anti-India and religious.
A unipolar system has become a multipolar one.
Autocratic forces control society through a mix of economic carrots and hegemony where people willingly buy its narrative. This reduces the resort to expensive inducements and brute violence to control society. Thus, the loss of narrative to Khan increases transaction costs for the establishment in imposing its will.
Finally, the judiciary is also acting aloof and there are rumours of internal rifts within the umpire’s ranks. Resultantly, tactics that always delivered in taming past pesky politicians are failing against Khan; these include audio and video leaks, legal cases, horse-trading, intimidation, jail visits and forced exile.
But nature abhors a vacuum and chaos; so order will soon emerge. Some naively think this chaos reflects the end of an elite system and a better one will emerge. However, that only happens where better forces are strong enough to take over, and no such forces presently exist in Pakistan.
Order will emerge with one or more of the current forces — umpire, PDM and PTI — of the abhorrent status quo winning. What are the possible paths back to order?
The scariest one is immense pressure by some among the umpires to put Khan back in power. This may mean prolonged violence as in Yemen and Somalia; even with peace there could be a set-up that ruins us politically, economically, socially and externally.
Luckily, the chances of this happening are slim. A second one is martial law but that is unlikely too as the establishment would not want to bat on a treacherous pitch with Khan bowling swinging yorkers.
A third likely one is the imposition of emergency under PDM to tame PTI, the judiciary and others in the ranks. As the president and the judges may reject it, it will have to be imposed unlawfully thus carrying the risk of Article 6 cases later. But that rarely occurs in Pakistan.
The start of this option may see a reshuffle within, then making the dentist president and many judges toothless, disqualifying and jailing Imran and rigging polls. It may give temporary stability but will lead to major losses later. It would be an option that would have to be applied with inducements and brutal power, which may be hard to do given the establishment’s current weakness and the West’s backlash.
The best option, which is not impossible, are free polls and a level playing field. But even this will not end instability or misrule as one of two inept forces — PTI (more so) and PDM — will win.
Neither will accept the other’s victory or let it rule peacefully. The PDM can run the current elite system until it collapses under the weight of its unproductivity. The PTI can destroy it immediately but is too inept to replace it with a better one. Thus, stability and good rule remain distant dreams.
The writer is a political economist with a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.
Suggested additional reading
Are Trumps, Presidents, Kings, Queens, and Khalifas Above the Law?
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