Dhaka, Bangladesh
Politics in Pakistan

Off the track

Politics in Pakistan

Adnan Rehmat

And so it has come to pass; a radically altered political landscape in Pakistan, a new party in power, a new government in the making and a new charismatic leader – Imran Khan – for whom the triumph at the polls on the road to becoming prime minister crowns a tenacious 25-year personal struggle. The defining election slogan was “Naya [new] Pakistan” by Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI). But is a “Naya Pakistan” really here to stay? Or, burdened by expectations of comprehensive change, are the tectonic shifts in the political landscape setting it up for failure? This is the question agitating Pakistan’s sleepless army of intelligentsia, media and twitterati. Notwithstanding the allegations of rigging and other controversies, there is some cause for optimism. Governed in equal measure by representative political classes and an unrepresentative political military for the past seven decades, Pakistan has mostly been occupied by a struggle for civilian supremacy over a stifling unitary military doctrine to accommodate its myriad political, nationalist, ethnic, linguist, religious and cultural pluralisms, identities and aspirations. Elections are the best way to cement this and Pakistan’s fourth election in two decades completed the longest stretch without direct military rule. It is also the first time two civilian governments have completed their five-year tenures back to back. If the new government repeats the feat, Pakistan will have had the longest period of representative democracy not interrupted by martial law. Another cause for optimism. It’s not just the unceasing civil-military struggle that defines Pakistan’s politics. Within the political classes there is fierce competition on ideologies, geographies and policies. Should Pakistan have a secular dispensation, or should it be nationalistic? Or should religion define the country’s mission statement? Should the country continue employing national, ethnic and linguistic templates of governance or administrative approaches to provincial self-governance? These questions have turned politics into a blood sport. A frustrating lack of consensus resulted in the break-up of 1971, the inability to improve governance through political reforms by carving out additional provinces, and an inability to focus more on governance than religion, which resulted in religious extremism and terrorism killing over 100,000 in recent years and a tanking economy dependent on donor bailouts.

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