A splintering state (Part II) – Yasmeen Aftab Ali

Continued from Part 1 – Read the first part Here

 “If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost.” Aristotle

What has happened over these years during PML-N’s tenure is Nawaz spending more time confronting other institutions and following schemes that should have been in the sub-text rather than the main text. This has has created a yawning vacuum.

He was removed in 1993 by the President. Second time round he was fired by Musharraf in 1999 and let off to Saudi Arabia. Third time round to his bad luck, the Panama Leaks exposed his investments abroad, not disclosing his receivable assets from a foreign country that is mandatory by law of Pakistan.

His strategy of handling this issue, or as he was advised, further destroyed his credibility. “At each stage, however, the rocket fuel that powered Sharif’s crash landing was his own incompetence, stemming from his original failure to properly declare his income and assets to the electoral commission. This was followed by a perplexing decision to claim victimhood, followed by comical differences between his official account and that of various relatives. A laughable effort to explain the family fortune through contacts in Middle Eastern royalty has further eroded his credibility.” (Foreign Policy, AUGUST 3, 2017)

The Army in Pakistan is traditionally a powerful institution. Military’s role past few years within political matters has increased owing to the internal security situation. Unfortunately the civil security agencies on their own are not capable of handling the critical crisis (read War on Terror) that the Army is fighting.

This involvement of the Army is not an ideal situation. It leads to friction between both state institutions especially in the backdrop of military having removed many elected prime ministers. However, the tussle has often in this tenure resulted owing to the bumbling of  the government in handling various situations, whether the economy, the corruption that threatens to frighten off investors and thereby posing a serious setback to CPEC, foreign policy so on and so forth.

It was not until a few months ago that a Foreign Affairs Minister was appointed and that too predictably from close coterie of Nawaz Sharif. Countries are not run like personal fiefdoms. They must be run with the best team of subject experts with excellent knowledge on both theoretic and practical side of the field. Unfortunately, in Pakistan individuals have strengthened at the cost of institutions. This has created the space for other institutions to cover the gap. Pakistan has come to a point where the state working has become dysfunctional. The system is buckling and going down on its knees.

A certain section of the society feels that Army should formulate and run state policies but from the background with a civil set up as a front. This thought is put forth on the basis of a weak political system and substandard politicians. Strengthening the political institution by lending it unending support will only lead to stretching the Army and thereby losing focus on the most important business at hand: countering terrorism.

Further, constant support and working as crutches for the political institutions will never allow the latter to become a robust institution it should be.

The first step that must be taken is to conduct in-party elections on every three yearly basis. However, merit must govern, not heredity. No one must be allowed to contest more than twice for a party seat. The same must hold good for the MNA and MPA elections as well as seats for senators.

The second step must be ‘None of the above’ option (NOTA) on ballot paper thereby giving an option to voters to reject all contesting candidates in a constituency. Many who oppose this concept state that it as a step against democracy. Is it?

If the voters are allowed the chance of rejecting all, it offers them a broader base than to choose between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. In a number of cases, one hears people refraining from voting particularly in the urban areas because they do not want to vote for the same electable who has brought in no change for the better. Urban areas are marked by low resident interaction, an absence of the ‘baithak’ (general commuting place for residents) culture. This is not only true of upscale areas but also lower-middle income neighbourhoods.

The logical outcome of NOTA will be those elected will be more answerable to the voters. This will make them more answerable in terms of broken promises to people they represent. It will also make them more answerable to the people in cases where rampant corruption committed, if any. In the final analysis let the people decide whom to vote for.

That is the essence of democracy. This should also mean they cannot be appointed as advisors and chairpersons of organizations. Though NOTA will not solve everything, it will certainly involve greater number of people in the process of elections, offering transparency, giving a weapon to the masses to be exercised judiciously. In case of straight 50% voting None of the above, security of all candidates must be seized and said candidates banned for contesting for ten years; parties need to put up fresh candidates instead of those put up earlier. This option relies heavily also on the transparency of the election process itself.

Pakistan will not be the first country to introduce NOTA. Various countries and territories like Bangladesh, the American state of Nevada, Greece and Columbia etc have incorporated the ‘No Vote” or “None of the above” option on their ballot papers. Canada and Spain etc. do not specifically have this provision on their ballot papers, but they do allow their citizens the right to decline to vote or to leave the ballot papers blank in dissent. Former Soviet Union had this provision in 1991 and after its break-up; Russia had kept on giving this privilege to its voters till 2006.

These steps that make individuals subservient to the system and give a life line to the institution will make the institution stronger. No amount of continued support without the structural changes direly needed can make the political institution strong. It is already on a ventilator and need revival techniques at base level.

Both the army and the civil dispensation need to realize that in today’s world different departments overlap each other, for example national security may overlap other areas at different levels like foreign policy (especially in light of U.S Afghan Policy), relations with India (continued violations of LoC leading to martyrdom of many on an on-going basis) and economics.

Many issues will need to be determined in synchronization with the army and the civil government in times to come. Together both can form a strong front for the country. With a robust political institution, the present imbalance should be resolved. As equally strong intuitions the only way for Pakistan to go will be forward.

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9








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