Legions of Darkness 

Pakistan has retrogressed, while the world has moved forward

The first two weeks of May 2023 have transformed Pakistan beyond recognition. Without holding the Constitution is abeyance, as has been the case in past disruptions in democratic interludes (in Pakistan these are interludes, not a normal phenomenon), the country polity, security set up and freedom of speech are subject to the likes and dislikes of the established order. In any democratic polity, being removed from the treasury benches does not mean that the political life of the opposition benches is over. Despite the fact that the BJP in neighbouring India tried to replicate the Pakistani political model unsuccessfully, the Congress leadership played its cards well in political mobilization. The results have been setbacks in state elections; specifically the southern state of Karnataka. Here it seems that a party once out of favour is as good as a criminal.

For the people of Pakistan, metaphorically, the shadows of regimented rule are getting darker. The indifference can be killing for the younger lot of Pakistanis; whose honest reaction to the distribution of resources has already cost them dearly; for their lives and careers. The way forward needs to be a return to the dictates of constitutional rule, in letter and spirit; not rhetoric by all concerned.   

How things stand for Pakistan; regretfully, the current flow of events suggests strongly that the country’s standing in the international comity of nations is bound to suffer in the short term as well as in the long run. The internet outage witnessed in the aftermath of the May 9 incidents cast a disturbing shadow on the day-to-day financial transactions taking place in Pakistan. The  banking sector as well as the corporate society has come a long way to create an environment where a common man does not have to queue up for encashment of cheque, transfer or deposit of funds, payment of utility bills at the physical ’brick and mortar’ bank premises. All these facilities were ‘evaporated’ on the excuse of security imperatives in the closing hours of May 9/10. Banking and e-commerce monitoring infrastructures were quick to pinpoint that POS or point of sale transactions showed a decline of 60 percent or so during the first few days of the ‘takeover’. If that was not enough, startup businesses like rental transport solutions, which depend heavily on mobile internet data packs connectivity were clueless, the operators; the bikers, as well as the clients; professionals and students depending upon that mode of transport.

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During the lockdown months as the result of covid-19, a good number of educated Pakistanis well versed in vector graphic programs and linear video editing skills have found a way to earn foreign exchange through content editing and formulation. That content has been available as a job on websites like FIVERR etc. The impact on society and economy has been personal disposable income coming into the system as well as creation of economic activity. However, the above-mentioned sets of productive activity got a rude hit when the decision-making infrastructures accorded much more weightage to paranoid security concerns and egos, than the benefit in terms of economic gains.

The visible and invisible government reversed the situation reluctantly and half-heartedly three days later; with the internet competing in its slowness with similar reported speeds in Iran during the high point of anti-hijab riots there. It was not before the start of the week, May 15, when the PTA declared in its press note on Twitter that the ‘connectivity’ has been restored completely. The reluctance over partial and complete connectivity is not ‘good news for e-commerce practitioners. In a few words, the most recent form of ‘hybridism’ might kill the economic growth cycles, if such outages are commonplace in future. The role of hybridism in this rests on the premise, where the invisible partner is calling the shots more assertively, while the visible partner; the civilian one pretends to sleep; not knowing; what is happening.

The hit on the political system is even graver than on the way of life. Pakistan has run through systematic improvement in its democratic credentials, where the country was able to preserve a constitutional document, the 1973 Constitution, for 50 years. It has witnessed the military dispensations become mellower with the passage of time; where the political governments were able to have a complete run of five years, if not the same five years for the leader of the House. The current state of affairs has sent a very wrong signal to the world at large; to the people of the country at large; that the period of dictatorial rule in Pakistan has returned for times to come.

Predictably, the international watchdog bodies like Amnesty and local civil society setups like HRCP have been vocal over the establishment of courts which run parallel to the judiciary and have the built-in potential to cause gross human rights violations.

The current experiment with a new type of hybrid; whose resurgence was feared in these very columns, seems to have finally set in. The constitution apparently tells us that the Parliament and the cabinet are the deciding faces of the government. THey are where decisions are made for implementation. Pakista’sn experience of the last week suggests something else. To tread a cautious path; or to borrow a Pakistani terminology; rufaqa (colleagues) of the man on the top have become the decision makers. The creation of a parallel judiciary whose decisions cannot be challenged, as explained by the ‘compromised legal experts’, means Pakistan is being reset for another spell of judiciary, which has to be subservient to a certain power centre.

For a country on the economic crutches already, and dreaming to conquer the world international market, these are not encouraging signs; to say the least. The current set of political priorities have a greater negative impact on the polity, economy or the people’s general confidence on the state as a whole. Such a style of governance has all the ingredients to encourage centrifugal tendencies in the coming months and years.

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Here it is pertinent to note that a similar political culture was encouraged between 1977 to 1988; however, the inflow of foreign assistance due to Afghan War-1 as well as Gulf-based remittances saved the day, as no economic unrest erupted to give a fillip to the political discontent. Today, the economic benefit is absent. Any further encroachment into the domain of Parliament and judiciary; two purely civil society supported infrastructures, by the powers-that-be can produce undesirable responses in the society. Here it is pertinent to note that Pakistan’s GSP-Plus status with the EU is to expire in December 2023, a great opportunity in the current economic mess. The formulation of Pakistan’s image as some nation-state like Myanmar or North Korea is not going to help the polity and the economy in the coming months.

With the incidents of May 9 to May 16, during which the action and reaction of various centres of power were witnessed by the bewildered nation, the writing on the wall seems more than clear. Pakistan has regressed back instead of moving forward. The trial of rioters might not be the last act of an encroaching deep state. It is reflective of the non-political way of solving a political puzzle. Regretfully, major component parties of the incumbent coalition like PPP always pride themselves to be ‘siasi log’ (political forces, apt to act politically), yet the arm twisting by the PDM and then the powers behind have removed any doubt about the country being a democratic entity.

For the people of Pakistan, metaphorically, the shadows of regimented rule are getting darker. The indifference can be killing for the younger lot of Pakistanis; whose honest reaction to the distribution of resources has already cost them dearly; for their lives and careers. The way forward needs to be a return to the dictates of constitutional rule, in letter and spirit; not rhetoric by all concerned.

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Naqi Akbar
Naqi Akbar
The writer is a freelance columnist

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