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Saga of Pakistan's politics

When history keeps repeating itself

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SAME OLD STORY: Pakistanis are frustrated with successive non-performing governments

Politics in Pakistan is a never-ending saga of democratic elections, coups and martial rule.

To an outsider, Pakistan is like a drama serial on repeat. The audience is always amazed by the twists and turns as each week is a new escalation in political drama and security. But the complex current crisis should not shock anyone. We have seen this type of political drama over and over again since Pakistan's birth. If there was a country which does not learn from its mistakes, it is Pakistan. History always repeats itself here. Let me illustrate the chronic scenario. A leader is chosen. The opposition or another opposing force does not like said official and is removed by a coup d'êtat. It is usually the Army that reclaims power while the people long for their democratic rights.

The current situation in Pakistan is punctuated by two key events. The first one is the border tensions with its neighbour, India. The second political event which is currently unfolding is the long march established by a new actor, Tahir-ul Qadri.
People have always said that there will be another war with India but I can honestly say that both countries are in deterrence mode. Neither country wants a war. Instead, they want to go back to 2003 when there was a ceasefire between the two countries.

The two countries will to breathe hot air in public but in private a very different reality is present.

As for the political crisis, the PM will be removed just as Yousef Raza Gilani was and someone else will assume office. What will happen in the upcoming election? No one knows. But this will be certain: the Army will be in still control and the President and Prime Minister will have limited impact in the lives of Pakistanis. Hopeful Pakistanis may elect Imran Khan just as they elected Benazir Bhutto the first time. But they will realise that governing Pakistan is a difficult job and is made difficult by the internal relations within the country.

Many years ago, a diplomat colleague explained the relationship between India and Pakistan in terms of Canadian-American relations. Canadians and Americans share a border and trade good and culture freely. They didn't always have this positive relationship and they even fought a war! Canada's largest trading partner is the US. Canada is one tenth the size of the US and this is the similarity between India and Pakistan. But the opposite scenario is true for Pakistan and India. Pakistan is deliberately moving away from a large market only to trade goods with the Middle Eastern countries rather than build a relationship with India. And it is pushing Afghanistan in the same direction. So instead of trading with one of the largest markets and working at removing trade barriers, Pakistan is moving away from India. The current statistics from the World Bank show that this is true. During the 1990's Pakistan was growing at faster pace than India, until it started market reforms. Pakistan was doing well in reducing poverty, market growth and foreign investment. Now, it is a shadow of its former self. Pakistan is introverted, more religiously conservative, corruption is flourishing and governance is limited. The gains Pakistan made toward becoming a democracy have now become limited at best. Fareed Zakaria was right to call Pakistan an illiberal democracy.

Until Pakistan has a full scale revolution by rejecting corruption and insecurity nothing will change. Pakistanis are frustrated and upset by the successive non-performing governments which continually take away the necessities of life. They have seen their country fall from a regional power in the 1980s to its marginalisation today. Pakistanis believe in democracy but the executive powers do not. The executive branch has always wielded the power not its citizens.

Everyone who is watching the events in Pakistan are complicit in the production of this bad movie. They are continuing to fund a bad product when they should be assisting Pakistan to develop. The Friends of Pakistan should be looking at the longer term strategies and the short term events. Pakistan needs a functioning government which can deliver security, electricity, education and health services. These 'friends' are only looking at the short term results of building a school instead of building a school system for all children. If the status quo remains, Pakistan will continue to move in reverse.

In the coming days, there will be more protests and hopefully that will result in a change in government. But the thing that is needed is a change of attitude while political parties are in government.

Alam is a former Canadian diplomat who has worked in Afghanistan and Pakistan

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