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The Present As History: Agenda For The Coalition Government
Dr.Akmal Hussain
Newspaper: Daily Times
Dated: Thursday, October 24, 2002

Two distinct but inter related issues are preoccupying political circles to-day: (1) The question of the composition of the elected government i.e. whether it is to be a predominantly PML(Q) and PPPP coalition or a PML(Q) and MMA coalition. (2) The issue of breaking out of the constraints imposed on the elected government in terms of the enhanced powers of the President on the one hand and the new powers of the National Security Council on the other. The first may be significant in a short term tactical sense with regard to the political language of the newly elected government i.e. whether the rhetoric is to be mainly liberal or religious. The second issue may be significant in the long term strategic sense of the evolution of the present political dispensation from a military controlled democracy to one in which the checks and balances are placed by institutions in civil society. Both these issues are important, yet neither is central to the present political conjuncture in Pakistan's history. The fact is that regardless of its hues the forthcoming coalition government would have to function within the parameters set by the President and the National Security Council. The question of the relative power enjoyed by the military in Pakistan's political structure would be resolved not through immediate political combat, but through a process of the development of institutions and political culture in Pakistan's civilian polity.

The essential issue is whether the elected coalition government can demonstrate a commitment to public interest rather than private greed, to combine honesty with competence in governance. The question therefore is not the particular party affiliations of the coalition government nor of limited space for democratic rule. The question is whether the elected government can pull Pakistan out of the national crisis of economic recession, the problem of law and order and the challenge of a sustainable peace along its borders with India. Focussing on these issues will determine not just the tenure of the elected government but perhaps the evolution of democracy itself.

Pakistan's history has demonstrated that the legitimacy of a democratic government is drawn not merely from the formal or legalistic structures of power but by its ability to achieve a minimum of three objectives: (1) A palpable improvement in the economic conditions of the deprived sections of the populace. (2) A rule of law which can at least ensure security of life to the citizens. (3) Building institutions through which the will of the people could become operative in the system of national decision making.

Given the dynamics of Pakistan's power structure and the relatively greater institutional strength of the military, when a democratic regime fails to deliver, on these counts, then power tends to flow to the military. Before its end, Mr. Nawaz Sharif's government was unable to comprehend this structural feature of power dynamics in Pakistan: It attempted to wrest back power in its favour not through better performance but through juvenile aggressiveness, deception and intrigue against all the major institutions of the State. The present political dispensation in which military power is for the first time institutionalized within the political structure, embodies a shift in the balance of political power from the civilian to the military domain. A shift that was the result as much of the failure of democratic governments to pursue public interest in the 1990s, as it was by the military to maintain its influence in politics.

What then is the agenda for the forthcoming coalition government? At the political level the imperative is to eschew the traditional tendency of politicians in Pakistan to engage in internecine conflicts and to use public office for private wealth. The challenge is to seek the common ground for national reconstruction with those who sit in the opposition as well as the military. The imperative of history is to run a government characterized by honesty, transparency and competence. Its actions must be rooted not so much in religious ideologies but in the sincere desire to improve the material conditions of the people.

Pakistan's future lies now more than ever before in translating the vision of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah into specific policies and institutions for building a modern democratic State. Equally important is to build a society in which the predominantly Muslim population as well as non-Muslims can freely practice their beliefs in an enlightened and peaceful fashion. Moderation, tolerance and humaneness are required to build a dynamic Muslim community that can enrich human civilization in the modern world. These features in our polity are indeed necessary if Pakistan is to flourish by acquiring the support of the international community for reviving the economy, and sustaining our defence capability. This must surely be the common ground for all political protagonists, regardless of the party affiliations of the coalition government in the center, and those of the governments in NWFP and Baluchistan.

At the economic level the challenge is to win international financial and technical support to launch a three-pronged initiative for poverty alleviation and economic revival. The first prong would consist of a major development program that can provide health, education and basic services to the people and employment opportunities through a massive increase in facilities for micro credit. The second prong would consist of giving a jump-start to the economy by acquiring international financial and technical support for building infrastructure projects such as ports, highways, medium sized dams, and projects for improving the delivery efficiency of irrigation. The third prong would consist of facilitating foreign and private sector investment projects in high value added small scale industries that can generate both higher employment and higher exports per unit of investment. These industries include software development, light engineering and electronics. The agro based industries that could play a cutting edge role in generating growth and employment include, livestock, milk production, fisheries, vegetables and flowers. Much of the analytical and empirical work for undertaking these initiatives has already been done and therefore the new government does not have to reinvent the wheel.

To conclude, the new political dispensation provides a challenge to the elected government to enlarge the space for democracy not through intrigue and manipulation but better governance. This requires finding the common ground amongst all political forces to build a moderate, tolerant and humane polity as envisaged by the Quaid-e-Azam. At the economic and diplomatic levels the new government needs to win the support of the international community to overcome poverty, revive the economy, maintain a cost effective defence capability, and achieve a just peace with India.

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