Winter of discontent | By Syed Kamal Shah


Winter of discontent

HE was the most popular leader of his time. His famed march on the capital resulted in years of conflict leading to his triumph, veneration as ruler for life and ultimately his tragic assassination.

His charisma led him to believe in his own infallibility. Having disdainfully brushed away a soothsayer’s prophecy about the dangers awaiting him on the ‘ides of march’,he was assassinated on the same fateful day.

This proved to be a miscalculation, failed to win over the already weary public and precipitated a violent end of the Republic.

The man in question is Julius Caesar but this is not a lesson in Roman history. Pakistan is no Rome but it is a great country nonetheless.

Alternatively, greatness or the lack of it have always underscored our existence. Pakistan’s vulnerability has been the most pronounced during the transitory phases and there has been no dearth of those.

Transition is driven by either one of the two factors: process or personality. The former inspires confidence while the latter breeds uncertainty and undermines institutional credibility.

What ensues is a brief discussion about some of the prominent actors in Pakistani power politics.

Military’s prominence in Pakistan’s political discourse is an established fact. In hindsight, overstaying their welcome and political interventions by the military were cases of personal ambitions trumping over institutional and national interests.

Curiously though, errors of judgement by the senior military leadership have not had a lasting impact on the popularity of the institution as a whole.

This can be attributed to the goodwill that our men in uniform have earned through their contribution and sacrifices over the years.

This trend of unconditional adulation is unlikely to persist. The talk has to be walked. A general’s actual capability is of little consequence as compared to the common perception of what he can do.

Some mysteries are better left unsolved. Traditionally, judiciary has been a secondary player only brought to the centre stage as an expedient by the powers that matter.

To its credit, judiciary has been able to find its voice ever since the final days of Musharraf era, and its rise has made it second only to the military.

Contrarily, justice continues to be a scarce commodity. Ever increasing pendencies, weaponization against the weak and shielding the powerful have eroded public’s faith in the judicial system.

Judiciary alone cannot be expected to right all the wrongs but timely dispensation of justice coupled with judicial restraint are indispensable to avoid being subjected to the law of the jungle.

Our political lot can be typified as resilient, adaptable, intelligent, versatile, daring predators and timid scavengers depending upon circumstances and more importantly, misunderstood creatures.

Strange as it may seem, all of the adjectives used above to describe politicians are also valid for hyenas as well.

This does not end here. With an uncanny ability to count, hyenas unscrupulously opt for the most advantageous course of action when confronted with a rival clan.

Hyenas also exhibit a unique behaviour in how they choose their leaders on the basis of birthright rather than any other attribute.

It is increasingly imperative for our political elites to act more responsibly. Left to their own devices, instances of hyenas hunting down lions are not unheard of.

Media has amplified our societal fault lines. nUnchecked proliferation of television channels and social media platforms have resulted in an abundance of inept voices with plenty of airtime.

It’s almost impossible to distinguish between noise and signal. One can clearly make out the battle lines drawn with surrogate media outlets catering to select an audience.

Ethics have been a casualty in the pursuit of ratings. Ungoverned media leads to ungovernable societies.

With a broad-based consensus, taming some of the unruly voices at both ends of the spectrum may help set a precedent, incentivize objectivity and help us harness the true potential of media.

The most important and the most neglected player in this whole mix are the Pakistanis. 64% of the population of the world’s fifth most populous country is under the age of thirty.

Importance of this statistic cannot be overstated. A believable narrative is all our disillusioned and disenfranchised youth needs.

“People allow themselves to be swept up in larger causes in order to be freed of responsibility for their lives, and to escape the banality or misery of the present”.

Widening gulf between the haves and haves-not and indifference on part of those responsible is undermining the credibility of democracy as we know it.

With the majority left to fend for themselves, the only certainty about Pakistan’s future is uncertainty.

Eventually, we will get to wherever we are destined for as a nation. Ecosystems ensure sustainability by dealing with redundancies and human societies are no exception.

To elaborate further, our existence as individuals may be assured but institutional survival is subject to their utility.

Institutions and society are a reflection of each other. Introspection is the order of the day as solution to most of our problems, if not all of them, lies within.

—The writer is a PhD scholar at Department of Political Science, Islamia University Bahawalpur.