Error of Our Ways

There’s a reason why it’s called a democratic process – it’s the way the system takes its course to ensure the doctrines it stands by: of, by, and for the people. The way that a concern becomes a part of the national agenda is a part of this process, where a common concern held by a significant number of people necessitates attention, if not action, by the government.

Policies are formed, often after much debate, and are later evaluated and judged by the bureaucrats who monitor the implementation, reporters and journalists who care about the issue, and more importantly by the people whom the policy serves.

Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to be on paper.

In Pakistan, however, the opposite holds true. Much is done under the garb of security; decisions are taken on an emergency basis, where the public is left out of the process that in turn affects them the most. And the buzzwords echo: need of the hour, doctrine of necessity, and national security.

If there’s one thing coherent about Pakistani politics, it has to be the fact that leaders wait for the worst to happen to a) realize they need to implement an existing policy, or b) be inspired enough to draft a policy just to forget about it later. Panic measures, and not policy decisions have been the outcome of most of what Pakistan has been through in this government’s tenure. The existence of military courts, the unexecuted National Action Plan, and the newly launched Operation Rad-ul-Fassad are a few examples.

Losing ground

It’s interesting to note that the announcement of launching Operation Rad-ul-Fassad came from the ISPR, which usually assumes responsibility for issuing press releases on security related policies and issues, instead of the civilian government. It was only when the Prime Minister was on a visit to Turkey that he clarified that the decision was reached at a meeting held at the Prime Minister House. Not only does this hint to a lack of ownership on part of the civilian government, but also reveals the failure of the Parliament and Provincial Legislatures to ask questions regarding the targets and timelines of the operation, in keeping with their responsibility to oversee the implementation and transparency of such policies. The whole thing feels like déjà vu, where in the case of the NAP, the Parliamentary Committees on Defence and Interior have barely made any effort to supervise the implementation of the NAP, despite reports coming in pointing to the failure of concerned ministries to see the plan through. According to PILDAT:

“oversight on implementation of NAP within the Government is carried out by the Implementation and Review Committee under the leadership of the National Security Advisor, while data in relation to it is still being collated by NACTA. Resultantly, an impression is perpetuated that implementation of NAP is currently being done through ad-hoc measures, with no clear institutionalized mechanism in place”

For a country that is obsessed with equating national interest to national security, institutionalized consultation on security issues seems to be the last on its list of priorities. The National Security Committee formed by the government, which it dubbed as the country’s “principal decision-making body on matters of national security”, hasn’t met in a year – with the last meeting held on the 5th of April, 2016. The ineffective utilization of the forum, and the lack of urgency and interest on part of the government created by the government itself, points to a disturbing trend where issues pertinent to national security are preferably discussed in meetings with a cherry-picked lot of people, or in one-on-one meetings between the COAS and the Prime Minister. The decision to launch Operation Rad-ul-Fassad held the same course, where the Prime Minister preferred chairing three meetings on security worries at the Prime Minister’s office with his choice of members of the cabinet and military leadership, instead of a meeting of the NSC.

What this leaves us with are unanswered questions regarding what was kept in mind when this decision was taken, the set targets for the operation, how the government will monitor its implementation, the timeline, whether there’s any record of the Government holding consultations on the issue, and so on.

The entire episode also hints to a fundamental predicament of the country where there are two competing centers of power, and a failing system where institutions are either unaware of their place in the democratic process, or fight for more control due to a lack of trust.

What doesn’t help our case is the fact that Pakistan has a dysfunctional foreign office that fails to interact on an international level where diplomatic networks are created around foreign ministries led by full-time foreign ministers – one that Pakistan does not have. Instead, Pakistan has a foreign adviser cum national security adviser, and juggles the responsibility of serving as the special adviser to the Prime Minister on foreign affairs. According to an editorial in Dawn:

“The flow of information, the interaction between the bureaucratic layers and political leadership, the drumming up of ideas and exchange of points of view — all of that and more are interrupted”

This adds to the issue of projecting Pakistan’s image in a certain way on the global level, informing the international community of its successes with regards to terrorism and extremism, and damaging the country’s diplomacy and exchanges with the outside world.

There’s a lot that’s wrong with the Pakistani system, and a lot that can be fixed. The abrogation of the democratic process might seemingly have ended with the last military takeover, but it continues to be entrenched in the Pakistani system in how the system knows itself and sees it functioning. While it has often taken shelter under the banner of a young democracy, it needs to realize that it’s slowly running out of excuses to hide behind.

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