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Monday Morning Meeting on “Worsening Political Environment in Pakistan”

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  • May 01, 2023
    Monday Morning Meeting

    Dr. Ashok K. Behuria, Senior Fellow, Manohar Parrikar IDSA (MP-IDSA), spoke on “Worsening Political Environment in Pakistan” at the Monday Morning Meeting held on 01 May 2023. The session was moderated by Dr. Nazir Ahmad Mir, Research Assistant, MP-IDSA.  Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Bipin Bakshi (Retd.), Deputy Director General, MP-IDSA, and scholars of the Institute were in attendance.

    Executive Summary

    Pakistan’s political climate is deteriorating, yet again. The ouster of Prime Minister Imran Khan in April 2022 prompted a series of events that are driving the nation through multiple crises. The developments during the last 12 months are indicative of the political malaise that has affected Pakistan for the past seven decades. The ongoing row between the government and the judiciary over the issue of holding elections in Punjab in May has intensified the political crisis. The military establishment, which is figuratively referred to as the "umpire" in Pakistani politics, is to blame for this disarray because it has, over the years, undermined other institutions in order to maintain its hegemony in Pakistani power politics. What is worse is the division within various state institutions. The army and judiciary appear divided and are acting in partisan ways. The economy of Pakistan is in a state of free fall. Against this backdrop, Pakistan is in for long-term political instability and a chronic economic crisis.

    Detailed Report

    In his opening remarks, Dr. Nazir Ahmed Mir offered a brief overview of the current situation in Pakistan. He highlighted that the primary cause of the political unrest in Pakistan is due to the elite capture of state institutions resulting in multiple social and economic crises in the country. The elites are busy perpetuating their vested interests without bothering much about the state of crisis the country has been passing through. Dr. Nazir cited a recent UNDP report that indicated that the wealthiest 20 percent of Pakistanis owned close to 50 percent of the country's income. He emphasised that despite having to cope with numerous political, security, and economic challenges, Pakistan’s priorities have been misplaced.

    Dr. Ashok Behuria began his presentation by stating that, the country has muddled its way through repeated economic and political turmoil in the past, defying the popular perception that it would collapse. In South Asia, he explained, Pakistan’s case is unique in the sense that it has an entrenched elite who have exploited different Articles in the 1973 Constitution (especially those amended by military dictators) derailing the process of democracy from time to time. General Zia amended the Constitution at will and introduced elements that are being used by the elites against one another affecting the smooth functioning of democracy in the country.  At the moment, the clauses introduced by Zia in Articles 62 1 f), 63, and Art 184(3) have led Pakistan through the ongoing political turmoil for the last decade. The two former clauses/articles were invoked to disqualify Nawaz Sharif and facilitate the rise of Imran Khan while 184(3) is being invoked by the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) to turn the tide again in his favor by ensuring early elections. He said that both Imran and the government are sticking to their demands and making reconciliation impossible.

    The army led by a new chief, Gen. Asim Munir has lost its control over both media and the judiciary and is not in a position to dictate the course of future politics. He is also not well disposed towards Imran and mutual suspicion characterises their approach towards each other. The tussle between the executive and the judiciary may lead to a constitutional deadlock if both these institutions do not stay within their limits. In such circumstances, Dr. Behuria said it is most likely that Pakistan would continue to be in a state of chronic turmoil. He indicated that the army chief was resorting to anti-India rhetoric which signals that he was trying to strengthen his position within the army and simultaneously it might be his own way of warming up to Imran Khan who is criticising the previous army chief for adopting a soft line on Kashmir. He believed that Imran Khan might win the coming elections and easily secure a majority on his own and given the support he is receiving from the people for his anti-army rhetoric, he might work towards securing civilian supremacy over the army. However, it was also probable that both the army chief and Imran might consider it wiser to strike a bargain and work together.

    Comments and Questions

    The floor was opened for questions and comments. The Deputy Director General, Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Bipin Bakshi (Retd.) pointed out that the anti-army rhetoric widely circulating on the internet today was never permitted earlier. He also questioned whether the present turmoil would prompt a genuine democratic transition in Pakistan. The scholars from the Institute contributed to a fruitful discussion. The discussion focused on an array of perspectives, from India's worries about the escalating disorder in the neighbourhood to the role of regional countries and perceptions of youth across Pakistan.


    Report prepared by Ms. Sneha M, Research Analyst, South Asia Centre, MP-IDSA