Dysfunctional Polity: The duopoly of Pakistan’s polity denoted by Zulfiqar Ali–Benazir Bhutto family of Asaf Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif family continues unabated in the feudal, precapitalist politics of the country. Much of it is also zero sum; the animosities between the two families are also so deep and the political divide so wide that the country is increasingly becoming ungovernable.
The stark choices that the people of Pakistan have between the two camps are best exemplified by the report in Dawn about the Wikileaks expose of conversations by Arab peers of Zardari and Sharif. The Dawn, in its Washington datelined report of 30 November 2010, said that the crown prince of United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, described the Pakistan president as “dirty but not dangerous” while Sharif as “dangerous but not dirty.”
The inability to tax is a part of the broader failure to govern and provide security to its citizens. The country basically survives on the financial and other aids of various countries and the remittances of workers employed abroad. The
To depict the current state of the country, the Saudi Arabian king, Abdullah, had an equally graphic expression. The Dawn quoted him as saying, “When the head is rotten, it affects the whole body.” He considered Zardari the biggest obstacle to Pakistan’s progress.
Consider some statistics. The South Asian Terrorism Portal of the New Delhi–based Institute of Conflict Management has calculated the civilian deaths in Pakistan from 2003–2009 in the battles against Islamist insurrection to be about 7,600. The number of deaths amongst the security forces is less at 2,900, while the number of terrorists killed would be about 14,600: a grand total of about 25,100.
There is another set of statistics. According to the IMF, Pakistan’s gross domestic product at U.S. dollars would be about $178 billion in 2010; an increase of about 2.75 per cent over the year. Its national income $1,068 and its average inflation rate would stand at 14 per cent. The unemployment rate in 2009 was 15.3 per cent; and its public debt was more than 45 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP).
A crescendo is rising in the country about the government’s inability to tax the rich; or even implement the existing laws to collect taxes from them. The tax-to-GDP ratio of the country has sunk to a dismal 9, while even a few years ago, it was at 12. Even the finance minister of the country, Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, had to say, “There are so many powerful people in Pakistan who are attached with some kind of business or the other. If this is the case then this means that the government is not able to levy tax on them.”5
The army leadership of the all-powerful corps commanders and the chief, Kayani, knows their weaknesses.
The inability to tax is a part of the broader failure to govern and provide security to its citizens. The country basically survives on the financial and other aids of various countries and the remittances of workers employed abroad. The zero sum nature of Pakistan’s politics makes it all the more difficult for accommodations to be made and policy coalitions to be developed. The stark choices the people have between Zulfiqar Ali–Benazir Bhutto family and the Nawaz Sharif family gives only an inkling of the feudal, precapitalist nature of the country politics.
Such is the distrust among the scions of these two families that a Zardari monologue to the U.S. ambassador, Anne Patterson, clearly shows the fault lines of Pakistan’s politics. The Wikileaks revelation of a cable by Patterson about a meeting with President Zardari on 5 January 2009 has the latter speaking about Sharif and family, and their politics. Patterson wrote, “Zardari said that he was increasingly losing patience with Nawaz Sharif’s government in the Punjab, and he believed that a confrontation was looming. He said that Pakistani Muslim League-Nawaz Chief Minister Shabbaz [sic] Sharif had tipped off the J(amaat) U(d) D(awa) about the UNSCR 1267 mandated asset freeze, resulting in almost empty bank accounts. (Information from M(inistry) O(f) I(nterior) does indicate that bank accounts contained surprisingly small amounts.) Zardari suggested Lahore Principal Officer might mediate between the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Governor and Shabbaz [sic] Sharif who increasingly are publicly at odds. Ambassador noted that his government had been ‘holding over Nawaz’s head’ the Supreme Court’s decision on Nawaz’s eligibility to run for office. Zardari replied, ‘yes, but it doesn’t seem to be doing much good anymore.’ Zardari dismissed Nawaz’s ability to bring crowds into the street in the Punjab if his party was removed from the Punjab government.”
The overwhelming power of the army was evident in that one single cable. The army is still considered the fount of all foreign and other national security policies. It still remains the final arbiter in the domestic political arena.
The impression changed in the middle of the year, as Nawaz Sharif deftly attached his party to the civil agitation of lawyers and nascent democracy activists about reinstating former chief justice Ifthikhar Chaudhury to the Supreme Court. As we have seen in the first section, this even tested the patience of the army.
The army is keeping them on a short leash. The army leadership of the all-powerful corps commanders and the chief, Kayani, knows their weaknesses. They hate Zardari for his corruption and distrust Nawaz Sharif for his corruption and his attempt to seize power all on his own. In a dramatic show of strength, Kayani gave an impression to the U.S. ambassador that neither did he want an army rule, nor did he want a fresh election, but he wanted the president of the country to be removed. In a cable on 12 March 2009, Patterson wrote: “The scenario Kayani hinted at was one in which he would pressure Zardari to resign (and presumably leave the country). This would not be an official Army ‘coup’ it would leave the PPP government led by Prime Minister Gilani in place and preclude the need for elections that likely would bring Nawaz to power.”