If Pakistan were not home to the largest collection of terrorists in the world, possessor of a nuclear weapons arsenal and right next door to India, its present political contortions could almost pass as comical. In which country would a president fly overseas to attend a wedding at the height of a constitutional crisis?
Unfortunately, Pakistani politics is no laughing matter because it is the most visible symptom of the deeper malaise that afflicts the country. The present crisis has revealed all the known flaws in the Pakistani political system, but in greater relief than before. One, a military that refuses to allow any civilian leadership to genuinely run the country; Two, a polity where institutions are so weak that personalities and personality clashes are all that matters. In this case, the character of the Supreme Court justice is arguably the most decisive issue. Third, a leadership that lacks the internal coherence to find compromises. Hence the propensity of Pakistani interest groups to seek the interference of outside powers, whether the United States, Saudi Arabia and increasingly China. Four, an electorate where feudal interests still dominate.
Political parties can be created overnight by anyone with sufficient money. And the list goes on. There can be little argument that the Pakistan military is largely responsible for this state of affairs. The military has worked assiduously to ensure that the civilian political leadership is weak and that the institutions of government are ineffective. It has intervened so often that Pakistan has never been able to have two civilian governments hand power to each other through an election. The men in khaki have a single motive: to ensure that they are the final authority in all matters in Pakistan. The present crisis shows that this policy is now delivering decreasing returns.
The army may be unhappy with the present civilian leadership, but it is also unable and unwilling to take over itself. The civilians, on the other hand, are using tricks taken from the army’s own shelf including trying to divide the corps commanders, use foreign governments and claiming the military is too close to America. The result is the present chaos where the military is trying to stage a constitutional coup through the courts. The president is trying to stage a coup within the military. And the Supreme Court is simply out to settle scores on behalf of its chief justice. The final tragedy is that there are few things going right in Pakistan: its western provinces are in flames, its exchequer is empty, it is still reeling from the effects of last year’s floods and its internal social problems are mounting. But its leadership is playing musical chairs to a tune solely of their own making.