For far too long, political, legal, and social commentators in Pakistan have advocated for a system that follows the scheme outlined in the constitution. That system has been eroded for far too long. Things appear to be changing today, despite efforts to halt a positive trend. The assigned constitutional roles for all branches of government are under scrutiny. The constitution is unambiguous about who gets to play which roles. Unfortunately, institutions and political actors have historically taken a more ambiguous stance on the issue.
Fortunately, the military has opted out of any political role in recent months. Since last year, this appears to be the new normal for the institution, which should be welcomed and encouraged. According to reports, COAS General Asim Munir has stated unequivocally that he has no desire or plans to intervene in political matters, stating that it is not the institution’s role to influence political agreements or to interfere in politics in any way.
This comes after Imran Khan stated that he would be willing to meet with the COAS. One wonders why he would want to involve an institution that has stated that it prefers to remain “neutral” in political matters. Since last year, Imran has gone back and forth on the country’s institutions, at times exhorting the ‘neutrals’ to help, at other times accusing them of being ‘neutral’.
Imran has made several such public pronouncements since the coalition government replaced the PTI government in April 2022. However, this isn’t just about one party. Any political actor making unconstitutional requests now is simply adding to a long history of apolitical interventions. To the country’s detriment, its political stakeholders have always tried to outdo each other in the race to become the preferred party or politician of unelected institutions, such as the military or the judiciary.
It is critical that politicians learn to solve their own problems and, in the current situation, create a spirit in which they can at least talk to each other and work towards reaching a consensus on national issues, the most important of which at the moment is developing an economic charter for a people struggling to survive. Each institution is assigned a role, and its function is defined in the Pakistani constitution.
The military’s role is quite clear in this context. It is greatly encouraging that the institution appears to have recognized this fact. If this trend continues, we may have a chance to create a true democracy run by elected representatives themselves, allowing the country to move forward without interruption. It is now incumbent on all political parties to ensure that they do not rely on institutional interventions for ‘political support,’ but instead allow them to focus on their jobs while leaving politics to the political class.
We have previously stated in these pages that if an institution claims neutrality, we should welcome it. If political parties truly want to defend democracy, they must do so without the support of apolitical forces. Now, it is up to our political forces as well as the institution to learn how to maintain this policy. This represents a new normal that should be embraced by all.