10/06/2015 8:21 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

3 Steps To Political Success In Pakistan

Pakistan flag in map
Jeffrey Coolidge via Getty Images
Pakistan flag in map

Every Pakistani politician lusts for premiership, which in itself is a valid personal goal. However, since public service is a low priority, the effective pursuit of power depends on three key relationships. Combined, or in combination, this holy trinity bears the code-name: " the third umpire."

1. Allah

The word "Allah" is a sure-strike missile for any politician, and the best get-out-of-jail-free pass when things go south. Is your ineptness sinking the country? Blame it on "Allah ki marzi" (God's will). Of course, no one dare rail against Him, so it is back to business before the next big blunder.

The copious usage of "Allah" in everyday conversation also leashes the religious right. The Jamaat-e-Islaami (JI) and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) may both be mainstream political parties, but a sector of their fan following subscribes to jihadist thought. Piety, to the point of plausibility, is therefore crucial to survive in a country full of anti-liberal bullets.

The theological weight of Allah in a politician's life is also paramount. In the dark days of house arrest, jail or exile, it is this faith in His benevolence towards crooks past that keeps up hope. Similarly, those in power can admire Allah's endless bounty despite their best attempts to bleed the country dry.

2. America

For Pakistan, Uncle Sam is the father figure India never was. Since the Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement in 1954, Pakistani politicians have offered their firstborns for an American pat on the back.

Unfortunately for them, America rides "my way or the highway" despite its moral preachings. If you toe the line and are useful, everything is groovy. If not, a "horrible example" can be made of you. Former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto learned the hard way not to dismiss American threats, and Gen. Zia-ul-Haq eventually became a public relations liability that needed "handling."

Conversely, America is happy to put away its idealism for a good cause. Needing a staunch local ally after 9-11, America supported Gen. Pervez Musharraf's military regime for so long as the civilians stayed put. This is not to suggest that the American influence is unjustified. If anyone gives you close to $70 billion in broadband aid, and that too the world's sole superpower, then you shout "yes we can" and get to it.

3. The Army

A pilgrimage to the Army headquarters is a rite of passage for any premiership hopeful. If it considers you a patriot and a proponent of the status quo, then everyone can be friends. If not, then an open-ended air ticket out of Pakistan must be acquired quickly. Unfortunately, this simpleminded logic sometimes aids the unabashedly corrupt, like former President Asif Ali Zardari, and degrades Pakistani democracy.

Contrary to popular belief, the Pakistan Army is not powerful because it inspires fear. What gives it leverage in national affairs is the downright incompetence of the civilian leadership. Be it floods, earthquakes or domestic terrorism; the Army is always called in to save the day. Of course, federal institutions likes the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) exist on paper, but their outputs range from dubious to nonexistent.

The Pakistan Army is also accused of being antidemocratic. That is not true. The Army only believes in a united Pakistan, and the personal interests of its Chiefs. Beyond that, whether Pakistan rolls back to a "jirga" (tribal council) system of government, or a civilian autocracy, makes no difference so long as it gets paid.

In short...

Any Pakistani politician that consolidates two of these relationships jumps to the top of the premiership queue. Once there, all moral pretensions are quickly cast aside to fit in.

In truth...

Plato stated in The Republic "The heaviest penalty for declining to rule is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself." Unfortunately for Pakistan, everyone is equally useless here.

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