The precarious lives of politicians By Syeda Zahra Shah Subzwari

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FORMER prime minister Imran Khan was shot in the leg during an assassination attempt last week while participating in the long march. He survived. But Pakistani politicians seldom survive assassination attempts, which have killed over 45 of them in the country’s short 75-year history — some of them still remembered and some forgotten by the fickle public.

Pakistani premiers have a short shelf life. They are either ousted politically, forced to resign, deposed in military coups or assassinated. No prime minister in Pakistan has completed his or her full term. The first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was assassinated in a park in Rawalpindi in 1951, while the first president, Iskander Mirza, was deposed two years into his term in a military coup by Gen Ayub Khan.

When the military administration executed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1979 after Gen Ziaul Haq had taken over the government in a coup, stability was still nowhere to be found.

Bhutto was the nation’s first democratically elected prime minister. Gen Zia, who succeeded as president of Pakistan and served as chief of army staff from 1976 until 1988, died in a mysterious plane accident. Gen Pervez Musharraf escaped two assassination attempts within a span of two weeks in 2003. Musharraf took control of the country in a coup that overthrew Nawaz Sharif’s administration in 1999, but resigned in 2008 to escape being impeached. In 1990, 1997 and 2013, Nawaz Sharif served as prime minister but was ousted by the presidency, the military, or the judiciary each time.

In the same location where Pakistan’s first PM was slain, two-term prime minister Benazir Bhutto, the first democratically elected female leader of a Muslim nation, was killed in a gun and bomb attack in Rawalpindi in 2007. A generation of Bhuttos had been eliminated through assassinations; Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, Murtaza Bhutto, and Shahnawaz Bhutto. Others, including the Bilour family, lost Haroon Bilour and Ahmed Bashir Bilour. Similar to how two of Indira Gandhi’s own guards killed her across the border in 1984, Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer was killed by his own security guard.

Pakistan’s trajectory has gone horribly awry for some reason. Perhaps it is the overtly involved military, extremists, or the general populace unable to coexist peacefully with those who have different opinions. Pakistan’s public appears to have become disoriented.

Assassinating political leaders is not unprecedented elsewhere, but it is unnervingly common in a nation that is only a few decades old. In a world that already has strained relations with Pakistan, the latter is in the news often, but never for the right reasons. Politicians don’t seem to comprehend that the country’s recent political unrest has caused Pakistan to lose ground in terms of growth and reputation thanks to a never-ending game of musical chairs being played by the country’s political parties who continue to give Pakistan a bad name in the global arena.

According to the 2022 Human Development Index rankings published by the UNDP in September, Pakistan has fallen seven places, and is placed 161 out of 192 countries. It was previously ranked 154th out of 189 nations. According to the study, Pakistan’s ranking in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index has decreased by 12 points, from 145 in 2021 to 157 in 2022.

Read: The wounded Khan, worried Generals and political chaos

Due to increasing energy prices, the lower value of the rupee, and delays in agricultural production brought on by the floods, economic development has remained unstable and sluggish; inflation is anticipated to increase to roughly 23 per cent in FY2023. Exports have been disrupted, and there are more things that need to be imported, such as food and cotton; “the current account deficit is expected to narrow only slightly to 4.3pc of GDP in FY23 (from 4.6pc in FY22). The fiscal deficit (including grants) is projected to narrow only modestly to around 6.9pc of GDP in FY23 … reflecting both negative revenue impacts from flooding and increased expenditure needs”.

The contrasting competing factions present a persistent challenge to the nation.

On the one side, we have politicians who have been elected and work to portray Pakistan as liberal, contemporary and democratic, much like Mohammad Ali Jinnah had envisioned it. However, we also have a very powerful military that projects a different image of Pakistan as a highly militarised state where democratic concerns must be put aside for sovereign problems, and the supposed national interest is nearly always articulated in terms of security. A narrow definition of national interest that is almost entirely conceptualised in terms of military and security concepts serves as the foundation for most of the security narrative. No one comprehends the more significant social and economic welfare issues.

Pakistan has to shift course immediately, but it appears that this will remain an aspiration and will not translate into reality.

Pakistan needs to project a more positive image to the outside world, and a less intrusive military would be a good place to start. However, the military continues to maintain its non-involvement stance, although the nation is yet to be allowed to emerge with all of its complexity and diversity of opinions.

Political polarisation has caused the country to become more violently divided. For the sake of Pakistan’s future, its politicians need to stop inciting hatred against rival political parties, which makes the public even less tolerant than they are and gives the outside world more opportunities to paint Pakistan in a negative light than it already does. Instead of just seeing red, they need to reach a consensus.If there is anything to be learned from history, it is that ideologies have never been destroyed by assassination attempts, rather just the person associated with them.

(The Dawn/ANN)

The writer has an LLB from the University of London and works as a research associate at the Centre for Law and Security.

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