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October 25, 2020

National security

Opinion

October 25, 2020

Pakistan’s ‘politics of polarisation’ is at its peak. Our political leaders are at each other's throats like never before. Our national political leadership is playing a dangerous zero-sum game like they have never played before. In this all-or-nothing political duel, our ‘national purpose’ has been put on the back burner, like never before. To be certain, this ‘politics of polarisation’ has put our collective national security at risk.

Centrifugal forces – political parties, personalities and events that create divisions and push Pakistanis away from each other – are hard at work. Neither the party-in-power nor the opposition seems interested in democratic coexistence. Question: Which institution has the capacity to tame these centrifugal forces? Can parliament do it? The judiciary? The executive?

According to Dr George Friedman, an American strategist, a geopolitical forecaster, the founder of Stratfor and Geopolitical Futures, as long as the “army remained united and loyal to the concept of Pakistan, the centrifugal forces could not tear the country apart.” Dr Friedman further states: “It is not a question of civilian institutions, elections or any of the things we associate with civil society.” Question: Which institution is the most effective instrument of the state of Pakistan?

Centripetal forces, on the other hand, are institutions, personalities or events that ‘unite the people of Pakistan as one singular political unit.’ Question: Which institution acts as the most powerful centripetal force in the state of Pakistan? Question: Which institution ‘transcends internal divisions and has the potential to restore order’?

Political leadership is more divisive today than ever before. Yes, political polarization is more toxic today than ever before. To be sure, ‘political dysfunction’ in itself is a national security concern. Yes, the poor health of our democratic institutions is also a national security vulnerability. Democracy is about competition among political parties-and this competition has to be “managed peacefully not eradicated.”

Our politics is turning into a zero-sum game, where the “winner takes all while the loser not only loses power but may also face retribution and persecution.” Polarisation means an absence of rational debate-and a focus on non-issues. Political polarisation results in a frail economic policy, a fragile social policy, a weak foreign policy and a muddled national security strategy.

Extreme polarisation has four major price tags: poverty, unemployment, inflation and compromised national security. Yes, extreme polarisation is a challenge to democracy itself. Clearly, polarisation is a serious structural challenge and our top national priority ought to be the de-escalation of partisan polarisation. De-escalation means three things. One, political leaders must stop de-legitimising each other. Two, political leaders must stop using personal attacks. Three, political leaders must stop demonising each other.

There’s empirical evidence that “political polarisation is a ‘force multiplier’ that worsens other threats and cripples our ability to combat them.” The current political trajectory has four destinations: chaos, instability, disorder and confusion. Clearly, political disagreements are running so deep that this extreme partisan polarisation is becoming one of our greatest national security vulnerabilities.

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected] Twitter: @saleemfarrukh