The future of democracy in Pakistan
Dailytimes March 20 2014
The Pakistani nation does not accept change through violent means. It has rejected the extremists’ demand to replace the present political order with Shariah
The trust: trust was first lost in 1958, when the civilian government was dismissed by General Ayub. He was forced to abdicate in 1968, but handed over power to General Yahya Khan instead of the Senate Chairman, as the constitution demanded. General Yahya after the 1970 elections promised to call the National Assembly session in early April 1971 at Dacca, but soon changed his mind, which resulted in the 1971 East Pakistan revolt and military action, leading to the fall of Dhaka. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto lost trust when he summarily dismissed both the army and air chiefs in 1973. The distrust shaped into open defiance by Air Chief Marshall Asghar Khan who urged General Ziaul Haq to dismiss Bhutto’s government and hang him to death. General Zia obliged and took over as a military dictator.
In 1988, when General Zia died in an air crash, we, the three services chiefs, restored the constitution within three hours of his death and handed over power to the Senate Chairman, with the promise that elections will be held in 90 days. Elections were held on November 16, 1988, and Pakistan People’s Party emerged as the largest party. On November 18, I invited Benazir Bhutto to dinner and briefed her on matters that she needed to know as the future prime minister. My purpose was to recreate the trust lost after the hanging of Bhutto by the military ruler. The trust lasted for about ten years, though shaken by misuse of Article 58(2)(b) of the constitution, and was again lost when Nawaz Sharif summarily dismissed two army chiefs and then General Musharraf struck. Later COAS General Ashfaq Kiyani restored the trust by not manipulating the 2008 elections. Ever since, a balanced level of trust has been maintained, affirmed by current COAS General Raheel Sharif saying that, “The military will act under the policy of the political leadership.” These are healthy signs. However, the way General Musharraf’s trial for high treason is being overstretched may well cross the level of tolerance, once again upsetting the present balance of trust.
Our democratic ethos: the Pakistani nation has remained committed to its national purpose that is, “Democracy will be the political order for Pakistan, based on the principles of Quran and Sunnah.” Thus Pakistanis have never voted for religious extremists, yet fear-mongers continue to frighten the nation about extremists gaining control of the government, though they have been proved wrong. For example in 1988, when the military leadership decided in favour of elections, the country at that time was swarming with jihadis fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. The region as a whole was radicalised, but the Pakistani nation voted only for the moderates. Such is the democratic ethos of our nation — a valuable asset we must learn to respect.
The agents of change: the Pakistani nation does not accept change through violent means. It has rejected the extremists’ demand to replace the present political order with Shariah. The educated youth in particular responded to the call for change by Imran Khan and helped Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) form the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), as well as win some seats in Punjab and Sindh. This puts the PTI to the test, demanding exemplary government in KP and clear thinking to evolve realistic policies utilising the knowledge, talent and expertise of Pakistanis ignored by our political traditionalists, who rely mainly on their old cronies with limited perception and outdated concepts. Yet, the PTI is vulnerable from within, because the party revolves around Imran Khan. He is the public face of the party and, God forbid, if he falls off another forklift, the party may disintegrate. Therefore, there is need to develop a syndicate of leadership, robust enough to evolve policies, so that the party’s ideological underpinnings outlive the founder.
The national parties, namely PPP and PML (N), have withdrawn to their political bases in Sindh and Punjab — a retreat forced on them by voters who rejected corruption, dynastic politics, bad governance and neglect of the poor and the deprived. The retreat has created a vacuum for the more dynamic forces to move-in. In this regard Pakistan is well ahead of India where the Aam Admi Party was only able to form their government in Delhi out of eight union territories and twenty eight provinces, whereas the PTI emerged as the third largest national party, winning one province out of four. But what is common between them is their struggle to eradicate corruption and poverty.
Corruption and poverty are the bane of our people, of whom more than 50 percent live below the poverty line. The curse of corruption permeating our entire system has become endemic. This is the malaise our governments have done little to remove. Traditional politics is helping the rich to get richer while the poor become poorer. The news of the day may be true, that looted Pakistani rupees were converted into dollars during the last six months, pushing the dollar up against the rupee. And as the converted dollars were smuggled out of Pakistan and the Saudi $ 1.5 billion gift was added, the dollar lost more than six percent of its value against the rupee — a phenomenon that defies all logic.
The end of dynastic politics: the emergence of the PTI as a third political force spells the demise of dynastic politics in Pakistan. It meets the needs of the people to free them from the oppressive grip of institutionalised corruption and as an alternative to the two national parties who have lost their élan. Our people desire change in our traditional politics. An equitable and just social order is demanded, which the new political leadership can deliver. That will result in a grim struggle against the powerful elite, who dominate politics and power and have proved right the great philosopher Ibn-e-Khaldun’s saying: “When the rich and the powerful gain control of government, the country declines and decays.” That is where the tipping point is, demanding a balance of forces to guide the movement for change, led by the educated youth of the country. That is the best hope for democracy.