Pakistan’s Democratic Odyssey

By Saeed Ullah Khan Wazir.

“The concept of experimenting with democracy started with Gen.I.Mirza’s vehement assertion that “overwhelmingly illiterate masses were bound to act foolishly. Having no training in democracy, they could not run democratic institutions, but needed a controlled democracy.”

The tawdry, checkered plot of Pakistani democracy has been alternating between incompetent civil political leaders and a perennially intrusive military-cum-judicial combine. This battle of titans is aided and abetted by domestic conglomerate of anti-democratic elements and regional players.

The orchestrated, premeditated ouster of PM Nawaz Sharif was highly anticipated. It’s alleged in independent media circles that his judicially-motivated disqualification is an integral component of the ‘Pasha-Kayani Model/Doctrine’(pulling strings from behind the scenes) evolved in the backdrop of the Charter of Democracy and the first ever civilian-to-civilian democratic transition.

This institutionalized doctrine espouses influencing and pressurizing govts from the sidelines, without taking physical control. This aims at dividing the coalition govt or ruling party, creating grand opposition (the IK-Qadri duo), delegitimizing mainstreaming politicians while installing extremists  for altering the electoral landscape, seeking help from regional and global allies for pressuring the govt, and buying media houses to shift public opinion against the govt in power.

No prime minister has yet completed his or her tenure. This stems from historical tinkering with the fragile texture of democracy. Small surprise-from 1947 to 1958-Pakistan was governed by four heads of state and seven prime ministers. Interestingly in neighboring India, not a single dictator took over in the entire democratic history. Nawaz has been ousted before over suspicion of corruption in 1993 and in 1997 in military coup.

“Mujhe Kyun Nikala” (Why was I ousted)? According to critical literature, you have been ousted not because of purging the system of pollute elements but: (1) you wanted civilianizing counterterrorism strategies; (2) you tried to put an end to militant outfits and refused mainstreaming them; (3) you were reluctant to earmark hefty budgetary allocations for defense and a lion’s share in CPEC; (4) you tried to prosecute the sacred cow and did not extend unconstitutional tenure to G.Raheel; (5) you tried to assert civilian supremacy over other state organs-parliamentary resolution on Yemeni crisis and backdoor diplomacy; (6) you attended Modi’s prime ministerial inauguration against the wishes of majority anti-India lot. (7) You tried to normalize relations with India and Afghanistan which are the lifelines to the powers-that-be. If accountability is the purpose, the judiciary, the military and the bureaucracy are to be prosecuted too.

General Ayub Khan said, “Parliamentary democracy does not suit the genius of the people of Pakistan. Democracy was as alien a concept to the Pakistani masses as the English language, and thus, it needed to start from a very basic level”.

In the confluence of civil-military battles, twice the country’s constitution has been abrogated (1958 and 1969) and thrice suspended (1977, 1999 and 2007).Ayub khan’s controlled democracy, Ziaul Haq under the Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) and Pervez Musharraf first under the Legal Framework Order (LFO) and then under the PCO further aggravated troubles and left the polity in tatters.

Pakistan’s political history went through turbulent phases characterized by a mélange of dominant style of governance and political management:

  1. Civilian political government: August 1947-October 1958 December 1971-July 1977 February 2008 October 2017
  2. Direct military rule: October 1958-June 1962 March 1969-December 1971 July 1977-December 1985 October 1999-November 2002
  3. Selective use of democracy by the military (post-military rule) June 1962-March 1969 March 1985-November 1988
  4. Military’s influence from the sidelines on policy making under civilian governments December 1988-October 1999
  5. Military’s direct involvement in power management after the end of military rule; constitutional and legal role for the military November 2002-2008.

Taking clinical, disinterested stock of the political landscape, the brewing crises stem from institutional imbalance, lack of political consensus-building, weakly structured political parties and undemocratic leadership, intersection of Islam and politics, military rule and constitutional and political engineering.

The tsarist military generals implied ploys like invoking the doctrine of necessity, protecting national interest, or making Islam as law of the land for taking over the govts. For sheer survival and self-interests, the dictators came up with their self-styled governance mechanisms: Ayub Khan’s Basic Democracy, going apolitical with Zia and devolution of power with Musharraf. In a bid to avoid public backlash and eliminating grass-roots following of the political parties, local government has been used to create an illusion of power being transferred to the grassroots. In reality, local body systems brought new loyalists, proxies and protégés of traditional feudal families but by and large excluded the masses from decision-making and governance.

Musharraf opined, “all military rulers acted in the national interest”.

The fate of democracy is not tied in with individuals but with the inherent culture and processes. The engineered ouster of Nawaz can prove detrimental to the country’s democratic future. However, the cruxes of the current scenario are: either Nawaz goes or Nawaz stays, the transition to democracy has stalled and civilian supremacy compromised. An insightful work, ”From Authoritarian Rule Toward Democratic Governance: Learning from Political Leaders by International IDEA”, spells out salient principles for  ensuring successful democratic transitions. This mechanism could be replicated in Pakistan successfully given the fact the leadership takes vision, time, hard work, persistence and skills.

Z.A.Bhutto said, “Looking into the future, if we messed it up, if we didn’t make the parliamentary system work, if our constitution breaks down, then there is the possibility of the army stepping in again”. The much-needed “10 imperatives for crafting democratic transitions” are as follows.

First, opposition leaders should play meaningful role in fighting against unconstitutional forces. They must display toleration, openness and compromises on personal differences. Maximalist and sectoral tendencies had better eschew for larger national and collective interests.

Second, political parties and their manifestoes need to cater to the interests of all and sundry, emphasizing broad-based inclusiveness, social justice and across the board development. In election campaigns, they should strive to amalgamate different sections of society rather than stocking differences across ethnic, religious, or political lines.

Third, fostering sense of convergence and forming coalitions should be materialized by involving cross sections of society which could result in empowerment and democratization.

Four, inter-institutional dialogue, especially between the parliament, judiciary and the army could create spaces for dialogue between democratic movements and authoritarian regimes. This will pave the way for confidence building measure, deep understanding and resolution of simmering issues peacefully.

Five, transition leaders must try to tame armed forces and state intelligence agencies through constitutional and legal arrangements by limiting their role in civilian domain both internally and externally. However, this will entail prioritizing good governance and modernizing civil forces so as to deliver their duties methodically. The forces must focus on external defense and international peacekeeping missions.

Six, constitutional changes should be for collective wellbeing rather than motivated by narrow and personal motives.

Seven, there is a dire need for addressing socio-economic disparities through innovative fiscal management aimed at helping the poorest and the most vulnerable elements of society.

Eighth, political parties need to hold intraparty elections so that leadership and political processes could be devolved to the parties’ rank and file.

Ninth, tight accountability must be ensured not only for politicians but across the board.Lastly, the west and the European countries should support good governance rather than awarding aid and triggering regime change.

I render unconditional, unreserved apology to the reactionary and hyper zealous activists of Pakistani politics. I am greatly indebted to Prof.Mazhar Saeed Mazhar, CEO of NOVA CSS academy, who contributed a great deal in improving my writing skills and general knowledge base.

Democracy should be given a much-needed space to flourish and deliver. Patience and fair play appear in short supply which could destabilize the nascent project irreversibly. Authoritarianism was a wrong choice yesterday and it will not be a right choice today.

About Author:

Saeed Ullah Khan Wazir is a freelance writer,human rights activist, aspirant to CSS and having specialization in English Literature and Linguistics from NUML, Islamabad.

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