Towards a Secure Democratic Future: Pakistan’s Challenges and Opportunities

Elite Pakistanis are not happy with Zardari Government!
Report by Khalid Hashmani, McLean, Virginia, USA
Last Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009, I attended a presentation at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington DC on Pakistan. The topic was “Towards a Secure Democratic Future: Pakistan’s Challenges and Opportunities” . The presenter was Mr. Shafqat Mahmood, who is a former Senator and currently associated with GEO Television and daily English newspaper “The News”. In the past, Mr. Mahmood has represented Pakistan as a delegate to the UN. The tone and content of his presentation was to introduce the notion that Pakistan’s 15,000 elite were uneasy about the present Pakistani government headed by Mr. Zardari and ready to embrace yet another military intervention.
Mr. Haqqani, the Pakistani ambassador to the US was also present in the meeting hall before the session began but tactfully left the meeting before Mr. Mahmood began his presentation to avoid embarrassment and critical comments against the present government.

The main crux of Mr. Mahmood’s presentation was that it is not the military that alone decides to take over the power in Pakistan but rather 15,000 Pakistanis who constitute the elite class are the catalyst for changeovers. He included landlords, retired senior civilian and military officials, business class, and senior members from media and other sectors in this “elite” class.
Mr. Mahmood also criticized long military rule that prevented the development of civilian democratic institutions in Pakistan. He said that so far Pakistani military has had 34 years of direct rule and 18 years of indirect rule. He added that in fact Pakistan has only enjoyed true civilian rule of only ten years (four years after independence and six years during Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s regime). He said that the military had been a perpetual contender of power in Pakistan.
The 15,000 elite who are the enabler of frequent change over between civilian and military rule are rather impatient . As soon as a civilian government comes to power, the elite gets tired of the slow pace of decision making process, corruption, and political confrontation among political parties. They immediately start campaign for the military power to be returned. He added that it is not that “military regimes” are less corrupt but rather they do corruption in a low key manner and ensure that no one gets access to their internal workings to do any monitoring. It is ironic that when military takes over the power it always uses the excuse that civilian rulers were incompetent and corrupt. After few years of military rule, the 15,000 elite once again get tired of the military government and want to see democratic civilian rule to be returned.
In a departure from the recent trend among some of the Pakistani intelligentsia who profess that Pakistan is a part of Middle East, Mr. Mahmood said that Pakistan is part of the “South Asia” culture. He added that Pakistan has had different experiences with democracy from colonial British rule than the Middle Eastern countries who have very little exposure to the democratic way of life.
Mr. Mahmood observed that confrontational attitude between the two main political parties in Pakistan is neither good for democracy nor resolving its issues. He gave credit to Mr. Zardari for helping to forge a good alliance with adversarial political parties in Sindh, Balochistan, and NWFP. However, he criticized Mr. Zardari for not having cooperative attitude towards PML-N and its rule in Punjab. He added that right or wong people of Punjab feel that the PML-N rule is performing better than the central government headed by Mr. Zardari. He said it is like the “Greek tragedy” that both Mr. Zardari and Mr. Nawaz Sharif repeatedly say that if the political parties do not act properly, military will take over, but their actions are actually are doing exactly that. The political parties have to learn to respect each other’s mandate.
In his concluding remarks he said, you may not see a civil war in the traditional sense in Pakistan, just the regular low key violence, unrest, and bickering that would ultimately lead to the creation of atmosphere, where the military intervention would be expected and accepted. With the new freedoms that media now enjoys, it has been giving round-the-clock live coverage of demonstrations and rallies, and violence even if it only limited to few isolated areas. This helps to create the atmosphere of uncertainty and exaggerates situation to appear far more worse than it really is and prepares the ground for military intervention.
Mr. Mahmood said that as Pakistan was a multi-ethnic state with multiple languages, the rule of democracy is our only hope. He added we need democracy as it is the only ingredient that can keep us together. He gave an example of Afghanistan that in part Afghanistan is in turmoil because even though Pushtun are a majority and yet they do not have adequately representation in high offices.
In the Question-Answer session, a member of audience disagreed with Mr. Mahmood about the role of 15,000 so called members of elite class. He said that the key problem with Pakistan military was that it predominantly came from one province and the training given to the Pakistan military personnel emphasizes their superiority over civilians. The military is infused with thoughts that they are the only capable saviors of Pakistan and that most civilians are less patriotic and should not be trusted. Another person suggested that it may be that military is again itching for power and its undercover branches are instigating the present political crisis.
Indeed, the people of Pakistan do face the critical challenge of protecting democracy and achieving an equitable and fair system. To the Pakistani military the same situation may be appearing to be an opportunity to once again return to the rule. If history repeats itself, as usual the biggest losers will be the people of Sindh and Balochistan, who ironically have yet to see any tangible fruits from the return to the democratic rule.

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