By Saad Hafiz
It seems at the first sign of cracks in a democratic setup in Pakistan, a battle cry goes out from media pundits, back-door politicians and professional pontificators alike to end or derail the democratic process. As the knives and bayonets are sharpened, headlines like “End the farce”, “Noose tightens” and “Government isolated” dominate in the media.
Many affluent Pakistanis, enjoying the fruits of Western democracies, hypocritically chime in to denigrate democracy and espouse the benefits of a return to strict authoritarian rule or a managed democracy for the unwashed masses in their native land. The mainstay of their argument is that a “controlled” political process can deliver peace, order and stability which the country desperately needs and which the natural chaos of a parliamentary democracy cannot hope to emulate. “The man who has gotten everything he wants is all in favor of peace and order.” Jawaharlal Nehru
The propagandists and doomsayers who predict the end of democracy are helped by the macabre political situation prevailing in the country. The Prime Minister is being held in contempt and has had to appear before the Supreme Court for balking on writing to the Swiss courts to reopen the President’s past corruption cases. A former envoy to the US has taken protection in the PM House, possibly seeking protection from the country’s security services who may seek to harm him for allegedly instigating a memorandum inviting foreign intervention to check the power of the country’s military.
The government has been forced to have a pro-democracy resolution passed by the “sovereign and supreme” Parliament requesting all institutions to respect the primacy of democratic institutions. It is a wonder that a democratic government, constantly watching its back, is also expected to focus on urgent issues facing the country like poverty, hunger, unemployment and the sorry state of government hospitals and schools.
Conditioned by years of playing second fiddle to autocrats and their henchmen, politicians and civil society are reluctant to stand together to fight the misleading allure of authoritarianism or a managed democracy. This is surprising because the non-democratic road in Pakistan is well travelled, taken a great toll on the country, and shaken its foundations to the core.
A strong case can be made that the three long periods of dictatorship in Pakistan’s history, Ayub 1958-69, Zia 1977-1988 and Musharraf 1999-2008 greatly contributed to the disintegration of the country and the spread of a retrogressive Islamic ideology, sectarianism and violence. The “men on horseback” trained in a unitary environment failed and will continue to fail because they are unable to understand the discordant demands of a multi ethnic society.
There is also little evidence that a “controlled” political environment is any less corrupt or can ensure long-term economic prosperity when compared to a parliamentary democracy. It can be argued that whitewashing authoritarianism every few years, does not remove its intrinsic violence and corruption and the way its tyrannies intrude into ordinary lives.
It seems ridiculous to imagine that a command decision made by an unelected leadership can be implemented without question in a complex nation of a 180 million people. History has proven time and time again that changes needed for the betterment of the people require discussion and consensus and not heavy handed approaches to be effective. Given the opportunity, the people will support liberal democracy and its ideals of tolerance, due process and constitutional rights.
Governmental legitimacy should continue to be derived from the ballot box. A silver lining often ignored by pessimists is that Pakistan has legitimate political parties, an increasingly independent judiciary and vibrant media, which are prerequisites for preserving and enhancing a democratic society. Pakistanis also have a history of fighting dictatorship and checking obscurantism through democratic means when allowed.
The critical issues of corruption and poor governance, disillusioned populace and a young population with few economic prospects have to be addressed quickly. This requires Pakistan to come up with a new generation of leaders, who are capable of relaying the foundations of State in crisis and who are also capable of defending its populations’ interests better, based on unwavering respect for different State institutions.
Courtesy: Pak Tea House