Dr Muhammad Mumtaz,
On its 71st independence anniversary, Pakistan seems no closer to finding an answer to the constitutional and political problems that have plagued it almost since its inception. There is a lack of direction and commitment, and a country founded by a constitutionalist like Mohammad Ali Jinnah finds itself languishing under a quasi-democratic dispensation. Our politicians have not exactly lived up to the Quaid-i-Azam’s ideals; indeed when they have been in power they have often trampled democratic norms and weakened democratic institutions, paved way for the military Generals to sit in the civilian corridors. But there is nothing to suggest that military rulers have done any better either. As history shows, periods of chaos have followed military rule, because the generals left behind them systems that did not have the people’s consent. This game of musical chair keeping Military and civilians in the power one after another has become so usual that one thinks who rules Pakistan, the military or the people? This question has never been satisfactorily answered, and continues to raise its head with disturbing regularity. There have been general elections, both fair and unfair, there have been referendums based on flawed premises and producing disputed results, and there have been interregnums of representative government that have been characterized by misrule and wrongdoing and made it a simple matter for the army to again get back into power. With constitutional processes paralyzed for long periods, democratic institutions have been stunted, giving rise to an aberrant political culture. We have insisted on experimenting with various systems of our own making, sometimes taking the country close to becoming a theocracy and at other times seeking to capture something that we call the essence of democracy.
Pakistan was founded on the basis of the two-nation theory. Its founding fathers set up the State – defined here as civil government of a country, but failed to nurture democratic institutions that could give the new State a democratic and developmental character. Instead, Pakistan fell prey to the rigours of military rule and all efforts to foster democratic institutions have since been foiled by internal and external forces, which do not want Pakistan to have a democratic system of government. Since the socio-politico basis for the foundation of Pakistan was essentially feudal in character it developed as such and successive military regimes have only sought to perpetuate this character. While the major part of Pakistan’s existence has witnessed military rule, there have been spells of civilian government, though short-lived. But even these governments have been heavily backed or influenced by the military.
With a small elite ruling the country and the rest of the population trying to find the ‘nation’ it was perhaps inevitable that the populace at large would turn to extremism to give them solace. To that end, the very basis of internal stability in Pakistan rests in the ability of the State to get the people away from extremism and provide them with the basic structures that will support development and progress. Perhaps it is not in the interests of the military and feudal elements who control the strings of power in Pakistan, to see a democracy take root. Thus the real threat to Pakistan’s internal stability emanates from the ruling elite itself, consisting of the military and the feudal elements that want to perpetuate their rule, using any means possible. The ruling elite in searching for new strategies in its war against terrorism have been inadvertently undermining the sovereignty of the State itself.
The process of restoring the internal sovereignty of the State should be the foremost task for the new coalition government. Popular support is going to be the hardest obstacle in metamorphosing the Pakistani state. Unless the military is marginalized in the power structure there will be no change in the progressive institutional decay. All this has served to weaken the regime’s moral standing and contributed to a lack of national consensus not just on the political system but on all major facets of national life. Events since 9/11 have turned the world’s focus on Pakistan, our internal scene is monitored abroad the way no other country’s is. Yet chaos, uncertainty and a lack of consensus on all vital issues – from the need or otherwise of big dams to terrorism – characterize the domestic scenario.
The monster of terrorism stalks the land. In this protracted struggle between politicians and the army, both have suffered a loss of popular trust. The people have seen the two wrangles as economic and social problems have piled up. It is not as if there has been no progress and development: it would have been impossible to stand still for seven decades but the benefits of development have been unevenly spread, and mostly have accrued to the privileged classes. Most of all, there is a sense of general disorientation: we do not know where we are heading and what we want to make of our country. There has to be a future for Pakistan beyond all the skull duggery of the past and the present.
This will be possible only if the basic right of the people to govern themselves is unreservedly and unequivocally recognized. Democracy is often confusing business, but it appears even more so in our circumstances because the structures that support it — the constitution, parliament, the judiciary — have been systematically weakened. The generals have been guilty of repeatedly blocking the political process; the politicians have been guilty of treating their own electorates with contempt and of flagrant abuse of office. But in 71 years, if we had let the stream of democracy flow unchecked, we might by now have learnt to cope with its swirls and eddies, and matured as a nation. The biggest crisis is the domestic crisis. It remains to be seen if we have learnt any lessons from our experience so far or we will be writing along much the same lines next August 14.
(The writer is a policy Analyst and PhD research fellow in Public Administration and Government at Getlio Vargas Foundation Brazil)