The Future of Democracy in Pakistan

0

Quaid E Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah told his fellow members of the Muslim League on 9th June 1947 I do not know what the ultimate shape of the constitution is going to be, but I am sure it will be a democratic type, embodying the essential principles of Islam he added democracy is in our blood, it is in our marrow. Only centuries of adverse circumstances have made the circulation of that blood cold Islam and its ideals have taught us democracy it has taught us equality of man, justice and fair play to everybody.

It can be safely assumed that on that day in the founding year of Pakistan the two philosophies outlined by the founder as the basis of any future government in Pakistan were Islam and democracy. Both have in a sense floundered at the hands of their keepers. Islam exploited shamelessly by those that pretend to be its defenders has divided instead of uniting the nation and democracy has been reduced to a sham by those that never tire to proclaim themselves as its champions.

For the future of democracy in Pakistan there must be solid foundations laid in the past. This has not happened and the fault is not entirely with the politicians. Yes we know the musical chairs that preceded the first military take over by Ayub Khan but that cannot really be any justification for extra constitutional methods. We forget that the workable democracies of the world including that of the United States and Great Britain did not evolve in a period of two and a half years ( The standard limit in Pakistan). It took a civil war and more than two hundred years for the United States itself to get on track and have the present system which still leaves much to be desired. In neighbouring India we were not too long ago witnessing musical chairs in the parliament where no party was able to hold its majority. With extra constitutional interference they too would have been in a crisis but democracy allowed to run its course paid dividends and now they have a stable government that inspite of its short comings and an ailing Prime Minister has made significant strides on the national and international front.

Democracy in Pakistan has suffered because the nanny was too protective of the baby. The establishment was so keen on having a faultless democracy that it killed the entire process. Leaders independent of the establishment were seen as threats to national security and there has always been that all engulfing desire to produce Test Tube Politicians. We have lived through more than ten years under the rule of such leaders. Each term limited meticulously to two and a half years by the establishment. It can be said with certainty that these years of the Test Tube Politicians have ravaged Pakistan and jolted its very foundations. All those who designed and carried out this exercise must together with the politicians shoulder the blame for the present mess in which we find ourselves.

So what about the future? I find little hope for democracy in the future. We just do not have a democratic culture in the country. Political parties are nor really political parties because their leaders prefer to draw their strength from the establishment instead of the masses. Yes there is a lot of song and dance during the election. A pretence of an election campaign seems mandatory and helpful for the establishment to swing votes either way. The little grass roots politics that we have during elections disappears once the government is established. All contact with the masses is lost and the party becomes a burden rather than the instrument of governance that it should be. Party and government offices mingle which abolishes whatever accountability could have been achieved. Both Benazir and Nawaz Sharif clung to their party posts inspite of declarations to the contrary. While the country paid the price they too paid a heavy price for their lust of absolute power.

The only glimmer of grass roots democracy that I can recall was in the seventies. Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto was arrogant and could not tolerate opposition but it was only during his rule that parliaments were strong and members contributing significantly to the welfare of people. Accountability through parliaments was also quite visible at that time. In Sindh for example a very small opposition practically terrorised the ruling party with their alertness in matters of public interest and a command over the rules of procedure. Political meetings in those days started usually after Isha prayers and lasted till well past midnight. National leaders of parties always took the rostrum last and people waited patiently for their leaders. In most political party offices they had registers where appointments for well known leaders visits to different localities were made. In any given week a national leader was addressing close to a dozen meetings in different parts of the country.

All this changed. Nawaz Sharif had no stomach for long lasting public meetings. At meetings held in Nishtar Park he would arrive straight from the airport and the speaker than in control of the mike would be asked to step aside. Nawaz Sharif would speak for about forty minutes and than go straight to his pajero parked behind the stage. The whole show would not last for more than an hour. How could he know what his own party was saying or which of the speakers had the talents to attract votes in the next elections. I don’t think he or Mohtrama Benazir were bothered with that. In all probability they received lists approved by the establishment and were happy to just stamp their approval . Another vital ingredient for democracy is presence of organised groups. In the seventies we had several that upheld the cause of democracy and increased accountability of political parties. Strong groups in those times were labour, students, teachers, journalists and lawyers. While there was a political and ideological divide they always came together in matters of national interest. Politicians too had a sense of responsibility towards their electorate. Who can forget that (Late) Syed Saeed Hassan broke party ranks at a huge personal cost to voice protest against the language bill in Sindh assembly. Another MPA of the time Bostan Ali Hoti did not vote on linguistic grounds on the same bill and showed extra ordinary courage. This is what keeps democracy alive and gives hope for its future.

During the rule of Zia Ul Haq all the basic ingredients of democracy were wiped out. Inroads were made into organisations that in the past were bastions of democracy and with prompted leadership they were reduced to lethargic entities that only spoke to please their masters. Intellectual corruption was actively promoted and encouraged. What we see today are the final products of that Assembly line installed by the late General. Political leaders without conscious and a trade leadership which follows in their footsteps. He had eleven years of peace thanks to these tactics but this tolled the death knoll for the future of democracy in Pakistan.

Another element that has destroyed any hope for future of democracy in Pakistan is the injection of violence in politics. With guns blazing and tolerance at zero level there is no room for democratic difference of opinion. It is not uncommon in democracy for senior leaders to have differing opinion on political issues. We have now come to a stage where such difference of opinion usually earns you a place in a guinea bag. In these circumstances what hope for democracy?

Always an optimist I still se a glimmer of hope if steps are taken to really restore democracy and not inflict more home made recipes on this country. A good starting point of reforms for the present government would be to give a dead line to all parties to hold party elections within a specified period. Supervised by neutral observers this could be a breath of fresh air for democracy in Pakistan. Well organised parties with duly elected party officials would lay the foundations of true democracy. A nation suffering from the negligence of its recent rulers will certainly welcome such a move. True mobilisation of people and building of institutions razed to the ground by successive governments can be another step towards restoring democracy in the country. The Judiciary which is the corner stone of any democracy needs to be truly independent and if the rulers are sincere they would free the judiciary of all seen and unseen restrictions. Revival of true trade unions in all fields of life is another step that can ensure the future of democracy and give voice to the true feelings of the people.

For all those with different recipes of democracy and their supporters I can only say that democracy is a product of the wishes of the people and not the of the desires of an elite few. It evolves by itself and true democracy like a truly beautiful tree takes many decades to grow and spread out its branches to provide shade to the people. There are no short cuts no matter how pressing the need. Patience is another name for democracy. If only the establishment could have demonstrated this quality we would not be the outcast in a democratic world at the turn of the century.