by Rifaat Hamid Ghani
The government and the Parliament of 2008 completed a full term: a democratic first. But it could be more because interventionists have matured than because politicians demonstrated a reassuring capacity to learn on the job.
If we step outside the trite paradigm of democracy and dictatorship and the polarities of the civil and military public political interest, we might not see any polarities: Both want power and there is a competition for it. For most Pakistanis Pakistan is home, not a cow to be milked dry. They need and want their country. The touchstone for legitimacy then becomes pragmatic for them: How is the power of government being used?
If asked about the 2008-onwards use of democratically mandated power there would be more than carping complaints about law and order and safety in daily life. The common perception is the state itself is increasingly endangered by the vice and folly of the politically empowered. In 2013 despite democratic freedom a question is suppressed: Is it a myth, which local democratic experience exposes each time, that democracy is invariably the better formula? As soon as there was no self-perpetuating incentive in maintaining or reaching a consensus, political rivals needed arbitration on the caretaker PM. When mainstream parties so evidently mistrust each other’s motives and nominees they also need unusually skilled spin masters to tell the electorate why it may place faith in their candidatures and avowals.
Nor is it clear what may be meant by democracy or expected from it that no other mode delivers. Is it vested simply in trying to follow Britain’s parliamentary model, the US presidential system or other certified European models? If it can only be secular, is it possible to quarantine religion in a country that was driven into existence primarily because the two major faiths of the subcontinent could not and still do not inspire faith in each other’s sense of secular political justice? Is democracy majority rule? Popular participation through representation? How do these mix with coalitional compromises in parliament where the elected ignore constituency political sentiment to protect incumbency? Are we sure freedom of assembly is paramount when that means little else but non-productive rowdy demos to embarrass opponents? Civil society’s voice has been raised meaningfully in dictatorships: and to better democratic effect. Undoubtedly, it was then also backed by political parties’ infrastructure and manpower. But when these parties obtained democratic remit in 2008 and retained it till 2013 the only service they offered their own definitions of democracy was lip service. Or to put it another way they have not set a democratic example we want to follow.
In the civil and military interludes post Ayub, the constitution has not been abrogated. Instead, the very concept of the rule of law has been rubbished, ignored, flouted and distorted: as much by judicial compliance as by parliamentary legislation as by military coercion. One of our most tired clichés post Musharraf is that we need to build democratic institutions.
The last Parliament has been in constant contest with due democratic balances presented by the superior Judiciary. Legislative intent has been more with a view to safeguarding Parliamentarians and party leaders than common citizens. And when the direction of legislation is impeccable the implementation is virtually non-existent. The Executive itself vitiated prime ministerial office and looked to presidential rather than public will and service. Two PMs did more to vindicate Swiss banking and legal time-bars for Pakistan’s politicians than they were prepared to do for filling the national exchequer. Worst of all, the government used democratic form to feudalise democratic substance. It extended the spirit and style of the feudal fiefdom into the urban context. So great is the space cronyism has allowed incompetence and corruption and so rapid its proliferation, that even with a caretaking care-giving will the infrastructure for delivery may have been weakened beyond democratic repair. An electoral verdict that generates hope and provides change is the only way out of the filthy pit our democrats have been digging for the system they represent.
Why does it remain a system we would retrieve?
Forget that tabloid media-interest remained riveted on the inexplicable return of our former president of such variegated ill-fame – the NRO; the emergency; Kargil; and the assault on Nawab Akbar Bugti with its baleful consequences for the federation. Much more significant was the virtually coinciding moment of the return of the BNP’s Sardar Akhtar Mengal. The democratic mode alone created the climate and provided the means of valid re-engagement with alienated Baloch leadership. The pressures of democratic language and form – however superficially invoked – made the return of leaders, injured, but magnanimous enough to give the federation a chance, possible. Political buffoons and erstwhile tyrants could not barricade avenues that the CJP’s use of his discretionary powers and the CEC’s strong reinforcement of justice in the context of forthcoming elections opened. That is the most meaningful democratic national development in these five post Musharraf years.
But is that enough?
The army too, to put it mildly, has played a role in Balochistan. It needs to publicly declare and establish that the vile tradition of General Tikka Khan – honoured by every chief with the extraordinary exception of General Zia – is dead, buried and anathematised. The polity cannot survive harbouring the apprehension that the ISI-Army combo is dormant, undetected, or swept under the carpet for now but lives to see another day. Balochistan is not the only instance of the combo’s internal deviation but it is the most egregious and pertinent one. General Kayani as COAS could demonstrate the army’s good faith and redeem the institutional record. An open apology for the army’s past aberrations and a public pledge to refrain is nationally required.
Never mind that the last civil political government did nothing to seek obtain it: What are elections for?