Dic­ta­tor­ship in Democ­racy

Pak­istan must chalk a way for­ward by cut­ting through bla­tant un­demo­cratic prac­tices and in­ter­fer­ence from the mil­i­tary hi­er­ar­chy.

Southasia - - Cover story - By Talat Masood

The level of demo­cratic de­vel­op­ment in South Asia has not been uni­form. In­dia has es­tab­lished strong demo­cratic tra­di­tions and cul­ture. It has cre­ated well-es­tab­lished in­sti­tu­tions and in its en­tire his­tory never lapsed into mil­i­tary or au­to­cratic rule ex­cept for a brief in­ter­lude when late Prime Min­is­ter Indira Gandhi de­clared a state of emer­gency. And for this she had to pay a heavy price. Sri Lanka’s record has been rel­a­tively good too, apart from the fact that eth­nic based civil war be­tween the Sin­halese and Tamils pre­vented many ar­eas in the con­flict rid­den parts of the coun­try from fully par­tic­i­pat­ing in the demo­cratic process. It has a Pres­i­den­tial sys­tem as op­posed to most of the other South Asian coun­tries hav­ing a par­lia­men­tary form of gov­ern­ment. Bangladesh’s record has been mixed. It has in­ter­mit­tently lapsed into mil­i­tary rule or a quasi-mil­i­tary dis­pen­sa­tion. A man­i­fes­ta­tion of it was the for­ma­tion of a tech­no­cratic gov­ern­ment in the af­ter­math of the ju­di­ciary-par­lia­ment con­fronta­tion in 2007, but now seems set on the path of democ­racy. On the whole Bangladesh is ahead of Pak­istan in demo­cratic de­vel­op­ment pri­mar­ily due to fewer mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tions and cul­tural and eth­nic co­her­ence. In the case of Nepal, the monar­chy af­ter a long strug­gle has even­tu­ally been over­thrown. How­ever, the Maoists have yet to fully rec­on­cile to the demo­cratic process and in­sti­tu­tions re­main weak. In Pak­istan, the mil­i­tary has ruled di­rectly for nearly half the time since in­de­pen­dence and for the re­main­ing pe­riod in­di­rectly ex­er­cised po­lit­i­cal power.

Sev­eral fac­tors have con­trib­uted to Pak­istan’s ane­mic democ­racy. There were hardly any solid po­lit­i­cal par­ties in the part that con­sti­tuted Pak­istan. Most of the Mus­lim lead­ers at par­ti­tion were in the In­dian Na­tional Congress. In re­al­ity, Pak­istan was cre­ated through a move­ment un­der the bril­liant and ded­i­cated lead­er­ship of Jin­nah. The Mus­lim League was an elit­ist party and the po­lit­i­cal par­ties that were in Pak­istan like the Jam­mat, Union­ists in Pun­jab

and the erst­while Na­tional Awami Party of for­mer NWFP were op­posed to the es­tab­lish­ment of Pak­istan. In sharp con­trast the In­dian Na­tional Congress had strong roots and a long his­tory of demo­cratic strug­gle both within and out­side In­dia.

Re­peated mil­i­tary coups fur­ther weak­ened Pak­istan’s po­lit­i­cal par­ties and state in­sti­tu­tions. It is in­her­ent in mil­i­tary rule to weaken other in­sti­tu­tions. To le­git­imize them­selves, mil­i­tary rulers pro­mote a com­pli­ant ju­di­ciary, cul­ti­vate se­lec­tively self­seek­ing politi­cians and try to cre­ate a façade of democ­racy. This stunts gen­uine po­lit­i­cal par­ties and de­vel­ops a highly ad­ver­sar­ial re­la­tion with them. Due to its dom­i­nant power, many as­pects of na­tional pol­icy and so­ci­etal think­ing is shaped by the mil­i­tary.

Ever since par­ti­tion, the ad­ver­sar­ial re­la­tion­ship with In­dia has been a ma­jor con­tribut­ing fac­tor in fur­ther tilt­ing the bal­ance in the mil­i­tary’s fa­vor. Tak­ing ad­van­tage of its geopo­lit­i­cal and strate­gic im­por­tance, Pak­istani lead­ers have dur­ing the Cold War and more re­cently af­ter the events of 9/11, closely aligned the coun­try with the United States to coun­ter­vail In­dia. For U.S. mil­i­tary rulers, this suited their short-term in­ter­ests as they could ma­nip­u­late them and had to deal with only one cen­ter of power as op­posed to sev­eral in a demo­cratic con­fig­u­ra­tion. More­over, U.S. as­sis­tance was mostly di­rected to­ward the mil­i­tary and the per­ceived threat from In­dia si­phoned huge re­sources from within, mak­ing it the most pow­er­ful and de­vel­oped in­sti­tu­tion in the coun­try.

Our ex­pe­ri­ence has been that with ev­ery mil­i­tary coup and each time the cy­cle is re­peated, the re-es­tab­lish­ment of le­git­i­mate rule grows more dif­fi­cult. There is no doubt that the cur­rent gov­ern­ment’s per­for­mance falls far be­low ex­pec­ta­tions but in fair­ness it has to be judged in the light of the chal­lenges that it faces and the long his­tory of mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tions.

The po­lit­i­cal lead­ers can­not be ab­solved for their fail­ures and dis­mal per­for­mance. The cur­rent struc­tural in­ef­fi­cien­cies are a re­sult of pa­tron­age and parent­age pol­i­tics as well as weak in­sti­tu­tions. Elec­tions within po­lit­i­cal par­ties are merely cos­metic and dy­nas­tic pol­i­tics pre­vails. This has to change if democ­racy is to take root. Their au­to­cratic rule, bla­tant un­demo­cratic prac­tices and ab­sence of gov­er­nance cou­pled with fre­quent in­ter­fer­ence from the mil­i­tary hi­er­ar­chy has tram­pled demo­cratic growth. More sig­nif­i­cantly, fail­ure of democ­racy through corruption at the top is a se­ri­ous im­ped­i­ment to­wards gov­er­nance and is clearly pre­vent­ing po­lit­i­cal and so­cial de­vel­op­ment. The peo­ple are not will­ing to ac­cept the self­ish and er­ratic de­ci­sions of the power of civil­ian or mil­i­tary elite. For cor­rect­ing this weak­ness, politi­cians need to de­velop a ro­bust par­lia­ment with ef­fec­tive com­mit­tees, sup­port for­ma­tion of an in­de­pen­dent ju­di­ciary, a strong elec­tion com­mis­sion and an ef­fec­tive Au­di­tor Gen­eral. They also have to de­velop a ca­pac­ity to gov­ern and be able to for­mu­late na­tional poli­cies and not leave it to the army to take ma­jor de­ci­sions on for­eign and de­fense is­sues. It would be a folly on the part of the po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary lead­ers to al­low an un­even civil-mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship to pre­vail. Democ­racy fails to grow in an en­vi­ron­ment where there is dis­e­qui­lib­rium be­tween the civil and mil­i­tary power and where civil and mil­i­tary gov­ern­ments al­ter­nate. Democ­racy does not nec­es­sar­ily lead to good gov­er­nance but due process of checks and bal­ances and strength­en­ing of in­sti­tu­tions that are in­her­ent in any demo­cratic sys­tem should lead to per­for­mance le­git­i­macy as well.

The 18th Amend­ment has re­moved some of the se­ri­ous draw­backs of con­cen­tra­tion of power. There is now greater scope for devo­lu­tion of power and re­sources to the prov­inces and this should lead to im­prove­ment in the qual­ity of gov­er­nance in the longer term. Be­sides, with an in­de­pen­dent ju­di­ciary, ro­bust me­dia and grow­ing civil so­ci­ety, new cen­ters of power have emerged cre­at­ing a healthy dy­namic of ad­di­tional checks and bal­ances. In prac­tice, how­ever, Pres­i­dent Zar­dari by virtue of hold­ing the two posts of Pres­i­dent and party Chair­man re­tains enor­mous power. This aber­ra­tion hope­fully is only a tran­si­tional phe­nom­e­non.

The demo­cratic wave that is sweep­ing across the Mid­dle East is a stark re­minder that mil­i­tary or au­to­cratic rule will not be tol­er­ated by the peo­ple nor will they ac­cept cor­rupt and in­ef­fi­cient civil­ian rulers.

Time is long over­due for Pak­istan’s po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment to stand back and learn from re­peated ex­pe­ri­ence of fail­ures. The po­lit­i­cal class can­not con­tinue to over­look its short­com­ings and has to pro­vide bet­ter gov­er­nance. The mil­i­tary must get back to its pri­mary role of pro­vid­ing na­tional se­cu­rity. Our cur­rent sit­u­a­tion has be­come so dire that there is no time to lose. Talat Masood is a re­tired Lieu­tenant Gen­eral of the Pak­istan Army Corps of En­gi­neers. Lt.Gen­eral Masood holds a Mas­ters in De­fense and Strate­gic Stud­ies, and has also served as a vis­it­ing fel­low at the Stim­son Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. He was a con­sul­tant for the lead­ing U.S. de­fense man­u­fac­turer United De­fense Lim­ited Part­ner­ship (UDLP) for five years. He cur­rently writes on na­tional se­cu­rity, weapons pro­lif­er­a­tion and has been cov­er­ing the nu­clear pro­gram of Pak­istan and In­dia.

A long his­tory of mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tions

has stilted Pak­istan’s democ­racy.

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