What Next?

Will a demo­cratic setup steer Pak­istan to pros­per­ity or is the mil­i­tary nec­es­sary for the ef­fec­tive work­ing of the state?

Southasia - - Contents - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

T here is no (fur­ther) hur­dle in the way. The last one, a money-laun­der­ing case in a Swiss court against Pres­i­dent Zar­dari that threat­ened to deny the government its full term, has been suc­cess­fully crossed. The only col­lat­eral dam­age was Yusuf Raza Gi­lani.

The leg­is­la­tures were wound up by March 16. The government and op­po­si­tion po­lit­i­cal par­ties had some is­sues sort­ing out the names of el­i­gi­ble can­di­dates for a con­sen­sus care­taker prime min­is­ter. Mean­while, the Chief Elec­tion Com­mis­sioner, Fakhrud­din G. Ibrahim went ahead with prepa­ra­tions and ar­range­ments for hold­ing the elec­tions.

There is a per­va­sive sense of sat­is­fac­tion as signs look pro­pi­tious for democ­racy to be es­tab- lished in Pak­istan. No­body holds grudges against giv­ing a per­cent­age cut if the other party de­liv­ers full mea­sure. The peo­ple there­fore have de­cided to ig­nore the weak­nesses of Pres­i­dent Asif Ali Zar­dari, in re­turn for giv­ing them five, full years of democ­racy for the first time in the sixty-five eventful (and woe­ful) years of the coun­try’s his­tory. It was by no means any easy sail­ing in the peren­ni­ally choppy wa­ters of Pak­istan’s pol­i­tics. But Zar­dari demon­strated re­mark­able po­lit­i­cal acu­men by cob­bling a coali­tion of di­verse el­e­ments, of­ten with con­flict­ing view­points, such as the ANP and MQM. At the same time he clev­erly ex­ploited Nawaz Sharif’s mor­tal fear of mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion to cool his fire.

This unique moment in Pak­istan’s his­tory, how­ever, calls for a quick look back over the years spent in the quest for democ­racy.

The founder, a great con­sti­tu­tion­al­ist, did not live long enough to see the sapling of democ­racy take firm root dur­ing his life­time. In con­se­quence, when he de­part- ed, things were chaotic. Li­aquat Ali Khan made a fee­ble at­tempt to sus­tain democ­racy but the an­tidemoc­racy forces ar­rayed against him were too strong for him to sub­due. So he paid for his au­dac­ity with his life.

For the West Pak­istani feu­dal elite, democ­racy was a bug­bear. They had never known democ­racy. It clipped their wings. It im­pinged upon their free­dom to do with their serfs as they wished. In sum, democ­racy was con­trary to their po­lit­i­cal cul­ture. East Pak­ista­nis were dif­fer­ent. They knew democ­racy. So they would not en­ter into any back-hand deal that might de­rail democ­racy.

In­trigues be­gan im­me­di­ately af­ter Mr. Jin­nah’s demise. Pak­istan be­came a wrestling arena for power-seek­ers. Thus, Ghu­lam Mo­ham­mad who had no cre­den­tials for the job be­came gov­er­nor-gen­eral. He dis­missed Prime Min­is­ter Kh­waja Niza­mud­din be­cause, be­ing used to demo­cratic prac­tice as chief min­is­ter of pre-par­ti­tion Ben­gal, the lat­ter had tried to re­strict the gov­er­nor-gen­eral’s ar­bi­trary pow­ers. But, worse, the Supreme Court, un­der Chief Jus­tice Munir, up­held the mur­der of democ­racy by Ghu­lam Mo­ham­mad.

Far from any democ­racy, there was not even a con­sti­tu­tion.

Whereas In­dia and later, Bangladesh, gave them­selves a con­sti­tu­tion within a year of in­de­pen­dence, Pak­istan fum­bled for about eight years un­til 1956 to have one. Whereas other coun­tries stick to one con­sti­tu­tion and in­sert amend­ments into it as cir­cum­stances dic­tate, Pak­istan has had three con­sti­tu­tions in 65 years. The 1956 con­sti­tu­tion was the first. In 1962 Pres­i­dent Ayub Khan gave the sec­ond con­sti­tu­tion. The last, badly bat­tered yet still work­ing con­sti­tu­tion was pro­mul­gated in 1973.

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