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