In the Name of Democ­racy

As Pak­istan vac­il­lates be­tween mil­i­tary rule and civil­ian government, what end of the spec­trum will it set­tle on?

Southasia - - Cover Story Democracy - By Dr. Moo­nis Ah­mar

Some peo­ple con­sider it a mir­a­cle, oth­ers say it’s a bless­ing in dis­guise and the rest term it as the most painful era in the his­tory of Pak­istan. The com­ple­tion of the fiveyear ten­ure of a civil­ian demo­cratic government in the coun­try, elected as a re­sult of the Fe­bru­ary 2008 elec­tions, is be­ing cel­e­brated. How­ever, sev­eral ques­tions arise re­gard­ing the per­for­mance of the so-called demo­cratic era of Pak­istan. Why is it that in the name of democ­racy, this civil­ian government plunged its peo­ple in a state of eco­nomic hard­ship, ter­ror­ism and ram­pant cor­rup­tion? Should the peo­ple have tol­er­ated all th­ese enor­mous or­deals and the fail­ing sta­tus of their coun­try just for the sake of democ­racy? Can the forth­com­ing elec­tions, if held, bring a qual­i­ta­tive change in the so­cio, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal con­di­tions of the peo­ple or is it ex­pected to worsen the sit­u­a­tion in the days to come?

Out of Pak­istan’s 66-year his­tory, the coun­try has been un­der mil­i­tary and quasi-mil­i­tary rule for around 30 years. The re­main­ing 36 years were gov­erned by civil­ian gov­ern­ments but un­der the shadow of the mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence agen­cies. Even the most pow­er­ful civil­ian government of Z.A. Bhutto failed to curb the mil­i­tary’s in­flu­ence. Fol­low­ing the civil dis­obe­di­ence move­ment, Army Chief of Staff Gen­eral Zia-ulHaq, top­pled Bhutto’s government. The move­ment was launched by the Pak­istan Na­tional Al­liance in re­sponse to the al­leged poll rig­ging of the March 1977 gen­eral elec­tions by the PPP regime.

Post-1972, Pak­istan had the op­por­tu­nity to strengthen civil­ian demo­cratic rule but politi­cians failed to

un­der­stand that while seek­ing le­git­i­macy and credit, it was im­per­a­tive to pro­vide good gov­er­nance, accountability and rule of law. All the civil­ian gov­ern­ments rang­ing from Z. A. Bhttto, to Be­nazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, Yusuf Raza Gi­lani and Pervez Ashraf will be re­mem­bered in his­tory as in­com­pe­tent, cor­rupt, ruth­less, vin­dic­tive, ma­nip­u­la­tive and ap­a­thetic gov­ern­ments. When Pres­i­dent Zar­dari and PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif tout their success in help­ing com­plete five years of a “demo­cratic, civil­ian” government, the peo­ple of Pak­istan have learnt to take it with a pinch of salt. The so-called demo­cratic gov­ern­ments have had five years to de­liver but opin­ion polls il­lus­trate a rise in pub­lic frus­tra­tion and ter­ror­ism thus con­tra­dict­ing po­lit­i­cal claims of success. The rule of law, good gov­er­nance and accountability re­mained a low pri­or­ity for the civil­ian-demo­cratic rulers of Pak­istan. Berlin-based Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional (TI) also is­sued a hefty

report, pro­vid­ing reams of ev­i­dence of mega cor­rup­tion scan­dals within Pak­istan’s cur­rent government struc­ture. The hear­ings and ver­dicts of the Supreme Court in the last four years also speak of vol­umes of cor­rup­tion and nepo­tism on the part of the PPP led government.

Democ­racy has never been fully prac­tised in Pak­istan. Power hun­gry politi­cians have wreaked havoc in state in­sti­tu­tions rang­ing from Water and Power Devel­op­ment Author­ity (WAPDA), Rail­ways, Steel Mills and Pak­istan In­ter­na­tional Air­lines (PIA), all at the ex­pense of the com­mon man. In the last five years, the PPPled government bor­rowed 8 tril­lion ru­pees from dif­fer­ent banks and fi­nan­cial lend­ing in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing the State Bank. For­eign debt, which stood at 36 bil­lion dol­lars in early 2008 is now 60 bil­lion dol­lars. The value of the ru­pee ver­sus US$ which was PKR60 in early 2007, now stands at PKR100. For­eign ex­change re­serves, which should have been on the rise have al­most de­pleted with the State Bank record­ing only $8.7 bil­lion. Cor­rup­tion amount­ing to tril­lions of ru­pees in the last five years has been a source of em­bar­rass­ment and shame for Pak­istan, in­ter­na­tion­ally. Prices of es­sen­tial com­modi­ties have more than dou­bled over the last five years and the pe­ri­odic in­crease in government salaries has sky­rock­eted in­fla­tion. For the first time in the his­tory of Pak­istan, pub­lic sec­tor univer­si­ties are un­able to pay salaries to their em­ploy­ees and teach­ers on time. With such a hope­less per­for­mance of the PPP-led government, does it make sense to take pride in the false no­tion of com­plet­ing the 5 year term of a demo­cratic, civil­ian government?

While the no­tion of democ­racy is con­tested, many com­men­ta­tors in Pak­istan won­der whether given the poor per­for­mance of civil­ian-demo­cratic gov­ern­ments, the peo­ple of Pak­istan were bet­ter off dur­ing mil­i­tary regimes? As com­pared to their civil­ian coun­ter­parts, two crit­i­cal things, which are con­trolled by mil­i­tary regimes, whether un­der Ayub Khan, Zia-ul-Haq or Pervez Mushar­raf, are price con­trol and law and or­der. One can do sta­tis­ti­cal re­search to com­pare the per­for­mance of mil­i­tary and civil­ian regimes in Pak­istan since 1947 till to­day. Mil­i­tary regimes are, how­ever, blamed of deep­en­ing eth­nic and sec­tar­ian con­flicts, sup­press­ing their op­po­nents bru­tally and los­ing wars and ter­ri­to­ries. Pak­istan lost the 1971 war with In­dia when the mil­i­tary was in power. Pak­istan also lost Kargil and Si­achen un­der mil­i­tary rule and the mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment in or­der to neu­tral­ize its po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents, pa­tron­ized eth­nic, sec­tar­ian and ji­hadi groups. In terms of per­for­mance, both civil­ian and mil­i­tary regimes have been un­able to de­liver suc­cess­fully due to struc­tural in­ad­e­qua­cies within the lead­er­ship of Pak­istan.

Four ma­jor rea­sons are re­spon­si­ble for the fail­ure of civil­ian gov­ern­ments in Pak­istan. First is the lack of ed­u­cated, pro­fes­sional, hon­est and en­light­ened politi­cians. Se­condly, po­lit­i­cal traits of greed, power, in­com­pe­tency and op­por­tunism have molded ca­reer diplo­mats who of­ten find them­selves in po­si­tions of power and promptly re­sort to abus­ing the sys­tem. Third, the mil­i­tary has his­tor­i­cally, and con­sciously, re­fused to sup­port po­lit­i­cal plu­ral­ism and demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions thus prevent­ing the in­tro­duc­tion and con­tin­u­a­tion of any co­he­sive po­lit­i­cal frame­work. Fi­nally, the fail­ure of politi­cians to de­velop a cul­ture of tol­er­ance has ripped the so­cial fab­ric of Pak­istan. While one can blame the tribal and feu­dal cul­ture, re­li­gious dog­ma­tism, so­cial back­ward­ness and il­lit­er­acy as ma­jor causes of Pak­istan’s de­te­ri­o­ra­tion into a fail­ing state, it is ac­tu­ally the mind­set of politi­cians which is re­spon­si­ble for be­tray­ing the peo­ple of this great na­tion.

Pak­istan, in view of its se­ri­ous fault lines, can­not af­ford the lux­ury of bad democ­racy. Cer­tainly, par­lia­men­tary democ­racy in its present form has failed in Pak­istan and se­ri­ous ques­tions must be raised re­gard­ing which po­lit­i­cal sys­tem is best suited to its pe­cu­liar so­cio-po­lit­i­cal make-up.

Prime Min­is­ter Raja PervezAshraf with the mem­bers of the Na­tion­alAssem­bly at Par­lia­ment House in Is­lam­abad.

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