Rule of the Peo­ple

Democ­racy is pro­gress­ing across South Asia in dif­fer­ent forms. It is suc­cess­ful in some parts and not so suc­cess­ful in oth­ers. Is there a com­mon for­mula?

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Muham­mad Ali Ehsan

Un­less we com­pare we can­not dif­fer­en­ti­ate. Com­par­ing the suc­cess of democ­racy and what it means and brings to the lives of the peo­ple living in the de­vel­oped world is a cause of op­ti­mism for the peo­ple in the third world. But is democ­racy and its con­ti­nu­ity bring­ing re­wards and benefits in the lives of the peo­ple of South Asia? Dwarfed by In­dia, the largest democ­racy in the world, Pak­istan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Bangladesh are coun­tries that are yet to over­come their tur­bu­lent demo­cratic his­tory and ap­pear on the re­gional map as truly suc­cess­ful and func­tional democ­ra­cies.

It’s not all bad news for democ­racy in South Asia. Peo­ple still con­tinue to send their choice rep­re­sen­ta­tives to the leg­isla­tive as­sem­blies and even bal­lot them out when they don’t de­liver. The re­cently held elec­tions in Sri Lanka and the State of Delhi in In­dia prove that even when the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship rides the high tide of pop­u­lar­ity it can still be stunned by the will of the peo­ple. And as long as the will of the peo­ple is al­lowed to sur­face there is hope not only for the con­ti­nu­ity of democ­racy but what it prom­ises to de­liver to the peo­ple of South Asia.

Sri Lanka - Ra­japakse, the for­mer Sri Lankan Pres­i­dent, be­came a folk hero when he led his coun­try in its fight against ter­ror­ism. The Lib­er­a­tion Tigers of Tamil Ee­lam (LTTE) was a move­ment the Tamils had cre­ated for their self­de­ter­mi­na­tion. LTTE re­mained a ma­jor fac­tor in Sri Lankan pol­i­tics. Both as an or­ga­ni­za­tion that was po­lit­i­cally strong and as a mil­i­tary power that chal­lenged the writ of the gov­ern­ment, the LTTE ran a de facto ad­min­is­tra­tion in the ma­jor­ity of ar­eas in north-eastern Sri Lanka which is the his­tor­i­cal home¬land of all the Tamil-speak­ing peo­ple. LTTE also con­tin­ued to fight a guer­rilla war un­der the lead­er­ship of Velupil­lai Pi­ra­pa­ha­ran. For 32 years, the LTTE chal­lenged the author­ity of the Sri Lankan Army. How­ever, un­der Pres­i­dent Ra­japakse the army, af­ter 26 years of civil war, in May 2009 fi­nally de­feated the LTTE and thus fi­nally put an end to the wave of un­abated ter­ror­ism to which the peo­ple were ex­posed. This made Ra­japakse a hugely popular leader. His achieve­ment was aptly de­scribed by the Wall Street Jour­nal which wrote in its ed­i­to­rial com­ment that, ‘for all those who ar­gue that there is no mil­i­tary so­lu­tion for ter­ror­ism, we have two words: Sri Lanka’. Why then did a popular fig­ure like Ra­japakse lose the re­cent elec­tions?

In­dia - In In­dia no­body could pre­dict that the BJP would be routed

in the Delhi state elec­tions just nine months af­ter its stunning victory in the Lok Sabha elec­tions. It man­aged to get just 3 seats in a 70 mem­ber house. The Aam Admi Party grabbed 67 seats while Congress got none. The em­bar­rass­ing de­feat forced many an­a­lysts to ques­tion BJP’s rise to power.

There is a strik­ing sim­i­lar­ity in how two im­mensely popular lead­ers, one in Sri Lanka and the other in In­dia, en­coun­tered un­ex­pected elec­toral de­feats within a space of one month. As much as Ra­japakse failed to read the mood of the Sri Lankan peo­ple, Modi also failed to sense the mood of the 15 mil­lion con­stituents of Delhi.

In­ter­est­ingly, this was the first elec­tion that Modi has lost since win­ning in Gu­jarat in 2002. Un­will­ing to for­get the Ay­o­d­hya story, a large num­ber of Mus­lims in In­dia con­tinue to con­sider him as the ‘Hitler of Gu­jrat’.

The big ques­tion that haunts Naren­dra Modi is ‘Did he, act­ing as the chief min­is­ter of Gu­jrat ac­tu­ally, fail to rein in the communal vi­o­lence that erupted af­ter the burning of the Sabar­mati Ex­press in 2002 in which over 2000 peo­ple - mostly Mus­lims died?’ In his own words he says ‘I feel sad about what hap­pened but no guilt. No court has come close to es­tab­lish it. ‘Ei­ther you could stay or you could be in power’. In Gu­jrat, Modi did not stay but was in power.

In­dia is a huge coun­try and be­ing a Chief Min­is­ter of a State and be­ing the Prime Min­is­ter of the whole of In­dia are two dif­fer­ent things. A new po­lit­i­cal era had al­ready be­gun in In­dia even be­fore Modi took over as PM – an era in which the lo­cal lead­ers were at­tend­ing to lo­cal is­sues and get­ting lo­cal credit.

The elec­toral de­feat that Modi and his party suf­fered in Delhi has ev­ery­thing to do with lo­cal pol­i­tics. Elec­tions in an­other north­ern key­note state of Bi­har are due in Novem­ber 2015. Ram­pant cor­rup­tion and poverty al­le­vi­a­tion are the im­me­di­ate is­sues of con­cern there, Modi may wear a very ex­pen­sive suit to wel­come Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and prom­ise In­dia an industrial revo­lu­tion but un­less the lo­cal BJP lead­ers don’t strike a chord and win the trust of the peo­ple, BJP as a party may con­tinue to be sur­prised in any fu­ture state elec­tions. If peo­ple of Sri Lanka are to­day as­pir­ing for true democ­racy, the ex­pec­ta­tions of peo­ple in In­dia have reached the next level – ‘ a suc­cess­ful and func­tional democ­racy that should just not prom­ise but de­liver also’.

Pak­istan - Democ­racy in Pak­istan to­day can best be viewed through the prism of civil-mil­i­tary re­la­tions and how bal­ance is main­tained in man­ag­ing this re­la­tion­ship. If any­thing the Pe­shawar tragedy has raised na­tional op­ti­mism. From that tragic mo­ment of gloom and de­spair, ‘mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal col­lec­tivism’ is to­day lead­ing the mood of the na­tion and the na­tional re­solve to fight ter­ror­ism ex­pe­di­tiously and on fast-track ba­sis. Im­ple­men­ta­tion of the NAP (Na­tional Ac­tion Plan) to counter ter­ror­ism is un­der­way. How­ever, the big­gest casualty in the process of its im­ple­men­ta­tion is likely to be the lack of civil­ian con­trol over the mil­i­tary which is likely to move the coun­try fur­ther and away from the de­sired end point – ‘demo­cratic and civil­ian supremacy in Pak­istan’.

Un­for­tu­nately the Nawaz Sharif led civil­ian gov­ern­ment has felt short of mak­ing the right moves for ini­ti­at­ing the in­sti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of civil­ian con­trol over the mil­i­tary. Fac­tors that have con­trib­uted to lack of such con­trol in­clude; ini­ti­at­ing Gen­eral Mushar­raf’s trial, the tim­ing of which was not suit­able, es­pe­cially when the civilmil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship was un­der­go­ing a trans­for­ma­tion and in a state of re­pair and build up; al­low­ing Im­ran Khan to build up public pres­sure through his dharna and the ac­com­pa­ny­ing suc­cess­ful ral­lies in the ma­jor cities of the coun­try; the in­abil­ity of Nawaz Sharif to tie a per­sonal po­lit­i­cal chord with the Modi-led BJP gov­ern­ment in In­dia and thus fail­ing to im­prove re­la­tions with In­dia; fail­ure of Nawaz Sharif’s gov­ern­ment’s min­istry of in­for­ma­tion to cre­ate any im­pact of civil­ian supremacy in run­ning the af­fairs of the gov­ern­ment and in­stead al­low­ing the ISPR to emerge as an ef­fec­tive tool of com­mu­ni­ca­tion in ex­press­ing and high­light­ing the mil­i­tary’s achieve­ments. Now a vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple in Pak­istan con­sider that Zarbe-Azab is a mil­i­tary dic­tated op­er­a­tion with the civil­ian gov­ern­ment forced to come on board af­ter the mil­i­tary gave crammed it for choice; al­low­ing the United States to con­tinue to deal di­rectly with Pak­istan’s mil­i­tary lead­er­ship in­stead of deal­ing through the civil­ian gov­ern­ment and, lastly, do­ing al­most noth­ing about the ISI, the pro­moter and ex­ecu­tor of ‘ the con­cept of strate­gic depth.’ It con­tin­ues to re­main a pow­er­ful ac­tor com­mit­ted and an­swer­able to the mil­i­tary com­mand first and later to the civil­ian gov­ern­ment.

Nawaz Sharif’s fail­ure to rec­on­cile or bring about any ma­jor change in th­ese ar­eas has ac­tu­ally led to the tilt of the bal­ance in fa­vor of the mil­i­tary. Raza Rab­bani ( now Chair­man, Se­nate) has spo­ken about how the estab­lish­ment of mil­i­tary courts will lead to ‘great mis­car­riage of jus­tice’ and how they have ‘dif­fer­ent stan­dards of proof.’

Afghanistan -A na­tional unity gov­ern­ment is in place in Afghanistan. Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani and CEO Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah jointly lead this gov­ern­ment af­ter they agreed on power shar­ing in Septem­ber 2014. Marred by a his­tory of eth­nic ten­sions and vi­o­lence, Afghans face huge fi­nan­cial, so­cial and se­cu­rity chal­lenges to the demo­cratic or­der it is try­ing to es­tab­lish in the coun­try. But the good news for democ­racy and its pro­gres­sion in Afghanistan is that the na­tional unity gov­ern­ment is mak­ing all the right moves since it has come in power. It de­layed the an­nounce­ment of the 19 mem­ber cabi­net but crit­ics agree that al­most all the se­lected mem­bers are of sound po­lit­i­cal and moral stand­ing. The warm­ing up of the re­la­tions with Pak­istan is also a good omen as this will en­sure im­proved cross bor­der and in­ter­nal se­cu­rity which is ex­tremely es­sen­tial for long term func­tional, last­ing and sus­tain­able democ­racy in the coun­try.

Bangladesh – Demo­cratic pro­gres­sion in Bangladesh fol­lows a sim­i­lar trend as that in Pak­istan. Rigged elec­tions, mil­i­tary coups, po­lit­i­cal as­sas­si­na­tions, po­lit­i­cal lead­ers cash­ing the tragic deaths of their fam­ily mem­bers to ride the sym­pa­thy wave and win­ning elec­tions, dic­ta­tors re­sort­ing to con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments to con­sol­i­date and ex­pand their po­lit­i­cal base and Is­lamiza­tion of pol­i­tics. Bangladesh also has a madras­sah sys­tem funded by Saudi and mid­dle eastern coun­tries with over 19,000 madras­sahs op­er­at­ing in the coun­try with over 10 mil­lion stu­dents en­rolled in them.

The rul­ing Awami League walked over the Jan­uary 2014 elec­tions when the op­po­si­tion boy­cotted them, al­leg­ing rig­ging. Since 1996, a care­taker gov­ern­ment had been over­see­ing elec­tions in the coun­try and Awami League's re­fusal to do that in 2014 fu­eled the al­ready trou­bled democ­racy. The In­ter­na­tional Crimes Tri­bunal (ITC) that Sheikh Hasina es­tab­lished to pros­e­cute the war crim­i­nals of 1971 war has so far handed death sen­tences to 17 per­sons be­long­ing to Ja­maat-e-Is­lami. The op­po­si­tion party BNP to­gether with Ja­maat-e-Is­lami is tak­ing to streets and in the en­su­ing vi­o­lence hun­dreds of peo­ple have so far died. Democ­racy in the coun­try is on the brink. Un­less there is a gen­uine po­lit­i­cal com­pro­mise, Bangladesh will con­tinue to ex­pe­ri­ence vi­o­lence and dis­or­der in­stead of a demo­cratic or­der that it de­serves. The writer is a re­tired lieu­tenant colonel of the Pak­istan Army. He is cur­rently pur­su­ing a Ph.D in civil-mil­i­tary re­la­tions.

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