Thou shouldst not decide until thou hast heard what both have to say.”
Democracy in Pakistan has, undoubtedly, remained under threat from those who do not believe in the people’s will.
For a change, it now appears that it will survive mainly because the politicians, for once, seem to be united in their resolve to protect it. On their part, members of the superior judiciary have also made it clear that they will do their best to save it in case the democratically-elected government is threatened by the ruthlessness of traitors and adventurers.
While some maintain that the PPP-led government failed to live up to the people’s expectations and no effort has been made to alleviate the sufferings of the poor, the argument that this is the only option in case Pakistan has to ‘move on’ in the comity of nations holds water.
The first sign that democracy has, indeed, taken root in the country comes after the nomination of the Chief Election Commissioner, Fakhruddin G. Ibrahim, who was endorsed by all major political parties, since he is expected to conduct free and fair elections after the government completes its tenure.
So, when Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf invited the opposition parties to hold talks with the government about the procedure for conducting transparent elections, it came as no surprise. Luck seems to be on his side, as he has ensured that Pakistan’s state institutions maintain democracy and has also successfully reached an agreement with the US on the reopening of Nato routes to Afghanistan.
On the reopening of Nato routes, the government’s detractors have tried to create an impression as if the US ‘apology’ over the Salala incident in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed was nothing more than a lollipop. For such people, the sensitive issue should have been resolved on the streets. Whereas, for saner elements, the decision to negotiate with Washington was a prudent move that would, perhaps, serve Pakistan and USA’s long-term interests.
Anyway, while a substantial amount is to be released by the American administration that will help support Pakistan’s economy, yet Islamabad must ensure that it will honour its commitments after the US-Nato troops leave Afghanistan.
Coming back to the issue of fair elections, it would be in the fitness of things if the opposition grabs the opportunity, provided by the Prime Minister, to negotiate with the government, so that the polls are conducted in a transparent manner, ensuring a smooth transition of power.
Prime Minister Raja also brushed aside speculations that there is a clash between the executive and the judiciary. He assured the people that any effort to destabilise the political setup would be resisted, since democracy is the only option for the country’s survival.
Nonetheless, some politicians have been arguing that there is a serious threat to democracy. Among them are JUI-F Chief Maulana Fazalur Rehman and PTI Chairman Imran Khan. At the same time, PML-N Quaid Mian Nawaz Sharif has been soliciting support against certain laws that have been enacted by Parliament. One hopes that all these misgivings turn out to be without much foundation and that transition from this government to the next would be not only smooth, but also have the support of major political parties after the elections.
Prime Minister Raja and his party, however, will have to “do more”, if they hope to win the next general elections. The performance of Gilani’s administration remained wanting on various counts and there was always a disconnect between him and the people. During his tenure, both the federal and provincial governments had been indifferent to the pressing issues faced by the masses; the problems of rising prices and unemployment remained unresolved that today has completely alienated people not just from the political parties, but some have lost faith in democracy. While time is running out and general elections are drawing near, one wonders as to how they will win back the people’s support; an essential ingredient if democracy is to flourish in Pakistan.
One hopes that Parliament, political parties, judiciary and, above all, the armed forces will play a positive role, so that speculations about the threat to democracy prove mere wishful thinking. In case Parliament or the political parties fail to do so, it should be left to the people to decide about their fate through the ballot and no extra-constitution act should be allowed because it will be disastrous for the state.
It is expected that the political forces will show maturity, as was demonstrated by them in the nomination of the Chief Election Commissioner. And that they will not provide an opportunity to the undemocratic forces to creep back into the corridors of power.
n The writer has been associated with various newspapers as editor and columnist. At present, he hosts a political programme on Pakistan Television.