Several recent political events in the ever antagonistic, crisis-ridden landscape of Pakistani politics, mostly during so-called democratic, civilian rule, have proven beyond a doubt that Pakistan’s army is the most sacrosanct national institution for the majority of this nation’s awaam. Come what may, notwithstanding the endless emotional and symbolic rhetoric in praise of democracy and civilian political-economic ownership of this country, the awaam, the common folks on the street, will always stand behind the army. It is a love affair that has persisted ever since the nation came into being. The question is whether it is simply a state of public magnanimity towards the army or a psychological conditioning conceived in some kind of historical hero-worship of Muslim warriors fighting for the glory of Islam? As the present guardians of Pakistan’s sovereignty and continued existence, have the armed forces filled this figurative role?
My personal considered opinion on the matter is as follows: Indeed, there might be some deep public emotional attachment to the image of the uniformed Jawaan sworn to the Salamati (safety, security, wellbeing) of this nation and its ideological parameters. And yet, there are deeper, more significant socio-economic and political reasons for the persistence of these feelings in the public temperament and disposition.
First and foremost is the fact that successive civilian regimes have blatantly violated their public mandates with absolute political contradictions, with the violations of democratic norms and principles, and total disregard for the greater public welfare. In this country, democracy has been a mere “game plan” to acquire civilian political-economic ownership of the state by a select few to promote vested-interests, organize oligarchic political management structures, and collaborate with powerful foreign actors and governments to help keep them (the so called democratic outfits) in power.
Consequently, the fundamental necessity of implementing true democratic governance has been totally ignored by civilian elected regimes. Take for example, the present day democratic dispensation in Pakistan. It is ironic that there is no parliamentary or government initiated debate on the management of the economy based on alternate economic models to enhance general public welfare, or to deal with the ever-increasing income inequalities on a national level, the vicissitudes of societal disintegration and disharmony caused by massive socio-economic disparity and the resultant chaos faced by the nation.
Tragically, Pakistan’s economic development models, present and past, have been virtually backwards, irrelevant to the socio-economic conditions and ground realities that this nation faces with no economic reform model in sight to provide relief to the general public. Poverty has increased and so has the growing public discontent with democratic regimes and the credibility of its leadership. The awaam considers the democratic leadership apathetic to the fundamental issues of its daily existence, and in fact believes that its present day conditions are the direct result of the so-called democratic leadership’s incompetence, inefficiency, mismanagement and pursuance of vested-interest economic and political agendas.
In the last six years of the so-called democratic dispensation (both the PPP and PMLN have remained steadfastly committed to oligarchic political structures) the right wing status-quo forces have maintained a non-egalitarian, non-efficacious political posture as well as a stagnant mindset towards Pakistan’s economic needs, dominating the entire political spectrum with an unbending rightist approach to economic development. Consequently, instead of going forward, the civilian leadership of the few has been going backwards. Political-economic “ownership” of the state by the vested-interests leadership has turned Pakistan’s democracy into a business enterprise laying siege on national development and depriving the common citizens of their legitimate democratic rights to a just and egalitarian society. The awaam feels justifiably cheated as well as violated by its chosen national leadership. The fact of the matter is that powerful people generally try to impose their version of the “truth” on less powerful people, and that is exactly what the so-called democratic civilian leadership has been doing, relentlessly.
The paradigm of errors, flawed political judgments and the lack of political economic vision of the civilian leadership is that they relentlessly tell the awaam that our democratic system is doing just fine and proceeding on its eternal course towards ever-greater democratic progress for all. However, ground realities are quite the opposite: the fact of the matter is that the present-day democratic system is less than effective to resolve national problematics. It has entered into a phase of political deterioration, and yet the political leadership congratulates itself with exaggerated egotism. Things cannot go on this way for very long.
What the Pakistani awaam wants is some kind of subtle discipline in its existence, a clarity of purpose and objectives for its democratic regimes, a visible and effective strategy to deal with its fundamental existential issues, a plain roadmap to achieve an egalitarian and just society, peace and stability in their country, happiness in their family lives, respect for their ideological views, mutual tolerance of each other and so on and so forth. Needless to say, the Pakistani awaam is in search of a nationalist, honest, dedicated leadership that exists only to serve the country and its people. By and large, Pakistanis are simple folk - they are interested in simple, straightforward solutions to their problems.
No wonder then that the awaam in today’s Pakistan believes that societal discipline, clarity of national purpose, straightforwardness of strategy and plain talk are what Pakistan’s armed forces can contribute to much-needed political reform in the nascent democracy of this nation.
The writer is UAE-based academic, policy analyst, conflict resolution expert and author of several books on Pakistan and foreign policy issues. He holds a doctorate and a masters degree from Columbia University in New York.