Broadening shadows

It is not for the first time that democracy in Pakistan looks moribund. This has happened before on several occasions, notably when the army moved in to take direct control of the state power by launching at least four direct military coups in the last seventy years. Under martial laws, democracy appeared to be totally dead. But every time it has risen from the ashes, because as a new country Pakistan’s very survival depends on democracy. This fact was decisively proven in 1971 when the country disintegrated after refusal to transfer power to the political party which had won absolute majority in the general elections held in 1970. Subsequently even military dictators had to pretend to be ‘champions’ of democracy by going for a democratic facade.

But after the 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2010, that strengthened Article 6 against abrogation and suspension of the Constitution, direct military take over looked to be extremely difficult, if not impossible.

In recent years, a few bureaucrats (who dared to stand by the elected government) have been chosen to be made examples of. Judges in judiciary, with very few noble exceptions, have been well known for following the notorious “doctrine of necessity “ for upholding military coups. They got rid of the elected Prime Minister by disqualifying him/her on questionable legal grounds and they could get away with it as there is no court above the Apex Court of the country. In 2012 PM Yosuf Raza Gilani was disqualified and sacked from the office by the Supreme Court. Since then it has become a pattern. Nawaz Sharif faced the same legal axe in 2018, when the goal of dislodging him by prolonged scripted sit ins in Islamabad in 2014 could not be achieved. A most daring and scathing indictment of the security agencies for interfering in judiciary emerged this week when Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, a senior judge of the Islamabad High Court accused “the mighty agencies” of disrupting “the fibre of the country by establishing (a) state over the state of Pakistan”. Most revealing are the following excerpts from the written order of Justice Siddiqui published in newspapers about the micro management of judicial proceedings; “I must observe that persons (at) the helm of affairs of all institutions need to protect (their) hard earned independence and take remedial steps to stop the invasion by (the) personals of (a) particular institution and intelligence agencies”. Accusing the spy agencies of interfering in affairs of the third pillar of the state, Justice Siddiqui wrote, “Every one knows proceedings are manipulated, from where strings are pulled and when power is wielded and manoeuvred to achieve the desired results”. He went on to say, “It’s a matter of great concern that even benches are constituted and cases are marked to different benches on the direction of the same elements”.

Parliament has been demonised by a systematic propaganda campaign through the controlled electronic media and embedded journalists during the last so many years. Parliamentarians as a whole were dubbed as thieves, smugglers, and fake degree holders. Senate of Pakistan (particularly under the Chairmanship of Mian Raza Rabbani) tried to assert itself in parliamentary oversight of the executive branch of the state as a whole. It even dared to suggest legislation for bringing the functioning of the intelligence agencies of the army under law. Such was the resulting wrath that in the recent Senate election, the gift of Mr Sanjrani as Senate Chairman was given. The PML (N) led provincial government in Balochistan was overthrown by launching a parliamentary coup in November 2017 and “independent “ group was strengthened to an extent where it could elect its own Chairman of the Senate despite the presence of political parties in the House.

By sending Nawaz Sharif and Mariam Nawaz to prison through skewed judicial processes and by herding ‘electables’ candidates into PTI along with manipulating media, it appears we are set to repeat the performance of the Senate elections in general election 2018. But the political engineering has produced the following serious challenges that are not easily surmountable. One, the large scale pre poll manoeuvring has made the election controversial even before it is held. The damage has already reached a level where it’s beyond damage control. By outsourcing the electoral procedures the Election Commission has seriously undermined its own credibility. Two, by courageously returning to face imprisonment, Nawaz Sharif and Mariam Nawaz have turned tables on the putschists. Nawaz Sharif has once again acquired a pivotal role in the country’s politics, something dreaded by the deep state. Nawaz Sharif’s slogan of ‘respect the vote’ has brought the issue of who will rule the country to the political core. People of Pakistan in general and people of Punjab in particular seem to be done with efforts to destabilise elected governments. Three, unlike the situation a few weeks back when PML (N) was all alone in complaining against the political engineering of the deep state, PPP and the Pashtun and Baloch nationalists have also raised concerns about the denial of level playing field to them, opening prospects for post elections united democratic front. Four, ‘mainstreaming‘ of religious militants/suspected terrorists during the electoral process for saving them against any future state action has aroused deep concern at home and abroad. Five, last but not the least, the people of the country have discovered dynamic young political leaders in Mariam Nawaz, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Manzoor Pashteen. There is hardly any hope for ‘change’ through GE 2018 on July 25. The real change will come through a post election determined democratic struggle for achieving the sovereign right of the people to govern themselves after decisively defeating authoritarianism.


The writer is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs.

Afrasiab Khattak is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs

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