Legacy of dictators and cronies in Pakistan

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By Dr. Ikramul Haque

Why is it so difficult to undo the legacy of dictators in Pakistan, even after clear mandates of people given through elections? Why every time in history, after getting rid of a military dictator, we continue to face a civilian authoritarian ruler, who behaves in the same disgusting manner, desiring ‘total’ control over all institutions of the State. These questions need to be debated for finding appropriate answers – Political impasse: issues and solutions, Business Recorder, March 3, 2009
In 1992, The Herald (Karachi), while interviewing the great intellectual, Edward W. Said, asked him: “Why we continue to turn to the Zias of the world”. Professor Said candidly replied that “so long those rule us believe in might is right”. He said, “(This) phenomenon in the global politics is reflective of the desire of the imperialists that want perpetuation of their control through handpicked cronies and lackeys in different countries”. In 2017, after 18 years of Musharraf’s coup and 40 years of that of Zia, we are still faced with the challenge of undoing their legacies. Many say that control in Pakistan still remains with the mighty, and only the form has changed – it is now ‘tacit’ rather than ‘explicit’.

Military dictators Gen Ayub Khan, Gen Yahya Khan, Gen Zia-ul-Haq and Gen Pervez Musharraf who ruled Pakistan and rooted out democracy. But politicians who are considered as symbol and champion of democracy also can’t be ruled out from responsibility of damaging democratic process.

This explains why it is so difficult to undo the legacy of dictators in countries like Pakistan, even after the clear mandate of people, through elections. Those possessing power through votes also dispossess the masses of their participation and yield before the powerful unrepresentative forces. Since the bizarre episodes of July 5, 1977 and October 12, 1999, there has always been a struggle between the different organs of state to display their muscles and supremacy. Control and running of state through force has failed to solve basic problems. Deprivation of masses cannot be removed through judicial activism or unrepresentative rule. Historians are bewildered as day-by-day Pakistan is wrangling with unnecessary political and legal shenanigans. Elected leaders have no desire to undo the legacies of destroyed public institutions at the hands of Zia and Musharraf. Rebuilding and strengthening of institutions and keeping rule of law supreme is the responsibility of parliamentarians but whether in power or in opposition, they have no inclination to do so. Ayub, Yahya, Zia and Musharraf posed themselves as messiahs but destroyed the national cohesion. Unfortunately, the performance of political parties in power since 2008 is equally appalling in the realm of providing social justice and good governance.
In the wake of elections in February 2008, the people thought there would be economic and social justice under a democratic rule, but in March 2013, things changed for the worse on completion of first-ever much-trumpeted five-year-completion-civilian-era. The same is the story of the present government since 2013. Nearly 60 million Pakistanis are living below the poverty line. The word ‘prosperity’ has lost its meaning for the lower middle classes. The poor are getting poorer while the rich are enjoying all the luxuries. Colossal wastage and plundering of public funds, borrowed money and taxes collected from the poor are playing havoc with economy as well as tearing apart the socio-economic fabric of the society. Behind the present chaotic socio-economic and political situation in Pakistan, amongst other factors, is perpetuation of unholy alliance of ruling elites – militro-judicial-civil complex and politicians – against the masses. Aristotle in The Politics observed “when laws do not rule, there is no constitution” – this applies most aptly to our political and constitutional history. Our military and civilian rulers have always acted similarly in violating all established norms of rule of law. Every ruler has mutilated the constitution to suit his/her needs and to perpetuate dictatorial regime under one pretext or the other. The role of judiciary in endorsing these unconstitutional rules has been the most lamentable chapter of our history. Musharraf, in his book In the Line of Fire, portrayed himself a great saviour of the nation, whereas the reality was that under his despotic rule, with the support and connivance of USA and its allies, the poor and helpless people of this country were deprived of their fundamental rights of access to free health, educational facilities and dispensation of justice. Salvation lies in constitutionalism. The constitution of a country being a living and vibrant document determines the future direction of the nation, provided there is respect for the document and for rule of law. In a country where a single person (Musharraf) was authorised by the Supreme Court to amend the supreme law of the land, there can neither be democracy nor constitution and this legacy continues unabated. The main cause of our present day pathetic socio-political and economic situation is existence of inefficient, corrupt, repressive and criminal institutions, which do not give a damn to the welfare of the common people. Successive governments’ policies of self-aggrandisement have reduced Pakistan to a state-in-perpetual-conflict. The worsening economic situation with rise of militancy testifies to the fact that progress and tranquility cannot be achieved by merely toeing the policies of aggressors and oppressors.
Responsible government and sustainable democracy cannot be established unless masses are empowered through local governments as provided in Article 140-A of the Constitution. Ruling elites exploit the masses financially, and the so-called intellectuals use the ‘myth of people power’ for their catharsis. Political parties need the public only for electioneering to grab power. Nobody has any concrete agenda for a people’s rule and prosperity for all. Unless such an agenda is prepared and implemented, the present chaotic state of affairs would continue to persist without ending the legacy of despotic rulers.
(The writer is Advocate Supreme Court and Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). Email: ikram@huzaimaikram.com; Twitter: @drikramulhaq)