Pakistan: Crisis of identity and tragedy of democracy

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By Shahid Dastagir Khan
27th December 2007 and 4th April 1979 shall remain the darkest days in the chequered history of democracy in Pakistan. Indeed two very sad days in the calendar when the lives of two great politicians and leaders (Benazir Bhutto and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto) were mercilessly cut short through assassination and judicial murder respectively.
The Bhuttos were the privileged feudal lords. Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto,Dewan of the princely state of Junagadh enjoyed comfortable, cordial and influential relations with the officials of the British Raj. His son the illustrious, ambitious Zulfikar Ali Bhutto ,Berkeley and Harvard educated and a barrister entered the high office of Foreign Minister in 1963 during General Ayub’s dictatorial rule aged just 35years.
He climbed to political fame and quickly became the most popular leader Pakistan has ever known. He master minded the country ‘s nuclear bomb programme ultimately paying the price for it with his life when General Zia overthrew him in a military coup and ensured his tragic execution using his power and unchallenged influence during the trial process and over the trial judges – a farcical trial which can correctly be described as judicial murder.
Benazir Bhutto the first female Prime Minister of a Muslim state rose to popularity having campaigned fearlessly for democracy despite being dragged into courts during General Zia’s rule and being kept in jail in horrible conditions. Ultimately her struggle paid off when her Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) won the 1988 elections and she was elected as the Prime Minister.
The next two decades saw the rise of hardline extremist outfits and Pakistan faced the danger of being Talibanisedas some of them enjoyed the full support and backing of the military establishment as well as the ruling party of the Sharif brothers, the Pakistan Muslim League. The failed foreign policies of successive governments lacked direction and integrity and were never in the larger national interest resulting in weakening Pakistan’sstanding, international isolation and being dictated by a super power namely USA who wanted a foothold in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Then came 9/11 some two years after General Musharraf’s military coup and the dual policy of toeing the American line on the so called war on terror and at the same time harbouring and facilitating the Taliban and other hard line lashkars, groups and outfits continued which saw the flourishing of hardlinemindset unchecked and unabated, political blackmail by them and loss of some 60,000 precious civilian lives as well as some 6000 military men.
Appeasement of these hardliners continued under the PML(N) government though not under the previous PPP rule. Corruption under both these governments rocketed as did inflation and unemployment and the foreign borrowing has now set new records with the Rupee considerably losing it’s value and the economy taking a severe blow sending people into despair and hopelessness.
More recently there have been protests, dharnas and now the disqualified Prime Minister and an angry Nawaz Sharif wants to jump on the bandwagon complaining of injustice and vowing to teach the judges and the judiciary a lesson they and their generations will never forget. Yet, he has come up with no explanation as to how he can justify keeping his enormous wealth abroad yet demand justice and vote of the people and premiership (for his family).The story is not much different when it comes to Asif Zardari and his cronies and the military establishment cannot claim to be sacred cows either. In fact they have always remained unaccountable to the people, Parliament or the judiciary. They have manipulated the political system to their advantage and funded political campaigns with no remorse whatsoever. What a sorry state of affairs with no decency and desire to reform in sight. The politicians blame the military establishment whilst they blame the politicians and the end to suffering of the masses is not in sight. This mind set will only further damage what remains of the badly bleeding system.
Pakistan is a land where thousands gave their lives for democracy, end of feudalism and a welfare State of and for the people. However this movement got hijacked by corrupt opportunists and vested interests (both military and civilian) who made sure they remained influential in the corridors of power and decision making processes thus entrapping political leadership or intervening unconstitutionally.
The policy of disrupting democratic process halted progress and nothing was done for the welfare of the people. The so called land reforms of the Bhutto era did nothing for the Haaris – the poor farmers. Even the constitution was ruined – an amendment to the constitution of Pakistan declaring Ahmadi community as non-Muslims was made in 1974 which isolated a particular community who then became the target of hate and persecution, setting in motion the process of intolerance and polarisation of society which suited General Zia to the hilt who then set upon crushing his opponents ( principally the PPP) and thereafter started the so called Islamisation process through many destructive constitutional amendments in the name of religion turning Pakistan effectively into a theocratic state and a deeply polarised society , a complete contradiction of a State and a Pakistani society as envisioned and advocated by the Father of the Nation Quaid e Azam Mohamed Ali Jinnah, who firmly believed in secular politics thus religion should not be the business of the state, in the political sense , and all faith communities should be enabled to peacefully and freely practice their faith.
Some of these elements (found in all major political parties) then embarked upon loot and plunder, milking the poor, bleeding economy and mastered corruption to a “work of art”, making people’s lives miserable and ensuring princely lifestyles for themselves within and outside Pakistan, taking out of a poor country crying for social welfare and development, their ill-gotten wealth which belonged to the people and should have been spent on their welfare.
Many others acted as accomplices or partners in crime and had their fair share too as a reward by enjoying high offices and/or a grand lifestyle. They live shamelessly in Pakistan or various capitals of the western world , still trying to steal some limelight given the opportunity.
Imran Khan, arguably leader of the second biggest political party and a strong contender for the Prime Minister’s post. What more, he has even been certified as ‘ Mr clean’ – Sadiq and Ameen ,to contest the elections by the Supreme court ruling in his favour on a public interest petition seeking his disqualification under the controversial Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution, legacy of dictator General Zia. Nowhere in the civilised world such rules do exist enabling a judge to deliver rough justice which may be through an error of judgement or simply being biased. In Imran Khan’s case fortunately he came on the right side though not in the case of Jahangir Tareen, reputed to be the highest tax paying parliamentarian in a system riddled with foul play and corruption. There should be no such constitutional Article or rule and generally only declared bankrupts or criminals are not eligible to participate as a candidate for a parliamentary or local bodies elections in all civil societies, that’s all.
Briefly turning to the elections later this year , PTI’s record in KP is a good one – education, health, policing, administration etc but reaching out to the people, particularly in rural and remoter areas throughout the country and winning their vote will be the real test in the national elections which must be held on time. Both the PML(N) and the PPP have presence and roots all over rural Pakistan.
The PML(N), despite divisions, will fight hard to retain its political grip in Punjab and throw in all it has , to try and form the next government at the centre. The outcome of Nawaz Sharif’s trials being monitored by the Supreme Court would have a telling effect on how the party performs in the elections.
The PPP continues to struggle badly after the tragedy of Benazir Bhutto , being caught up in a leadership crisis and this coupled with its governance track record plus endemic corruption are still very fresh in the minds of the voter. It will take a lot of time and good leadership to put this right and for the PPP to realistically hope to be the ruling party at the centre.
Finally, speculations and disinformation by some ever present anti democracy elements to postpone elections or derail democracy will not work for them. It must also be said that things won’t and can’t change overnight since democracy is an evolutionary system of reform not revolutionary but those involved in loot and plunder, amassing huge wealth within or outside the country should be continuously reminded that their wealth and lifestyle is tainted with the blood of poor Pakistanis. And let us hope the electorate will at least get a fair election system which could perhaps be their only hope of getting some relief.
(The writer is a human rights activist and a solicitor of the senior courts of England and Wales.)