By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
A new phase of civilian and democratic set-up is to begin soon for which preparations are offing. As a matter of fact, Pakistan’s destiny rests in democracy and there is less than a month to go until Pakistan’s third general elections are upon us. The landmark event is already asserting itself in its various manifestations. For quite some time, there was a big question mark over whether the elections would be held on time or not. Even today, there are pessimists who see a soft coup unfolding. That’s nothing but illusionary.
People must realise that the long and sustained struggle for democracy has helped in its resurgence at the grass root level, far beyond the capacity of the Praetorian Establishment to nip it once again in the bud. Due to its multi-dimensional involvement with the problem of internal and external terrorism, three-front situation and a major political party challenging its interference—any overt extra-constitutional intervention would be suicidal.
Desertions are in full swing in the political parties. Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) lost its fair weather birds. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) lost its fire brand Zaeem Qadri, who is angry with the party leadership especially the Petit Raja Ranjeet Singh. Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan — popularly known now as a strategic asset of both Imran Khan and the Establishment — has come out in the open with his daggers drawn. In their press conferences, both Zaeem Qadri and Nisar have spit venom against the PML-N and its Mafioso’s. Nisar as Home Minister and over 30-year long insider in the House of Sharifs, knows where all the party’s skeletons are hidden. In deference to Begum Kulsoom Nawaz’s serious illness, he has opted to be quiet for now but not forever. Once the Kulsoom Nawaz episode is over,Nisar says he will ‘spill the beans’ that ‘would leave no space for Mian Sahib to show his face in public’. Many others too have crossed over, in PTI old guards who were ignored in preference to electable opportunists from other parties.
One does not know whether to call it good or bad news, but Pakistan’s first commando president and self-claimed victor of the Kargil war, General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf, who suddenly woke up to realise that he is not as popular as he thought and resigned ingloriously from the leadership of the All Pakistan Muslim League. Facing charges of treason, he refused to come to Pakistan despite being assured by the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) that he would be free to contest elections unhindered. This has to do with the fact that he is accused of murdering Benazir Bhutto and Nawab Akbar Bugti.
The real story doing the round is that publication of From Kargil to The Coup by Nasim Zehra has left no stone unturned in exposing Musharraf’s gross failures. One of my British friends who has read the book commented that it is an excellent indictment of Musharraf and all that he claimed he stood for as a general. It has also put his institution in bad light.
It is a tragic irony that the leader who toiled all her life for the restoration of democracy, empowerment of the masses, supremacy of the Parliament, rule of law and freedom of expression is no longer with us. Benazir Bhutto is not here to see the return of electoral democracy. The upcoming polls — the third in a row — are part of her contribution to the development of a democratic Pakistan.
Benazir Bhutto climbed to the top despite the insurmountable hurdles placed in front of her in this patriarchal society, not to mention obscurantist moorings including forces of the status quo and bigotry opposed to change. Yet she rose to the pinnacle of popularity not matched by any one. And while her killers may have silenced her physically, her legacy remains alive.
It is because of this legacy that we are fast approaching elections a third time. No doubt, a close look at the decade of the democratic dispensation Bhutto fought and struggled for highlights grey areas like inefficient governance, record breaking corruption and the ouster of two Prime Ministers. However, this does not mean that democracy has not taken root. That it has survived despite numerous intrigues to uproot or exploit it is a testament to its resilience.
Like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s judicial murder by General Zia that also impacted Pakistan adversely, Benazir’s too has had ugly ramifications. However, that does not mean to undermine Benazir’s political stature. Her assassination no doubt remains a festering wound, yet the respect, honour and affection she enjoys at home and abroad shall remain an indelible imprint in history.
Certain foreign publications have warned that there are signs that the Pakistani Establishment will attempt to rig the upcoming elections. Engineering for a pliable hung parliament is in full swing. It has forecast lesser seats for PML-N. There are predictions regarding PTI too, and that it could possibly emerge as third largest party with no option but to form a coalition with PPP which is considered a dark horse this election season.
Had Benazir been alive today, Pakistan would have been much better off. When unbiased history would be written dirty role played by political parties including PML-N and PTI in collaboration with the former Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhry against PPPP government would be highlighted as a major achievement in sustaining democracy. One is confident that in the resurgent democratic order after July 25 would guarantee transparent accountability, rule of law, independent judiciary and a free press. That would surely be a catalyst that we all want to move to a better, prosperous, progressive and peaceful Pakistan.
(The writer is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)