Ominous signs


By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
Perhaps one of the few saner voices in current politics PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has rightly warned of darkening clouds shrouding the future of democracy in Pakistan.  In his speech at a conference in Lahore to honour one of the greatest human rights activist late Advocate Asma Jehangir PPP Chairman rightly lamented the growing threats that democracy is facing from so-called democrats.

This warning coming soon after general elections and recently held bye-polls is very disturbing for those who have spent their life time struggling for the restoration of democracy, sovereignty of parliament, human rights, civil liberties, independence of judiciary, free and vibrant media in an overall environment for the empowerment of the masses especially the less privileged, women and minorities.

It is no doubt heartening to note in this dismal atmosphere reassurances from the Army Chief General Bajwa and his ISPR Director General  Major General Asif Ghafoor who talking to Pakistani journalists in London said the other day that they believe in transparent and across the board accountability, healthy functioning of all the national institutions and that the way forward is democracy as reiterated in the recently held free and fair elections having no parallel with previous polls.

He emphasised that Army believes only democracy is the way forward and as an institution, Pakistan Army has provided full support to democratic institutions. “We will work to make sure that democracy continues in Pakistan,”  “Whenever the army chief talks to any foreign dignitary, we talk about Pakistan and not about the army,” he added. The DG ISPR called on all institutions to stand by each other and work together. “Army always stands by institutions, not with individuals.”

When asked about polarisation and political divisions in Pakistan, Major General Ghafoor said there was no country in the world without political differences. “The beauty of democracy is that political differences exist. Pakistan has the same but differences should be ethical and without abuses and attacks. Through the power

of vote first, the PML-N governed, then the PTI and in the future, it will be someone else.”

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto’s concerns regarding the fact that political parties were not given equal opportunities in elections are shared by other opposition parties too. It is hoped that the 30-member joint parliamentary committee to probe the irregularities in last elections would set the record straight. Unless we have an electoral system that guarantees transparency we cannot hope for flawless working of any democratic dispensation.

Whatever—notwithstanding the pre-poll and post election wheeling dealings and engineering by powers that be that marred fairness of polls, other signs too are ominous not only for democracy but also for the future stability in the country. Without going into the controversy of bad economic management by the previous government, the fact that the PTI government too is not faring well is clearly felt by the people. Its Finance Minister does not know the head and tail of what he is dealing with. His party chief is being given names for the increasing frequency in u-turns.

American philosopher George Santayana rightly said that: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  In this context one would not like to recall the conduct unbecoming of PTI Chairman and his followers vis-à-vis the previous parliament where they all took their salaries, perks and benefits without performing their duties. Not only that, they had disgusting contempt for it and its members in whom they saw donkeys rather human beings. So far their conduct in the Parliament where PTI has majority, is little less obnoxious than the previous. Obviously it poses a threat to the supremacy of the parliament as warned by Bilawal Bhutto. “Today our democracy faces serious threats. Not only from unelected forces but also from so-called democrats,” he said without naming anyone.

Bilawal’s main concern has been the long standing threat to the 18th amendment. He rightly believes that the 18th amendment is the lynch pin holding the federation together. Unfortunately ever since its passage it constantly faces threats to its existence. An off the cuff remark by the army chief in April 2018 that 18th amendment is as bad as Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s Six points—though retracted later—has been responsible for great deal of consternation among the smaller provinces.

Bilawal has reiterated that PPP won’t allow back rolling of 18th amendment, it will resist tooth and nail and that would no doubt strengthen the federation.  His request to political parties to gather together for protection of 18th Amendment should be heeded to and that every conspiracy to roll back the 18th Amendment or the NFC Award should be opposed. “The PPP will stoutly and resolutely resist any such move. Let there be no doubt or mistake about it.”

He is right in his observation that that the incumbent government was trying to run the financial matters through collecting public funds. “Such government strategies will lead to catastrophe,” he said. “A government which is attempting to address grave challenges to the economy by ‘chandanomics’, ignoring entirely that their lack of policies and consistent U-turns have not only failed to inspire confidence, but have in fact put this nation on a speedy track to further economic instability.”

The government enjoys the support of the army and the judiciary. It has complete control over police and the civil bureaucracy yet it has failed to arrest free for all in the country. Increasing lawlessness by black coats, missing persons continue to multiply, judiciary sitting almost silent over them all—are sounds of a death-knell of a dysfunctional state.

About the state of the media, the less said the better. “Human rights are endangered today and rule of law and due process have been discarded in favour of rhetorical populism. Theatrics have triumphed over substance. Indeed, the judiciary has the responsibility to inspire confidence that justice would be done, that everyone would be treated fairly and that fundamental rights would be upheld.

In conclusion one expects the ruling PTI to dispel the growing perception that it wants to establish a fascist one-party dictatorship; “where criticism is treated as a crime and where democratic opposition is threatened with intimidation”.

(Author is former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)