By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
Since the critical matters of the state have become extremely grave by inapt handling by various rulers especially the present team of Prime Minister Imran Khan that it is now much too serious a situation to be left in the hands of the generals or their toady civilian politicians. Not that, we should initiate a debate on the reasons for our failure to evolve and develop a genuine democratic polity. Such an exercise would require comparative study in a historic perspective, role of our ruling classes with their colonial past and class-oriented heritages. At times they might be seen to be sleeping in different beds but unfortunately, they share the same dreams.
Pakistan’s failure to give roots to democratic culture can be traced to quality of political leadership that succeeded the Quaid and his lieutenant Liaquat Ali Khan. Partition had changed the character of the Muslim League from being a middle class dominated party (from Bengal and UP) it got passed into the hands of the feudal class from West Punjab who had jumped on the Pakistan band-wagon when they had become sure of Pakistan becoming a reality sooner than expected. And with the advent of West Pakistani feudal class into mainstream political forces, Pakistan’s political culture got under the overwhelming influence of feudal Punjab numerically dominating the Pakistan civil service and the armed forces. Obviously Pakistani politics too became feudalised. The succeeding Muslim League leadership’s failure and its organisational weaknesses sowed the seeds of the collapse of the normal political processes. It failed to overcome the teething problems of a new nation that needed institutional, strategic, socio-economic and political directions to bury deep down the legacy of the colonial past. Its failure provided the reasons to the extra-constitutional forces waiting in the wings to marginalize our early democratic pretensions.
The subsequent emergence of a powerful troika—a triangular partnership between military, civil and judicial bureaucracy–motivated by the so-called Islamic concept of a strong centre being sine quo non to Islamic ideology made it put a big spanner in Pakistan’s “state formation and political process” as blueprinted by MAJ as a federation with its units enjoying more autonomy than the states in the USA or Canada as enunciated by him in his interview to American news agency.
With global politics changing its composition after World War II and Pakistan becoming a military fiefdom under General Ayub Khan became a key player in the Cold War on behalf of the United States. He found ready support in the Americans who needed puppet regimes in the Gulf and South Asia to stem the tide of communism instead of meeting the challenge by bolstering emerging democracies and nationalist governments.
In her book “Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia” Aisha Jalal puts it succinctly: “By the fall of 1951, the military and civil bureaucracy had registered their dominance within the emerging structure of Pakistani state”. Later in the years, with the support of their Western patrons, they succeeded in depoliticising the Pakistani society before it “slipped into the era of mass mobilisation”. In the final analysis it has been observed, the responsibility of Pakistan’s inability in its formative phase, to work a parliamentary system of government must be shared by “its civil bureaucrats, military officials, chief justices and politicians, both secular and religious.”
This view is equally applicable to the causes that led to the breakup of Pakistan in 1971, imposition of Martial Law in 1977 and subsequent events and developments thereafter to this day. Despite the 1973 Constitution that accommodated a reasonable and acceptable quantum of autonomy that had to be reviewed in favour of provinces after ten years, the future parliamentary system is unpredictable.
As a matter of fact, the 17th Amendment to the Constitution—with National Security Council as the supra-parliamentary body- and a President who is also the Army Chief—has established a Praetorian order that wants to usurp the rights of the federating units and the fundamental right of the people as the sole arbiter of power thus leaving the masses and the provinces with no other option but to go for the Bangladesh option. Indeed, the observation of Justice Nazim Hussain Siddiqui, former Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court, that God forbid something happens to the 1973 Constitution Pakistan’s survival would not be possible– should not be dismissed lightly.
Not that nothing has happened to 1973 Constitution. It has been disfigured beyond recognition by the “man on horse back” who wanted to impose his own “system” as had been done by Ayub and Zia. His system too was destined to meet the same fate as was Ayub and Zia’s and as expected it did not survive a day longer than him when he is no more on the scene. However, the most seriously dreaded continues to be constitution of 1973.
Former Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Saqib Nisar by virtue of his character and his judicial wheeling dealings dealt as much a severe blow to Pakistan as much or little less, by Chief Justice Justice Muhammad Munir by his Doctrine of Necessity. Indeed, the need of the hour is much desired national reconciliation with the major political leaders –Bilawal Bhutto and Maryam Nawaz —and their political parties. This has also become imperative since there are no choices for country’s survival. Pakistan must have a strong democratic rule and close doors permanently on men horse back not to allow “man of destiny” such as General Musharraf to force entry on the stage. (Concluded)
(The author is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to the UK, a long-time adviser to the martyred Prime Minister of Pakistan Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and a veteran journalist.)