By Shahid Dastgir Khan
Choudhry Rahmat Ali a student at Emmanuel college in Cambridge in the 1930s is credited with creating the name “Pakistan” (initially Pakistan). He returned to Pakistan in April 1948 planning to stay in the country, but his belongings were confiscated, and he was expelled from the country in October 1948. He left empty handed destitute and lonely and died on 3rd February 1951 in Cambridge. His funeral expenses were covered by Emmanuel college, and he was buried at Cambridge City cemetery. In the same year the first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, educated at the prestigious Aligarh and Oxford Universities was assassinated on 16th October 1951. He and Choudhry Rahmat Ali had played an important part in the Pakistan movement leading to independence in 1947, yet one was expelled from the country and the other was assassinated, such is the sad legacy from the early days. Subsequently the country broke into two parts and in 1971 East Pakistan liberated itself and became Bangladesh. This was due to constant discrimination, oppression, and syphoning off of East Pakistan’s resources for the benefit of West Pakistan, by a military controlled regime.
Then followed martial laws and political turmoil, an elected Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was sent to the gallows in 1979 by General Zia UL Haq who polarised politics and used his programme of Islamisation to punish his political opponents, mainly the PPP and the use of religion (Islam) in politics destroyed democracy and human rights. Zia UL Haq was killed in a plane crash in 1988 and another elected Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in 2007 by militants belonging to extremist Islamic groups, a legacy of General Zia’s Islamisation programme.
Democracy, freedom of speech and human rights have continued to be undermined in Pakistan, elections are fixed in favour of the military establishment candidates and controlled by them, which is largely responsible for corruption of state institutions, a broken democracy and polarisation of society and politics. In democracy politicians are accountable to the electorate through free and fair elections and an independent and fair judiciary and not through a judicial system influenced and sometimes even dictated by the military leadership.
A country founded on the principles of equality, justice, and democracy by Mohammed Ali Jinnah (Quaid e Azam) soon lost its way and the military establishment quickly stepped in to take control in 1958, arguing national security as paramount for stability and economic progress, by the then General Ayub Khan, followed by several interventions, in total the military rule accounts for about half of the country’s life since independence.
Pakistan has so far seen 25 prime ministers (including caretaker/interim Prime Ministers) and four military dictatorships in its short history of some 76 years. No elected Prime Minister has so far completed a full term in office. The bureaucracy has been a close partner of military dictators and the politicians have sadly also played into their hands from time to time. Even during a civilian rule when elections are held Pakistan has so far been a democracy firmly controlled by the military establishment.
This has been the biggest and most damaging obstacle in the way of democracy and consequently disintegration of state institutions and uncontrollable economic crises which continues to get worse giving rise to rocketing food and energy costs and corrupted institutions. No country can expect to find a respectable place within the international community if it is run on an ad hoc basis and politicians are facilitated into power, manipulated, disgraced, imprisoned, and disqualified, with the judiciary also delivering orders in line with the desires and expectations of the military establishment.
Elections 2024 are going to be no different and soon after the elections there will be a tussle for power brokered by the military establishment, who took their dislike to the former Prime Minister Imran Khan after he went out of favour with the USA and the military over the Russia – Ukraine conflict and ensured his downfall through a vote of no confidence, although he had earned favour of the establishment to come into power.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly very quickly yesterday’s disgraced, jailed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who had absconded to London, convicted, and disqualified by the Supreme Court on serious corruption charges with numerous pending charges against him (and other family members) was back in favour with the military establishment. In order to fulfil his demands, he was facilitated back into politics by the courts quickly dropping all corruption cases against him and ensuring virtually an open field, making the elections a farcical and sham exercise.
Imran Khan’s PTI have now been deprived of its election symbol of a cricket bat and he has been delivered quick, ready and rough justice by the judiciary, is now behind bars sentenced to some 31 years imprisonment in total so far with several cases still pending, the longest sentence being 14 years in the so-called Tosha Khana case (state gifts case) and 10 years in the so called US related Cipher case. To add insult to injury he and his wife Bushra Bibi have been sentenced to seven years imprisonment for an illegal marriage (Nikah), a first for any Prime Minister. Most of the senior PTI leadership are behind bars and scores of PTI candidates and workers are either in detention or not allowed to campaign. Thousands have been rounded up since the overthrow of the PTI government.
Pakistan does not need anti constitution and anti-democracy interventions anymore; future elections should be held in accordance with the true spirit of democracy and the constitution of the country. In order to move forward a composite dialogue between politicians and the army establishment is essential, although this will be a long, hard and painful process.
Egos and vested interests will have to give way to what is best for the country and its national interest. That should include working towards the strengthening of democracy, state institutions including an independent, fair judiciary as well as a strong and fair Election Commission capable of providing a level playing field by holding free, fair and transparent elections. In the present chaotic situation, post-election political turmoil is inevitable which does not bode well for political and economic stability of the country, at least in the near future.
Therefore, truth and reconciliation is the only and right way forward to bring back the country to its feet and earn respect within the international community.
(The author Shahid Dastgir Khan is a Solicitor of the Senior Courts of England and Wales, a human rights activist and a former trustee and council member of Anti-Slavery International UK. Email: email@example.com)