Misbah Azam argues that the current political system in Pakistan is not democratic in true sense of the word and has failed to deal with the challenges facing the country. Instead of ‘saving’ it, the democratic forces need to replace it with a reformed and truly democratic system
The statement “We do not want to derail the system” is becoming a cliché which is repeated over and over by politicians, journalists, civil society activists, commentators, analysts and even the common people in Pakistan – almost on a daily basis. However, no one clearly says which system they are trying to save. Or, what exactly is this system?
The masses are told that it is a ‘democratic system’. The question then is: Is Pakistan a democracy or a fiefdom under the cover of democracy? Let’s look at how democracy is defined in those countries where democratic principles are practiced and respected for many decades.
Democracy is a system that gives every person, with a legitimate right to vote, the opportunity to vote for the representatives they wish to make government decisions. Democracy is meant to give every citizen the ability to vote in elections in ‘a free society’, the protection of human rights, and law that applies to everyone equally.
A key element of democracy is that there is a ‘separation of the institutions within, between government, parliament, and the courts of law’. In a democracy, the focus of the government is meant to be on ‘public interest’ and it is meant to operate in the absence of corruption.
Now, let’s see if the Pakistani system matches that definition.
In 2014, an interesting article appeared in Washington Post by Max Fisher who presented the mathematical model by a political scientist Jay Ulfelder. He had formulated this model to predict the likelihood of coups in almost every country around the world. According to the model, out of 40 countries which were at the risk of military coups, Pakistan stood at number 14.
One can reject such analysis which is based on theoretical mathematical models to predict very random behaviours of ground realities. But the situation on the ground now tells us that the system currently in place in Pakistan is certainly not one which matches the definition of democracy.
Is the people’s right to vote in today’s Pakistan respected during the elections? Is Pakistan media allowed to operate freely and independently? Is Pakistan a free society where people are allowed to choose and elect who they want to choose? Is there a clear separation of the institutions within, between government, parliament, and the courts of law? Are the institutions corruption-free?
The answer to all these questions is a no.
Former Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, in a recent interview, insisted that his government provided a ‘civilian face’ to the system because having military as a spokesperson of the government creates a ‘bad image’ of the country.
Now it will be interesting to know what Fawad actually meant by the statement. Was he saying that until the last government, the military was openly running the country and his government has taken the power back from them? Or is he whining about the painful situation in which his government was used only to provide a ‘civilian face’, but actually the civilians are not in control. A common perception – inside and outside Pakistan – is that to bring Khan’s government in power, the establishment ran a sustained campaign of pre-poll rigging which continued during the elections.
However, when the military’s spokesperson called the press conferences to brief media during the Balakot crisis, the Defence and Foreign Ministers were not even close to those pressers. The parliamentarians were briefed by the military chief and the leader of the house.
The Prime Minister was not even present in the parliament. Just some days ago, once again the military spokesperson briefed media on foreign, economic and even the education policy of the ‘government’, but no civilian official was there even to assist him. The spokesperson highlighted the expectations from the media about whom they can interview and who should not be given a media platform. Under these circumstances, one is rightful to ask if the civilian government simply stamps of ‘civilian rule’ on the de facto military government, as Fawad was complaining.
Pakistani society came from the centuries-old monarchies and the tribal systems. Even its contemporary history is full of Martial Laws, bureaucratic and feudal/family oligarchies. As a consequence, masses still suffer from the ‘tough man on the horseback syndrome’ and have the propensity to look for messiahs who -- in their beliefs -- would drive them and provide the antidote for their problems.
Even after the globalization and ‘limited’ free media access, they show the proneness of adoring and hating their leaders and demanding the zero-sum game in favour of what they believe is right.
This behavior was clearly observed during the 2000s when the masses -- especially the young generation -- behaved as if the politics is a war between the forces of Christ and the anti-Christ. Some years ago, prominent journalist, political analyst, and anchorperson Ejaz Haider very rightly described the politics in one of his TV talk show. He said that politics is a "written script" instead of a ”poetry" ( سیاست نثر ہے شاعری نہیں). Ejaz was referring to the required pragmatism, ability to compromises and tolerance in the leadership.
Unfortunately, we lack this tolerance. We are not allowed to have a public debate on the issues like failure begin the Operation Grand Slam in 1965 war with India, the delay gave the strategic advantage to Indians. We are not allowed to discuss Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report, the Abbottabad Commission Report, even the Missing Persons Commission Report. However, we are told how great the economy was during the military dictatorships. We are taught that civilians like Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Sheikh Mujeeb were the reasons for the breakup of Pakistan, not the military Generals who were ruling over the country for last 11-12 years.
We are taught about the ‘glorious’ era of General Ayyub Khan, during 1960’s without mentioning the reasons for that. Pakistan was considered then as the ‘most allied ally’ of the United States.
That was due to the fact that the US made strong ties with the Pakistan Army and the army – who were the direct rulers of Pakistan provided every assistance to the US – starting from assisting in covert operations to providing them air base against the Soviet Union. As a reward, investments were pumped in and due to small population and opportunities in infrastructure building, Pakistan’s economy was booming and Pakistan was given the title of the Asian Tiger.
Even to this date, some aristocrat elites, who are stuck in history and still are nostalgic for the military rule in Pakistan, keep reminding that Pakistan was an ‘Asian Tiger’ in the 60s.
They conveniently forget the truth that the title was a reward for Pakistan because Pakistan gave itself away in the hands of Western powers. This title was more analogous to the titles which masters award to their clients when they feel their clients serve them well.
In one of the episodes of the famous show, Star Trek, The Next Generation, once, the Starship Enterprise encountered a small probe in its way which locked itself with the ship. The captain Picard ordered to raise the shield, but the probe overrode the shield and emitted a beam of light which hit the captain Picard and made him unconscious. When he woke up, he found himself on a cozy bed, inside a small suburban house with a 5-year old girl and a beautiful woman serving him. When he asked where he is, the woman told him that he is in his house on planet Katan, he is Kaman, and she is his wife and the little girl is his daughter Lina.
Initially, the captain thought he was kidnapped by some alien being and tried every way to communicate with his ship, but then over years, he gave up his search for his ship and decided to move on. He now had one son – Bataias well who is studying to become a musician and wanted to pursue his carrier in music. Lina became the Chief Astronaut in the space agency. Over the years, he came to know that the planet was dying slowly and due to the lack of technological advancements, there was hardly anything could be done. The captain tried to contribute whatever he could but there was hardly anything left to be done. Now, he is old, his wife already passed away, Lina was married and he has a grandson with whom he was enjoying his retirement life.
One day Lina told him that the agency has successfully manufactured a probe, which carries all the necessary information about the people live on the planet and they are going to launch it in the deep space the next day. She insisted him to join thousands who are going to witness the launch. Reluctantly, he decided to go there after Lina promised that after the launch, she would right away bring him home. When he got to the launch site, he saw his wife – young as the day he met her – waiting for him, with his old friend – also young – who died 20 years ago. The wife came to him and told him that he is still in his ship, this probe simply locked his brain to this virtual reality. The reason was only one that they did not want to disappear without having anyone know about them. They wanted someone would aware of them and who they were. After that, the captain suddenly woke up and asked his First Officer, for how long he was unconscious, “Just 10 minutes or maybe 15”, the First Officer responded.
In an interview in 2014, Tom Ricks of Foreign Policy Magazine asked Richard Armitage if he had lunch with the then President Obama, what would he tell him about the Afghan war and about Pakistan, Richard Armitage responded, “Twenty-five years from now, Mr. President, I can assure you there will be a nation called Afghanistan, with much the same borders and the same rough demographic makeup. I probably couldn't say that about Pakistan."
Pakistani power elites must wake up and begin to do what they are trained and required to do by the constitution, instead of encroaching on each other's domains. The system is in place in Pakistan is unable to deal with the challenges the country is facing. So it must be derailed without bringing any other disaster. Famous scholar and Dean of Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, Dr. Adil Najam said that in Pakistan, we don’t know who is in control but it seems everyone is trying to control, and, those who are more powerful are taking the larger part of the pie.
The power brokers must prove Richard Armitage wrong, else we will be searching for some Captain Picard to tell him about our culture and who we were.