Seldom has a country gone through an agonising period of trial and tribulation more severely than Pakistan for last about a decade and half. Fall of the dictator in March 2008 ordinarily should have ushered in a new era of peace and prosperity at the dawn of democracy but the dream remained elusive. It was not because of lack of virtues that democracy presents to any nation but the rulers, instead of nurturing it carefully were hell bent to ensure that it gasps under the weight of their malignant follies. The safety chutes, democracy affords to circumvent governance deadlocks, were employed by the ruling Pakistan People Party (PPP), instead as the means to lure in political support for survival from the coalition parties, ‘Awami National Party’ (ANP), Pakistan Muslim League, Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q) and ‘Mutahida Qaumi Movement’ (MQM), as criminal trade off. Now the state is bracing up for general elections by midyear.
All the ruling coalition partners have extremely tainted record. Survival being the most sought for pursuit, the government has been obliged to over look massive corruption, heinous crimes and rampant nepotism committed by their party heavy weights, though some were clearly adjudicated with specific awards by the judiciary but were rubbed on the toe. Two extremes are interesting as well as deplorable. First, never ever Pakistan, since independence in 1947, has had an honest and courageous judiciary as it has now under the auspices of Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan. Secondly, never ever any government mocked and blatantly defied judiciary verdicts as did President Asif Ali Zardari and his administration, which carries the heaviest political baggage of questions that it has to answer at certain point of time, some lethal one.
The current five years tenure is expiring in mid March and the constitutional provision makes it mandatory to hold general elections within 90 days of dissolution of the government under an independent election commission. But questions are lurking in every sane mind whether elections would engulf us as a monster or would prove as panacea for all rampant ills. The pointers are that elections would result in emergence of political alliance that would foster the corrupt and criminal gridlock of the rulers yet again for the coming term. Even if the ruling coalition is knocked out through the sagacity of voters, the second layer of possible coalition among Pakistan Muslim League, Nawaz (PML-N) and Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Islam,Fazal (JUI-F) happens to surface as contender with some other minor parties’ support, would mean yet another futile alternative as both parties have dubious record of performance. JUI (F) remained an ally of the dictator to lend him crucial support all along his rule of tyranny in tandem with PML(Q) and PML (N) governs the largest province of Punjab, almost half of Pakistan if population is taken into account. Its performance has the only lustre of presenting a Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, who can sob on the stage, lamenting about common man suffering at the hands of corruption mafia. Other than occasional emotional outburst, he did nothing to prevent his bureaucracy from exploiting poor people lest he might lose their ‘help’ during general elections where it always plays unseen role. In other words, he proved himself during the entire tenure of about five years as a magician who always criticised the ruling parties at the federation incessantly to obfuscate his failings and attain political mileage against them.
The civilised world would be spell bound after knowing that democracy has seen the worst degree of perversion in Pakistan. The political parties like PML(N), PPP, MQM, PML(Q), ANP and JUI(F) have become single family or person’s maid. Their leaders boast around in royal regalia who either never accept intra party elections or concede to the extent of ‘mock’ exercise with precondition that their dynastic hold would not be challenged, ever since these parties were founded. Dissenters, if any are ruthlessly eliminated. Where nature came to rescue the democracy, the party reacted shamefully by retaining the leadership within the family by fielding a son or a daughter in the arena. While the world takes pleasure from the concept of universal acceptance of democracy as the just system to govern the nation states, our dynasties are well and safe under royals with a small badge of ‘democracy’ displayed off and on for appeasing the West. Since 1971, the country has been, for the same reason, either under PPP or PML(N) rule and when these two parties blundered, the vacuum was filled by Martial Law.
There are political parties which have the support at grassroots level like Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by famous cricketer turned philanthropist/politician, Imran Khan or the one led by Munawar Hassan, Jamat-e-Islami, (JI) considered as balanced Islamic party where discipline, honesty and patriotism reside and thus they are in position to deliver. Their success, however, is contingent upon big ‘if’ and that is the conduct of fair and free elections. Unfortunately, independent election commission which has not matured as yet in its role has been foxed already by the ruling elites. The government had devised several modes to fool people and twist the laws to their convenience by handing down billions of grants to their party legislators/cronies in the name of development schemes of the public concern. To make the matter worse, there is almost no accountability of such funds that are consumed on production of false documents because the major chunks of money-grants go to legislators. In other words, the ruling parties have purchased their vote bank before the constitution of care taker government for overseeing impartial conduct of elections and transition of power. Even if the care takers could claim honest conduct of general elections later on, they may be justified but tragedy they might know is that the elections had already been rigged before they stepped in. Now the dilemma which cannot be prevented and emanates from the fear of guilt that haunts at least three parties very clearly and sadly they are the ones ruling the roost. PPP, PML-Q and MQM have huge stock of criminal cases against them. If not voted back to power, which is least likely despite their clever manoeuvres, they would prevent/hinder smooth transition of power under fabricated pretexts. Stoking law and order situation in province of Sind where they have appeal on regional/ethnic basis is a dangerous option they would resort to. PPP, MQM and ANP maintain potent militant wings that are an open secret by now. When such scenario is a reality on the horizon, coupled with ongoing play of fissures getting deeper every day, is there any justification of holding general elections.
Casting look in wider perspective, political and economic landscape of the country is extremely distorted. While the government managed to put up a fake democratic face to the international community, internally its performance has been horribly pathetic and the world knows it. According to Transparency International (TI) report, the government has presided over 8000 billion rupees ($ 80 billion) corruption during its tenure. In fact some local sources have been quoting much more figures with credibility hard to believe. In the mean time, profit churning public organizations like Pakistan International Airline, Pakistan Railways, Pakistan Steel Mills, WAPDA and Tourism Corporation etc have gone pauper. Law and order situation throughout Pakistan is in shambles. Corrupt practices have permeated to every layer of governance. Common man, while rupee devalued 100 percent against US dollar since 2008, is aghast to see apathy meted out to him. Inflation is sky high.
There is growing unrest in Baluchistan, Sind (Karachi), Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) and Gilgit-Baltistan province. War on terror is taking heavy toll on country’s meagre resources. Sectarian and ethnic killings by mushrooming militant groups have hung the country’s fate by a fragile thread. Writ of the state is precarious, options narrow and leadership deficit monumental. Decade long war in Afghanistan has sucked in Pakistan to the limit from the western border. As if it was not enough, hostilities simmer on the eastern borders along the Line of Control (LOC) with India as well. A major chunk of over a million-strong Indian Army is brutalising Kashmiris across LOC in full view of civilised world for decades. Geo-political expediencies have quelled the ethics of the international standard bearers of the humane values to prevent the subjugation and human carnage.
Pakistan Army, an institution held in high esteem by people at large, faces the spectre of war on multiple fronts including the one that has nuclear connotation in the fold—and then election are just around the corner. Pakistani nation has the potential to brave these scenarios but shudders to perceive that the general elections, instead of heralding any significant democratic change would mean, at best, status quo with increased violence and added dent to national unity. This is scary appreciation and no one wants to remain under the yolk of corrupt rulers who have trashed the rule of law or face trauma of impending civil war, though in lesser intensity it has been already unleashed. In Pakistani brand of democracy, the ruling elite and their cronies when persuaded to abide by rule of law by the courts, react as if an act of sacrilege has been committed to ditch their honour.
The way government has stood for five years suggests that name of democracy was perverted without shame. No party ever showed the guts to admit failures and vacate the power seat for other party that could manage the affairs rather wisely or seek early elections. In the meantime, rot compounded when billions of rupees corruption was consummated by those who were supposed to prevent it. Within the ruling elites, there is hardly any leader who, given the chance, could resist temptation of massive illicit gains. Pakistan’s security forces are managing the national security dilemma in a chivalrous ways but for the duration of election campaign and actual conduct, need to maintain security would not be confined to the polling booths only to protect the voters but the entire population against any threat of terror. In other words, defence forces shall by thoroughly committed, draining thus their domination of war zones from the threatened eastern as well as western borders. Should there be confluence of national and international conspiracies to destabilise Pakistan, there would not be more opportune time than the occasion of general elections to implement it. Instability in Pakistan means geostrategic threat of wider dimensions.
Pakistan has its borders contiguous to Iran, Afghanistan, China, India and has a long coastal stretch of Arabian Sea. Taking the regional situation into account and changing paradigms of geo-politics coupled with nuclear capabilities of the regional powers; soon dimensions of threat become perceivable, connecting with the distant actors also.
Conversely, our major political parties have failed to show flare for the emancipation of masses except when sloganeering from the stage to woo their vote bank. Most of them are power hungry, would compromise to any extent and cling to each other to evade worthwhile accountability. Does the nation see any promise? In all probability, elections would be ruinous exercise. What could be the way-out strategy to steer the country away from crises?
As an alternative, plant a national government of a few dozen honest people, like Imran Khan, Dr. AQ Khan, Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Maulana Munawar Hassan etc with limited years mandate to achieve national coherence, retrieve hundreds of billions of tax payers’ money from the fraudsters, flush out rogue elements and criminals, disregard to any other consideration, denying them the capability to buy every vote and then go for the luxury of general elections supported by judiciary and Army. Conversely, under the obtaining geo-political environments, election results would stoke divisive forces more than lending any balming effect to our national unity. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, ‘Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choices are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education’. Let us heed to the time-tested dogma. The proposition becomes meaningful by postponing the elections and educating the masses about inevitability of clearing the garbage first that the dictator and the ‘democratic’ government have heaped during last 13 years. ‘Seize the moment’ to recognise the vagaries of time and resort to measures that would steer Pakistan through internal turmoil intact.