With the military having little to worry as long as there are leaders whose ambitions outweigh their principles, the future of Pakistan rests on two alternatives: Imran the compliant and Nawaz the defiant.
Pakistan’s democracy is under severe battering, a sight not too uncommon for its people. This because the country was born clashed with democracy and, hence, the state of democracy today. While India got a Constitution in 1950, Pakistan had to wait for nine years to produce a presidential-style of governance in 1956 under the military-bureaucratic oligarchy.
The President possessed powers to appoint and dismiss Prime Ministers, and a serving General in Ayub Khan was appointed as the Defence Minister who not only abrogated the Constitution in 1958 in a coup, but also framed the Constitution in 1962, providing for an indirectly elected President on the ‘basic democrats’ idea.
But where were the democrats? They were around waiting for an opportunity that came in 1970 when General Yahya Khan rejected the election results in which East Pakistan (now Bangladesh)-based Awami Muslim League (AML) emerged as the largest party. In West Pakistan (now Pakistan), Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) emerged as the largest party and refused to accept AML chief Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as the Prime Minister. A civil rebellion ensured East Pakistan seceded as Bangladesh and rest is history.
In West Pakistan, exploiting the military’s loss of credibility, Bhutto tailored the 1973 Constitution and laid the foundation of parliamentary democracy, and also a long-drawn-out civil-military contest. Ironically, Bhutto’s autocratic ways created civic disturbances that General Zia-ul Haq grabbed with both hands in 1977 staging the coup and hanging Bhutto to eliminate any potential challenge to military rule.
Cleverly, Zia only kept the Constitution in abeyance to escape treason charges and later created a façade of democracy under a protégé, Muhammad Khan Junejo. A Prime Minister was appointed after the eighth amendment inserted Article 58 2(b) in the Constitution, giving the President arbitrary powers to dismiss national and provincial Assemblies at will. During the decade of democracy (1988-1998), the President, at the military’s behest, dismissed democratically elected Governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif on charges of corruption, misrule, misgovernance, national security, law and order and meddling in military affairs.
The democrats struck back after Nawaz Sharif, secured a two-third majority in the National Assembly in 1997, scraped Article 58 2(b) from the Constitution. But like ZA Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, emboldened by his rising political clout, went too far to dismiss Gen Musharraf, which led to an overthrew of his majority Government in yet another military coup in 1999, while the PPP and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) cadres celebrated with drums.
With common experience, PPP and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) realised that their mutual acrimony and political hostility was a contributing factor in their downfall. A new realisation dawned upon the two leaders, matured their democratic understanding as a consequence. The Charter of Democracy was signed between Benazir Bhutto and Sharif in London in 2006 which declared: “… the military dictatorship and the nation cannot co-exist – as military involvement adversely affects the economy, democratic institutions as well as the defence capabilities, and the integrity of the country – the nation needs a new direction different from a militaristic and regimental approach of the Bonapartist regimes, as the current one.”
The Charter also called for purging the Inter-Services Intelligence’s (ISI) and military’s political interference and abolishing the National Accountability Bureau (created by General Musharraf in 1999 to force compliance from political leaders and had arrested Nawaz and Marayam Sharif on July 13). Both leaders pledged: “We shall not join a military regime or any military-sponsored Government. No party shall solicit the support of military to come into power or to dislodge a democratic Government.”
PTI leader Imran Khan, tipped as the next Prime Minister and not a party to the Charter, fits the Bill in Rawalpindi – a supporter of 1999 coup, champion of anti-Americanism and acceptable to far right parties as well. But Imran Khan’s power obsession has blinded him to the ill-effects of playing ball with the military. He had first become a parliamentarian in the 2002, guided elections under Pervez Musharraf and was reportedly offered prime ministerial position too.
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