Myth and Reality of Democracy | Afrasiab Khattak

The May 2013 general election in Pakistan was regarded a milestone in democratic transition in Pakistan for many reasons. It was for the first time that an elected National Assembly (2008-2013) had completed its Constitutional term of five years despite numerous difficulties. The parliament had to its credit the passage of the 18th Constitutional Amendment that not only to some extent cleansed the Constitution of the distortions and deforestations imposed on the Constitution by usurpers and military dictators but also made impressive progress on the road to resolve the problem of provincial autonomy in an amicable manner. Fourteen political parties and parliamentary groups held successful negotiations to reach a consensus. Then general elections were held under a civilian set up under a new Constitutional arrangement without the interference of the civil and military bureaucracy. It sounded like building a Taj Mehal without US aid! After that, the last but not the least development was the peaceful transfer of power from one civilian government to another newly elected one and the initial commitment by all the major political parties to work by the rules of the game despite their reservations about the electoral process.

But that was the end of the pleasant part of the story. After leading a coalition government in Pakhtunkhwa province for full one year where his party had emerged as the single largest party (without simple majority of its own) and sitting on the opposition benches in the National Assembly it dawned upon PTI leader Imran Khan that had the general elections held an year ago not been rigged he would have been the prime minister of the country. Coincidences know no limits and they are capable of defying explanations. In exact simultaneity with IK’s anxiety TUQ ,a Canada based maverick Pakistani politician with dubious credentials (and a also a Canadian citizen), felt that he had difficulty in breathing. No, it was not asthma. What was troubling the politico with religious background was the realization that elections were rigged a year ago and there was no undiluted democracy in Pakistan. His duty was calling him and he felt a moral compulsion to get back to his country for launching a reformist movement together with IK. This is how the 2014 sit-in (or dharna in Urdu) descended on Pakistan. The rest is history. The sitting defense minister of the country has credited the two bosses of the premier intelligence agency of the country for choreographing the sit in. But the unprecedented unity of most of the political parties behind the Constitution and Parliament and the horrific tragedy of the Army Public School in Peshawar forced the undemocratic forces to beat a retreat, end the sit in and lift the physical siege laid to the Parliament, the Supreme Court of Pakistan and other symbols of the state. So different from the good old 1990s when political parties would swiftly line up on getting the signal to isolate the sitting government and help in overthrowing it. There is always a first time as they say.

One is forced to recall the events of the 2014 sit-in once again because a new addition of the sit in is about to be launched by the indefatigable Imran Khan on October 5, 2015 again in Islamabad, the findings of the Support Court’s Inquiry Commission on Elections not withstanding. The homework for the new sit in seems to be different. The accountability process piloted by the deep state is getting the political parties individually before they gang up again to foil the aims of the sit in.

It is not to imply at all that there are no corrupt elements in political parties or there is no need for taking them to task. Corruption is a menace not less dangerous for the future of the country than terrorism. It has to be tackled to save the future of the country. But that should be and can be done within the four corners of the Constitution and law. There are no two opinions about the need for the law taking its course. But it is imperative that the process should be across the board and should also include judges and generals. Lest we forget the disrespect for law has been the toxic legacy of the martial laws that trampled upon the grund norm, the Constitution of the country rendering the violation of law a triviality. Similarly looking for and catching the abettors of terrorists is a noble national mission and who with a sane mind can be opposed to it. But didn’t TTP publicly nominate its political representatives before and after the elections and didn’t those political leaders unabashedly represent TTP in negotiations with the government reporting back to TTP leadership? Do we need James Bonds to discover them? But the twist becomes mind boggling when the very political parties that stood in the fore-front of struggle against terrorism and bore the brunt of terrorist attacks are singled out for the state coercion. Are we really moving in the right direction? The role played by “free media” in preparing an atmosphere for witch hunting reminds one of the role of the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Be that as it may the political parties of the country can’t remain paralyzed indefinitely and let themselves be overtaken by the events. As representatives of the people they should take initiative in preparing an agenda for reforms or a new Charter of Democracy. But this time the reforms should start from the political parties themselves. For example it is none of the business of parliamentarians to take funds for economic development. It was started by General Zia to tarnish the image of the parliament but unfortunately it wasn’t stopped by any government. Banning this practice can be the first point of the reform agenda. Shaping a permanent, autonomous and strong mechanism should also come into being. Free and transparent elections in the political parties are a prerequisite for building democracy in the country. Election Commission can get a role in conducting these elections to ensure fairness and transparency of the process. Stringent legislation and judicial oversight must be brought in to bring to an end the patronage culture and to promote meritocracy. This can be followed by provisions for reforms in the state system. The formation and execution of state policies and resource allocation should be the prerogative of the elected government as enshrined in the Constitution. No institution should be allowed to function beyond its Constitutional limits. Last, but not the least, there should be a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to clear our past burden. It’s not a zero sum game. Countries and nations evolve and the role of institutions change for the better future of the country and its people. If achieved peacefully and smoothly it can be a win-win situation for all.

n The writer is a retired Senator and
an analyst of regional affairs.


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