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Future of Democracy in Pakistan

By General Mirza Aslam Beg : 


Democracy has had a rough ride in Pakistan but the essentials, which fortify democracy, are clearly discernable on the national horizon, such as:

* The civil and the military trust.

* Our democratic ethos.

* The Agents of change

* End of dynastic Politics

The Trust:

The trust was lost first in 1958, when the civilian government was dismissed by General Ayub. He was forced to abdicate in 1968, but handed over power to General Yahya Khan instead of Chairman Senate, as the constitution demanded. General Yahya after the 1970 elections promised to call the National Assembly session in early April 1971 at Dacca, but soon changed his mind, which resulted into the revolt and the military action, leading to fall of Dacca. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto lost trust when he summarily dismissed, both, the Army and Air Chiefs in 1973. The distrust shaped into open defiance by ACM Asghar Khan who urged General Zia to dismiss Bhutto government and hang him to death. General Zia obliged.

In 1988, when General Zia died in the air crash, we the three services chiefs restored the constitution within three hours of General Zia’s death and handed over power to the – Chairman Senate, with the promise that elections must be held in ninety days. Elections were held on 16 November 1988, and Pakistan Peoples Party emerged as the largest party. On 18 November, I invited Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto to dinner and briefed her on all matters that she needed to know as the future prime minister. My purpose was to create the trust lost after the hanging of Bhutto by the military ruler. The trust lasted for about ten years, though shaken by 58-2(B), and was again lost when Nawaz Sharif summarily dismissed two Army chiefs and General Musharraf struck. General Kiani restored the trust by opting out of 2008 elections manipulations. Ever since a balanced level of trust has been maintained, now affirmed by General Raheel that, “The military will act under the policy of political leadership”. These are healthy signs. However, the way General Musharraf’s trial for high treason, is being over stretched, may well cross the level of tolerance, once again, upsetting the present balance of trust.

Our Democratic Ethos:

Pakistani nation has remained committed to its National Purpose that is: “Democracy will be the political order for Pakistan, based on the principles of Quran and Sunnah”. Thus Pakistanis have never voted for the secularists or the religious extremists, yet the disruptionists have continued to frighten the nation of the extremists gaining control over the government, but have been proved wrong. For example in 1988, when the military leadership decided in favour of elections, the country at that time was swarming with the Jihadis fighting the Russians in Afghanistan. The region as a whole was radicalized, but the Pakistani nation voted only for the moderates. Such are the democratic ethos of our nation – a valuable asset, we must learn to respect.

The Agents of Change:

Pakistani nation does not accept change through violent means. It has rejected the extremists’ demand of replacing the present political order with Shariah. The educated youth, in particular responded to the call for change by Imran Khan and helped Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf form the government in the KPK province, as well as won some respectable seats in Punjab and Sindh, thus putting PTI to test, demanding an exemplary government in KPK and a clear thinking, to evolve realistic policies, by utilizing the knowledge, talent and expertise of the Pakistanis, ignored by our political traditionalists, who rely mainly on their old cronies having limited perception and out-dated concepts. Yet, PTI is vulnerable from within, because the party revolves around Imran Khan. “He is the public face for the Party.” And God forbid, if Imran Khan meets another fork lift fall, the party may disintegrate. Therefore, the need to develop a syndicate of leadership, robust enough to evolve policies, so that “the ideological underpinnings outclass the founder.”

The national parties, namely PPP and PML (N), have withdrawn to their political bases in Sindh and Punjab – a retreat forced on them by the voters who rejected corruption, dynastic politics, bad governance and neglect of the poor and the deprived. The retreat thus has created a vacuum for the more dynamic forces to move-in. In this regard Pakistan is well ahead of India where Aam Admi Party was able to form their government in Delhi, out of eight union territories and twenty eight provinces, whereas PTI emerged as the third largest party, winning in one province out of four. But what is common between them is their struggle to eradicate corruption and poverty.

Corruption and poverty are the bane of our people, of whom more than fifty percent live below the poverty line. The curse of corruption, permeating our entire system has become endemic. This is the malaise our governments have done little to remove. The traditive politics is helping the rich to be richer and the poor are getting poorer. The news of the day may be true, that “more than two hundred fifty Pakistani billionairs are busy purchasing prestigious real estates in USA, Europe and UAE” with the money looted from Pakistan. The looted Pakistani rupee was converted into dollars during the last six months, pushing the dollar up against the rupee. And as the converted dollars were smuggled out of Pakistan, and the Saudi 1.5 Billion dollars were added, the dollar lost more than six percent of its value against the rupee — a phenomenon which defies all logic.

The End of Dynastic Politics

The emergence of PTI as the third political force, spells the demise of dynastic politics in Pakistan. It meets the needs of the people “to free them from the oppressive grip of institutionalized corruption”, and as an alternative to the two national parties who have lost their élan.

Our People desire change in our traditional politics. An equitable and just social order is demanded, which the new political leadership can deliver, that would result into a grim struggle against the powerful elite, who dominate politics and power and have proved right, the great philosopher, Ibn-e-Khaldun: “When the rich and the powerful gain control of the government, the country declines and decays”. That is where the tipping point is, demanding balance of forces to guide the movement for change, led by the educated youth of the country. That is the hope for democracy.

( Writer is former Pakistan Army Chief )

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