Fighting elections without faith in democracy


By Samuel Baid
In May 1988 then Prime Minister of Pakistan Mohammad Khan Junejo was returning home from East Asia. He was happy with himself for having told by his hosts that democracy had taken root in his country. But, alas, when he got close from the plane at Islamabad Airport, he had a strange feeling. No officials, no crowd of journalists were there to receive him. He was told that he was no more the Prime Minister, Army Chief-cum President Gen. Ziaul Haq had sacked him and had himself become the Prime Minister in addition to two positions he already held. Gen. Zia just did not bother whether or not the Constitution of his country allowed this.
It was not only Junejo who faced this irony. All Prime Ministers, who came after Gen Zia’s death in a plane crash in October 1988, have suffered the same fate in different forms though Benazir Bhutto of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was twice dismissed as Prime Minister by the incumbent President with the Army’s nudge. After her second dismissal in 1996, corruption charges hounded her into self-exile. She returned home by the end of 2007 to be assassinated.
Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) became Prime Minister of Pakistan after Bhutto’s Government was sacked by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan in 1990. Just when he was showing self-confidence, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan sacked his Government in 1993. He returned to power in 1997 after the dismissal of Bhutto’s second government in 1996. During his second term Sharif became so self-confident that he used his brute majority in the National Assembly (NA) to pass a bill to become the all-powerful man in Pakistan. He tried to browbeat the Army. His handpicked Army Chief Gen Pervez Musharraf overthrew new government in October 1999 and exiled his entire family to Saudi Arabia for ten years. He returned home in 2007 and became Prime Minister for the third time in 2013 to be disqualified by the Supreme Court in July 2017. The present crisis in Pakistan is traced to this disqualification just when the general elections are round the corner.
Prime Ministers, who have claimed democracy has taken root in Pakistan, have pointed to the “independent” judiciary and “free” media as proofs. But once they are ousted from power they have opposite things to say. If you listen to Nawaz Sharif’s speeches after his disqualification, you will start believing that the judiciary and the media have always worked as handmaids of the Army. He frequently speaks of the judiciary’s treason against democracy on behalf of the Army. Nawaz Sharif was not the first Prime Minister to be disqualified by the Supreme Court. Prime Minister Younus Raza Gilani, whose party, the PPP came to power in 2008 was very confident that he would complete his five year tenure, but was disqualified by the then Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhary whose hostility towards the PPP and favouritism for the PML(N) were then the talk of the town.
One can very rightly say that the above is well-known history. But these facts provoke us again and again to examine why democracy in Pakistan has remained stuck in a vicious, repetitious circle like a crack record. A commonplace explanation blames the Army’s machinations against democracy. But this can be partially true. The real problem is with politicians. They lack the benefit of a role model.
Pakistan’s first Governor General Mohammad Ali Jinnah and First Prime Minister Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan did not qualify as persons to be emulated. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who became the first Prime Minister after the breaking of Pakistan, was highly educated and had the gift of the gab, could not be a role model. He was a maverick, revengeful and unmindful of his language when he talked about his opponents. Above all, he had no character of a democrat.
A commentator recently told Urdu BBC that Pakistani politicians do not have the habit of reading. This sounds very true. They, except the leaders of the Awami National Party (ANP), do not show any intellectual approach to domestic or external problems. They try to face domestic problems with slogans, false promises but they care not to earn the displeasure of Islamist elements.
See, for example, how meekly this federal government accepted un-constitutional demands of religious fanatics for ending their dharna between Islamabad and Rawalpindi last year. It dithered for years over taking action against individuals and organisations who have been designated terrorists including Hafiz Saeed and his Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) and his entities and also the Haqqani Network by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). All these years it defied the UNSC and the United States by not complying with the UNSC resolutions to keep itself in the good books of obscurantist, rabid Islamists, Bit faced with US President Donald Trumps’ ire, the Pakistan President issued an ordinance amending the 1997 Anti-Terrorism Act to include UNSC-proscribed individuals and organisations among the proscribed organisations in Pakistan. Significantly, the Presidential ordinance came just about 10 days before the plenary session of Paris-based UN’s terror funding watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on February 18-23. The session will consider a resolution of the US, Britain, France and Germany to name Pakistan for not taking sufficient steps to counter money laundering and terror financing Pakistani fear, it can be put on watch list.
The Presidential ordinance has come just when the general elections are a few months away in Pakistan. The ordinance may dash the hopes of Islamist militant organisations who want to reach Parliament. They were been inspired by the disqualification of the Nawaz Sharif from the membership of the Parliament. Hafiz Saeed’s Milli Muslim League’s (MML) chance of getting registered as a political party were never become as slim as now.
The Supreme Court has reserved its verdict on the light of disqualification of a Member of Parliament. Article 62(1) F which provides for disqualification is quiet on its length. Nawaz Sharif’s antagonists want him to be disqualified for life but the government argues it is for Parliament to decide. Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) hopes to gain most if Nawaz Sharif is kept away from the elections. It is widely believed in Pakistan that Imran enjoys the support of the Army. Islamists and judiciary, but the possibility of a sympathy wave for PML(N) is overlooked. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) still has the support of millions of voters in Sindh. In Punjab people are angry because when the PPP came to power in 2008 on a sympathy vote generated by Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in Rawalpindi in 2007, it ignored party workers who got injured during the attack on her. Also the PPP Government ignored UN report that called an investigation into the assassination. Jamatul-Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) and Jamaat-i-Islami, Pakistan (JIP) fight elections for poor results but call democracy a Western idea.
The domestic environment in Pakistan and general attitude of Pakistan’s regional neighbours and the international community have to observed minutely before the general elections in Pakistan, but again the inherent deficiencies of the current political elites in Pakistan have to be kept in mind because their weakness always offers the Army a chance to run its rule in proxy.