Every time the democratic process is obstructed in Pakistan, the forces of obscurantism promptly appear on the scene to add the confusion and uncertainty.
The conflict between liberal values, modernity and democratisation of the society and the outdated ideology preached by clerics in the name of religious philosophy is more than 150 years old. After the initial success of the British east company in the subcontinent, the clergy, instead of concentrating on reshaping and modernising their ideological stand, talked of the ‘revival of the Muslim glory.’ And their interpretation of the past glory was the revival of Muslim monarchy. They did not realise the era of emperors and monarchs had ended and democracy was on the horizon. They vehemently opposed and obstructed all efforts of the Muslim leadership for the constitutional and democratic rights of the deprived Muslim masses. When Sayyed Ahmed Khan and Syed Amir Ali were struggling to prepare the Muslim masses for their due share in democratic governance, these elements were busy debating frivolous religious issues. Whenever they opposed democratic and constitutional politics, the masses rejected them.
After being rejected by the Muslims of the sub-continent during the independence movement, these elements re-grouped themselves in independent Pakistan. They soon revived their activities to distract the people and the rulers from democratic path, necessary to introduce a democratic culture and constitutional rule make the newly independent Pakistan a strong, liberal, progressive and democratic state. After the death of Quaid-e-Azam in 1948, these elements outmaneuvered the political opportunists who had dominated the national scene, and captured power through the back door.
The Quaid’s vison for a democratic, liberal and progressive Pakistan that he had announced in clear terms on August 11, 1947, in his address to the first constitutional assembly, was set aside. The hold of the forces of obscurantism on the affairs of the state can easily be realised from the fact that the August 11 speech of the Quaid, that should have been a part of the Constitution, was not only censored, but is also missing from all history books. It was the first major defeat of the democratic and liberal forces in the country.
The third Martial law imposed after a coup by Gen. Zia-ul-Haq on July 5 1977 introduced a new generation of leaders to the political scene in Pakistan. The crop of politicians not only failed to manage the affairs of the state properly, they were equally unsuccessful in establishing themselves as honest, efficient and sincere rulers during the last 31 years. The socio-political conditions in Pakistan turned from bad to worse after every undemocratic and unconstitutional action of those who came to power after the political murder of Liaguat Ali Khan in 1951. Malik Ghulam Mohammad, Maj. Gen. Iskander Mirza, Gen. Muhammad Ayub Khan and Gen. Agha Muhammad Yahya.
All added to the political chaos and anarchy prevailing. Malik Ghulam Muhammad started musical chairs for the post of the prime minister after the murder of Liaquat Ali Khan and Maj. General Mirza, who replaced the incapacitated Governor General, Ghulam Muhammad, continued with the practice. In all, six governments were changed in a short span of seven years before Ayub Khan took power after imposing martial law on October 7, 1958.
He abrogated the Constitution that was framed by a nominated Constitutional Assembly in 1956 after nine years of independence. His totalitarian rule continued for years through martial law expert Manzoor Qadir, another martial law by general Agha Muhammad Yahya replaced the Ayub regime. Ayub’s constitution, unlike other constitution, did not allow for a change of government between elections.
This Constitutional arrangement, described as ‘stability’ by Ayub Khan and his supporters, empowered Ayub to rule without accommodating the opposition – the regime also further reinforced its totalisation hold by other means. For example, the press was under the complete control of the government through legal and illegal arrangements. Through the tool of National Press Trust, the government took control of most of major newspapers of Pakistan, besides talking over one of the two national news agencies, the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) under government control.
The state of emergency proclaimed during the 1965 war with India was allowed to continue till February 1969, when under pressure from the opposition’s agitation it was lifted a few weeks before Ayub Khan relinquished charge. A total of 239 persons were killed in the six-month long agitation, 43 were killed in West Pakistan while other 196 persons lost their lives in East Pakistan. The opposition parties and opposition leaders have never been accepted as an important institution as they are in Western democracy. Tolerance for difference of opinion and political dissent is an essential ingredient of ideal democracy. Ruling elites in Pakistan, like most Third World nations have failed to respect the role of the opposition. When Yahya Khan captured power in March 1969, after the abrogation of Ayub constitution, there virtually was no administration in the country. The three years of Yahya’s rule can easily be described as inefficient and chaotic. The Mishandling of extremist political tendencies, unleashed after a suppression of 11 years resulted in the creation of Bangladesh. After Bangladesh was created, the establishment was forced to hand over power to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the leader of the majority party in remaining Pakistan.
He was one of the two most popular leaders in post-independence Pakistan. The other even more popular leader being Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman of East Pakistan, who became the founder of Bangladesh. Both the charismatic populist political leaders were eliminated, from the scene by two factions of the same establishment in a short span of five years. Nine political parties in the opposition united front welcomed the coup by General Ziaul Haq as they were under the impression that he would hand over power to them once the threat of Bhutto was eliminated. In any general elections in double figures. The best performance was that of the Muslim League (Council) which won seven seats in 1970 general elections.
Ziaul Haq being a shrewd operator knew his worth among the masses. Soon after the PNA was no longer of any use to him, he decided to go play alone hand for unlimited political and administrative Power. He tried and succeeded in creating new political lobby for himself. This Pro Zia lobby acquired such an important position in the politics of Pakistan that even the daughter of Z.A Bhutto succumbed to their tactics when she was twice voted into power. Gen. Ziaul Haq followed the strategy of corrupting a handful of persons from different walks of life, business, politics, mass media and religion. The obvious result was loss of credibility for the rules and the creations of a large distance between the rulers and the ruled. Nawaz Sharif rod into power on an anti-Benazir wave, yet has fared no better. Benazir Bhutto was criticised for not respecting the judiciary and later Muslim League toughies. led by Punjabi members of Parliament attacked the supreme court while the former chief Justice was hearing a case against the incumbent prime minister. The new generation of politicians in charge of the national affairs for the last 30 years have come to forefront through a short cut. They have not been through the milling process, a close contact with the masses essential for the sound training of political leadership in a democratic setup.
After 11 year of parliamentary democracy, the army chief, Gen. Musharraf and his colleagues in the armed forces, once again staged a coup and captured power in 1999. Gen. Pervez Musharraf had to leave the arena after 2007 elections that had resulted in a split mandate at federal as well as on provincial levels. Coalition governments were established in the name of politics of reconciliation. However, Muslim League Nawaz decided to act as opposition by withdrawing from the coalition at the centre. The crises further aggravated after the controversial decision of the supreme court against Sharif brothers, and the president clamped governor’s rule in Punjab.
In democratic societies, the organizations and activist of political parties provide a training ground for political leadership. Politicking, debates and discussions on various issues inside the political organisation and on the floor of the house help to spot and identify talented and politically mature leaders. However, in Pakistan, unfortunately this time-tested process has not been allowed to run smoothly Therefore, all political parties today have very poor standards of leadership. Most members are in the assemblies not because of their commitment to eh party programmes or their performance as a parliamentarian, but because of their personal loyalties towards the respective party chiefs or because of their financial standings. The concept of democracy, in Pakistan has always been limited to the holding of elections. The privileged class gets elected from both sides of the political divide. Those who do not belong to the said class soon join the elite club after entering the special field. In the electoral process of Pakistan, leaders are usually imposed on the party from above because of their antecedents. The role of committed party workers and the so-called party organization finishes once the results of the elections are compiled. Once a charismatic leader known in most cases as the saviour of the nation, takes charge at the centre or at the provincial capital, he/she starts behaving as the supreme ruler and acts without taking the party into confidence.
Political parties throughout the democratic world are considered an essential link between the leaders and the general public. Organised public opinion is one of accepted definitions of a political party. Therefore, to ignore his/her political party after elections is to ignore the public opinion, considered sacred and essential in a democratic setup. Almost all political leaders in Pakistan who acquired power through the popular vote have usually acted in a manner that negated the essence and spirit of parliamentary democracy. Instead of remaining subservient to the party programme discipline. they invariably acted as someone above party organisation and ideology. The obvious result was loss of credibility for political parties and their workers. The steady fall in the votes turn out during the last four general elations clearly shows, the rulers and the credibility crisis political leaders are faced with.
Serious problems face by the Pakistani society can only be solved through the participation of the people in the political process. To restore the confidence of the people in the destiny of the nation, genuine political leadership is required. Although there are more than 160 big and small political parties and groups in the country but none are trusted by the public. Revelations rights from the horse’s mouth about the distribution of not-so secret funds among various political parties and politicians from secret agencies and the interest and involvement of the serving army generals, including the COAS himself to maneuver the election results ten years ago, have turned the whole setup into a farce.
The judiciary and the Election commission have not taken any action on the confirmed reports through the parties and the individuals admitting dispersion and receiving these illegal grants should have been disqualified from politics. If cases can justifiably be registered for accepting commissions for granting contracts and licenses, why can proceedings not be initiated against those who admitted publicly the use of underhand tactics, to influence the results of elections and subvert the expressions of genuine public opinion. If Pakistan has to come out of the grave political, social and economic crisis a genuine cleaning process is the need of the time.