Talking about democracy in Pakistan – Which one?

Which democracy in Pakistan is the international community talking about? Is it the democracy where the army sets the rules of the game? Or is it all about staging an election and installing a civil parliament of the same landlords-cum-politicians who control more than 60 per cent of the country and of those religious-cum-politicians who target the remaining illiterate people in the name of religion?

One should not be surprised at the latest political development in President General Pervez Musharraf’s rule, as it is the usual military business in Pakistan. Whatever General Musharraf has done in his 8-year-rule and whatever he is trying now is a reproduction of the actions of the past military rulers.

To understand the shortcomings in the governance and the democratic system one must see where these weaknesses are in the political structure of Pakistan. To begin with, government power is concentrated in the hands of an elitist bureaucracy and over-ambitious military, and the deeply rooted dominant feudal system in most of the parts of Pakistan shares a common interest with the army. On top of all this, the traditional power brokers, the religious-cum-political parties, are always ready to give their allegiance to anyone, including army generals, who promise to protect their material interests in the country.

From the first army dictator –” Field Marshal General Ayub Khan –” to the current General Pervez Musharraf, only the faces of the army generals have changed – the rule of the game is the same.

In 1958, Ayub Khan established military rule in Pakistan through the first introduction of marshall law in the country. In his ten year rule, Ayub Khan promoted landlords into the political and bureaucratic establishment. When he decided to shield his army rule with a customized democracy, he reshaped the Pakistan Muslim League into the conventional Muslim League. He brought Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto as one of his frontline campaigners for his customized democracy (Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was a foreign return barrister and a top level landlord of Sind being a son of Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto). Since then the army has been sharing power with the bureaucrats and the landlords in Pakistan, whether it is a pure army rule or purported democratically run government. The army picks and chooses the bureaucrats, the landlords-cum-politicians and even the judges of the highest civil courts. Unfortunately, in the current situation, now the top level civil judges are also behaving like leaders of political parties and are asserting to the army that they are another force beside landlords, religious leaders and bureaucrats to share a part in the ruling-game.

In 1971, for the first time, the people of Pakistan were given the chance to vote for democracy in a comparatively open and free environment by another army dictator General Yahya Khan, General Ayub Khan’s successor. However, the free elections were not enough. Controlled by the landlords and influenced by religious parties, the people of Pakistan, unfortunately, elected those voracious leaders who did not want to give up the chance of ruling the country. With the exception of a few religious and political leaders, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his Pakistan People Party won the race in West Pakistan (current Pakistan) and Shaikh Mujeeb-ur-Rehman and his Awami League won in East Pakistan (current Bangladesh). The dogmatic agenda of both political leaders and the brutal civil conflict which ensued in former East Pakistan changed in the map of Pakistan. Bengalis made East Pakistan their independent country –” Bangladesh.. Six years later when the time came to continue the democratic process and accept the will of the people of Pakistan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto declared himself the first civil marshal law administrator in response to the country-wide demonstrations against his alleged rigging in the general election of 1977.

Establishing democracy is not just the same as casting votes, electing government heads and installing assemblies. It is a continuous process of nation building. Without widespread political awareness, education, civil liberties, rule of law and freedom of speech, any kind of election can only give birth to an ambitious and corrupt system with power-greedy political leaders. This is what has happened in Pakistan for the last five decades.

The top two democracy campaigners in Pakistan in the current so-called democratic movement against the regime of Musharraf and also the two times democratically elected prime ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, are the perfect example of the political corruption on the name of democracy. From 1988 to 1998 Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif came to power twice. On both occasions both failed to sustain and promote democracy in the country. Both were accused of corruption and lawlessness. Both promoted a culture of favouritism and political briberies. During the tenure of Ms Bhutto, from 1993 to 1996, lawlessness was so high and insecurity was so acute that people were openly inviting the army to take over. It was not only political instability which created concern among the people, but economic disorder and chaos in the law and order of the country. On the other hand, Nawaz Sharif first came to power in November 1990 as the prime minister. Earlier he had been chief minister of Punjab backed by former dictator General Zia ul Haque. The Sharif family’s wealth is built around steel, paper, sugar and textile mills and his business empire rose astronomically during the 1980s and 1990s. Mr. Sharif and his family did not miss any chance to further increase their assets.

Looking into the political profiles of Benazir Bhutto & Nawaz Sharif and how the army culture works, it is hard to believe that this time they will not accept a deal with the current regime of Musharraf or any other future general.

Pakistan has an unfortunate history of absolute despotism. The country whose creation was based on the basic principles of democracy has never known anything other than autocratic rule. The facts are simple: how can a true democratic system ever be expected to evolve in Pakistan when it is governed by the army and where over 60 per cent of the population is controlled by feudalism and tribalism?

Today, Western forces, including the United States, are demanding President General Musharraf remove his current emergency rule in Pakistan and hold democratic elections as soon as possible. Today, these foreign forces are talking about democracy for the people of Pakistan. On the other hand, the historical facts will confirm that these western forces always supported army rulers in Pakistan as long as they needed them. General Zia ul Haque was backed by the United States during his ten years of military rule as his support was needed to look after the Taliban in the war in Afghanistan against Russian invasion. General Musharraf has been supported by the United States and Western powers for the six eight (since September 11, 2001 incident happened) years so that he can support the US-led operation in Afghanistan against the Taliban, Osama Bin Laden and other anti-western religious groups. So, where was the call for democracy in those days?

The biggest issue today in Pakistan is not to hold the election, form new assemblies and civil ministries. The important issue is civic understanding and liberty for the people of Pakistan to objectively achieve a process of fair and fruitful democraticisation. Pakistan needs a revolution – a complete reformation in all civil institutions – elimination of the feudal system, fanatic ideologies, involvement of the army in the civil government, the supremacy of the judiciary and freedom of speech. Pakistan needs a continuous and independent process of development whose control should not be in the hands of foreign powers.

Therefore, should President Musharraf hold the election in Pakistan, it will not change the lives of the common people nor will it change the corrupt system of governance.