Democracy Under Fire: The Danger Of Disillusionment

Democracy Under Fire: The Danger Of Disillusionment
Since the last 75 years, Pakistan has been the battle ground between the forces of democracy and powerful anti-democratic groups and their facilitators.

It was in 1948 that the father of the nation Governor-General Mohammed Ali Jinnah passed away, and shortly after, the first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was gunned down in 1951 in Liaquat Bagh Rawalpindi. After the death of Liaquat Ali Khan, politics seemed like a game of musical chairs, with governments falling almost every six months until 1958, when the first Pakistani Commander-in-Chief of the Army Gen Ayub Khan imposed martial law and took control of the country as its supreme leader with absolute dictatorial powers. The Ayub regime came to an inglorious end under the pressure and campaign of democratic forces in the shape of the Combined Opposition Parties (COP) when Ayub Khan handed over power to General Yahya Khan and went into retirement. The Yahya regime had a short stint of less than three years and ended with the tragic war of 1971 and the birth of Bangladesh.

ZA Bhutto became the first elected Prime Minister of the country in 1972 and began his rule with the promise of picking up the pieces and uniting the country. Democracy had a fresh chance to flourish under Bhutto but alas this did not happen. The Bhutto regime took on the cloak of a dictatorship and was in conflict with democratic forces once again. This time the forces of democracy grouped together under the guise of Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) and managed to weaken the Bhutto regime to an extent that General Zia-ul-Haq toppled the Bhutto regime and took control with his agenda of Islamisation of society. The dark and dismal era of the Zia dictatorship ended abruptly in flames with the crash of the C-130 near Bahawalpur in August 1988.

With the end of the third military dictatorship, it was hoped that Pakistan will now be back on the track of undiluted democracy, rule of law and civilian supremacy. The people of Pakistan heaved a huge sigh of relief and began hoping that the new elected government. will now repair the damage inflicted by the eleven years dictatorial military rule of Zia-ul-Haq. People now hoped for peace, prosperity and the end of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, corruption and crime. In 1988 Pakistan had its first general elections after the elections of 1977 under Yahya Khan. Benazir Bhutto became the first woman to head a government in any Muslim country of the world – but not before she had to agree to the terms dictated by the powerful military establishment regarding foreign policy, Kashmir and nuclear policy. So she began her term subservient to the establishment.

Benazir began her term in good faith with the release of all political prisoners, and allowing the student unions to flourish once again in all educational institutions. She became in icon among the feminist activists and created a sense of security among the female political workers who were overjoyed to see a woman ruling the roost in a very patriarchal society where a woman had never before attained such a position of power.

The honeymoon with democracy ended soon, when the anti-democratic forces once again banded together and began their nefarious campaign of blaming all the evils in society on the political and democratic forces. They managed to create an impression that politicians are corrupt, inept and incapable of ruling the country. An insidious conspiracy was hatched to derail democracy and throw out the first democratically elected regime after a long time. This first government of the PPP after 1977 had little time to deliver. Although the party was in government, it did not have the powers to run it independently. It was surrounded by the hostile establishment and extremist groups. Various nationalist groups also despised her.

Contrary to this, the first government of Nawaz Sharif found a conducive environment to serve the people. The country’s elite institutions were sympathetic to it while the religious right was also allied with Nawaz. But he soon ran into trouble with the powerful elements of the state that forced him to abandon the power corridors of Islamabad.

The next two stints in power by Benazir and Nawaz Sharif were spent in bitter political disputes and hurling allegations of corruption on each other. They spent more time in defaming each other than devoting time to better governance and addressing the problems faced by their voters and supporters. Benazir and her home minister Babur backed the Taliban in Afghanistan calling them “our children” and Nawaz Sharif went the extra mile to appease the religious fanatics by introducing the 15th amendment bill or the Sharia Bill to become the Ameer-ul-Momineen of Pakistan. Ironically even the democratically elected leaders want to become dictatorial in due course. The political shenanigans of the 1990s once again gave a chance to the anti-democratic forces to assert themselves with the mantra that democracy cannot work in Pakistan and the military establishment under general Musharraf struck with full force to place Pakistan under military rule for the next eight years.

Fast forward to the year 2022 and an inglorious end to the regime of Imran Khan. Once again we face the scenario when the blue eyed by of the establishment has been toppled and all the democratic parties are in a desperate struggle to gain favor of the military establishment for the coming general elections. No elected leader or political party after the end of the Zia regime has been able to end poverty and now millions of people are living in abject poverty. No government has even addressed the urgent need to fight the effects of climate change and the resultant catastrophes. All parties have failed miserably to provide free education or healthcare. Our education system lacks the most basic facilities and our health care system is woefully inadequate for the needs of the common people. Many people in Pakistan are without housing as the price of land is now beyond the reach of the common folk. No political government has so far provided a decent housing policy or a system of easy financing for house ownership.

The PML-N needs to know why despite spending over billions on various development projects since 1988, the majority of people have been unable reap the dividends of these projects. The PTI needs to find out why the country’s health system is still fractured despite the fact that the party allocated close to Rs 400 billion into it. The PPP has to reflect upon the poor condition of Sindh where Hepatitis, Tuberculosis and a number of other diseases are playing havoc with the lives of millions.

It is perhaps because of these factors that a dangerous disillusion is gripping people. They are losing confidence in the ability of political parties to deliver and solve their problems. It is a worrying sign. The future of Pakistan depends on undiluted parliamentary democracy with civilian supremacy. The country needs to break the shackles of dependence on powerful non-democratic forces – and, in particular, the military establishment.