By Hafeez Sheikh
San Fernando Valley, CA
is at the crossroads. On the one hand are the military
rulers along with their supporters determined to
keep the control over the country, and on the other
hand are intelligentsia, lawyers and attorneys,
people and their political parties who are yearning
to change the system. This is a typical syndrome
of all the Muslim countries in the world. The great
majority of the people want to have a say in the
system, want to change the government when they
want it, but the rulers want to maintain the status
quo at any cost. This struggle, and this tension
between the masses and the rulers is symptomatic
of the issue at the heart of these societies.
The issue is whether democracy is possible and sustainable
in the Muslim societies or not. Some people argue
that Muslim genius is averse to the general concept
of the rule of the people. Their argument is that
general masses dislike politics and political parties
that are so fundamental for the democratic institutions.
They prefer military rulers to the civilian rulers.
But this is not true. Muslim genius could be as
much democratic as any other society in the world
provided the masses are allowed to experiment and
run the democratic institutions over a longer period
Democracy is a concept as well as a process. Political
institutions, such as political parties, right of
the people to choose their own representatives in
free and fair elections, a free and independent
judiciary to guarantee the fundamental rights of
the people against government and even majority
tyranny, are essential ingredients for a successful
These fundamental rights are inalienable. No government
or even a majority rule can take these rights away
from the people. A free and independent judiciary
is the cornerstone for the guarantee of these rights.
The government or majority rule does not give this
right to the judiciary. The judiciary has not taken
this right upon itself. It is the Constitution that
gives this duty and role to the judiciary. If we
do not have an independent judiciary in the country,
we do not have a constitutional government. This
is as crucial.
At present, there is a sham democracy and a sham
political system in the country. The assemblies
have done hardly any legislative work. The problems
of the people have not been addressed. There is
some economic activity in the country, but a lot
more could have been done in the circumstances.
Even if the argument is that the current government
has done a good job, but to change the government
through fair and free elections with the oversight
of the judiciary is the right of the people only.
A sham democracy is holding people back. This whole
edifice is a façade to deceive people inside
and outside the country.
Most of the democratic institutions in the country
have already fallen down. The last one is the supreme
court of the country. By firing the chief justice
of the Supreme Court on flimsy grounds, Musharaf
has lost all his legitimacy.
It is interesting to see how Musharaf started, and
where he is at this time. At the time when he took
over, he portrayed himself as a victim of a conspiracy
and he was able to win sympathies of the people.
He portrayed himself as an enlightened democratic
person who would break away with all old traditions
and to change the old paradigms.
He presented the seven -point agenda or program
to the people, and they welcomed it . But slowly
and slowly he moved away from this enlightened program
and started his own real agenda of sticking to power.
He broke and remade the political parties; he coerced
and he influenced people to go along with his agenda.
He destroyed the political parties and political
institutions. He rigged the first elections and
hand-picked his assembly people just to follow his
orders and obey him. He started out as a rebel against
the political status quo, but very soon he himself
became a symbol of the status quo. Now his own personal
survival depended on the same status quo, which
he started to change. He brought in old political
leaders whom he had blamed for all the malaise of
He declared that he would change the sham democracy,
and now he is presiding over a sham democracy. He
announced that he would empower people at the grassroots
level, and now people are disappointed. He claimed
that he would drive away corrupt politicians, and
now the same politicians surround him. People have
been listening to his sound bites for a long time,
and now their patience has exhausted. They want
a real change in the system.
Our military rulers are smart, intelligent and dedicated.
They are extremely patriotic. But politics is a
game of give and take. It is a game of the possible
and compromise. Military personnel are not trained
for this. We do not doubt the integrity and patriotism
of the army, but politics is not its domain. The
domain of the military is war games, protection
of the borders, and planning for the defense of
the country against any foreign aggression.
Some blame should go to politicians also. They have
not played the game according to the rules. Their
inability to compromise and coexist has always invited
the envious eyes of the military. If you run your
house smoothly and fairly, nobody can take it. They
have never tried to rise above the level of petty
politicians to the next level of statesmen. They
should take a hard look at their past performance,
and have a broad-based agreement on a number of
issues, including free and honest elections, independent
judiciary, and strong and mature legislative bodies.