Political Dilemma of Pakistan
By Hafeez Sheikh
San Fernando Valley, CA

Pakistan 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 of time.
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 democratic system.
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 the country.
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.


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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