Pakistan’s political dilemma

“Nip the shoots of arbitrary power in the bud, is the only maxim which can ever preserve the liberties of any people” — John Adams.

Pakistan got independence in 1947, yet the people of Pakistan have been far from free. We might not be under the British Raj any more, but the military establishment’s shackles are no less oppressive. For more than 30 years of Pakistan’s 59 years of so-called ‘independence’, the country has been ruled by military dictators. It is a tragedy that the country’s two most powerful institutions – the military and the bureaucracy – joined hands to seize political power after the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan. The generals and the bureaucrats have since then not let any civilian government rule in peace.

When President General Pervez Musharraf seized power through a military coup in October 1999, many people believed he was the best thing that could have happened to Pakistan at that point in time. Even now, many educated people are of the view that since the civilian governments could not deliver true democracy, it is much better to have a military dictator rule the country. According to a survey “Study of Democracy in South Asia” by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in collaboration with the International Institute of Democracy and Electoral Assistance, Stockholm, and Department of Sociology, Oxford University, six out of 10 Pakistanis prefer the military administration. According to the report, about half of the Pakistani respondents said that democratic or non-democratic forms of government made no difference to them. What these people do not realise is how military rule adversely affects a country’s development – political, economic and social.

General Ayub Khan’s 10-year rule saw a great economic boom, but that boom was only due to the US and other Western nations supporting Pakistan’s economy for its role against fighting the Communist bloc. Pakistan faced one of its worst military defeats in 1965 due to the miscalculations of General Ayub, incurring substantive political and economic losses. After the sugar crisis, Ayub had to step down as a result of a public agitation and he chose to hand over the reins of power to another military dictator, General Yahya Khan. Yahya as we all know was responsible for the biggest blunder in Pakistan’s history – the separation of its eastern wing in 1971, now called Bangladesh.

There was a semblance of democracy after the 1971 debacle when Bhutto became the prime minister. He possessed a dictatorial mindset and was not kind to anyone who opposed him. A few years down the road, another military coup ended his dictatorial rule and he was executed. Ironically, it was Bhutto himself who had appointed Ziaul Haq as the Chief of Army Staff in 1976, superseding a number of more senior officers, thinking him to be a meek, subservient general. When Bhutto’s rule turned autocratic and the masses became violent, General Zia took advantage of the situation to stage a coup and enforced Martial Law in the country.

General Ziaul Haq’s 11-year rule proved to be a disaster and his legacy is still wreaking havoc with the country. Zia’s Islamisation drive led to the rise of the mullahs, who have used religion as a tool to exploit the masses. The Kalashnikov and drug culture boomed in the Zia era due to the jihad being waged against the Soviet forces in neighbouring Afghanistan. The intelligence services were given powers the likes of which had not been seen in any previous regime, but the ISI is not a “state-within-a-state” as has been dubbed by many. The ISI is answerable to the military headquarters and cannot carry out any operation without the nod of the GHQ. The military has used the ISI to further its own vested interests.

After Zia’s draconian rule ended with his mysterious death, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s heiress Benazir Bhutto came to power in 1988. For many, she was a breath of fresh air. Benazir’s public image was such that it represented the liberal forces of society, but there can be many reasons why she was unable to take any steps for the nation. One reason could be that her party never enjoyed a clear majority in either the 1988 or 1993 governments. The ISI was responsible for creating the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) – an alliance comprising nine parties of which the major components were the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) – to oppose the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Nawaz Sharif who headed the IJI succeeded in forming his government in Punjab and from that stronghold, he waged a political battle that eventually led to his becoming the prime minister in 1990. Also, it is believed that Benazir could not have come to power in either 1988 or 1993 had the military establishment not supported her. Therefore, she could not afford to annoy the military and at the first sign of irritation by the military at any of her decisions, she retreated. Nawaz Sharif was the baby of the ISI. His rise to power in the Zia era is no secret. But when he dared to outdo the military by casting himself in the role of a monarch, he was ousted within hours.

There is no denying that both Benazir and Nawaz have plundered the country’s wealth in their respective tenures. The level of corruption is unmatchable, yet it can be argued that had they completed their five-year terms, the electorate would have voted them out. Instead, the dissolution of their governments gained them the sympathy of the masses, who voted them back in their second terms respectively.

Pakistan’s political crisis was further aggravated when General Musharraf came into power. A man who vowed to end political corruption and extremism is himself guilty of making alliances with the mullahs and the same old corrupt politicians to secure his own presidency.

Those who say that the enlightened regime has done more for the people than any civilian government should remember that the Musharraf regime was able to pass the Women’s Protection Bill (WPB) and make it into an Act only because it did not have the same constraints the civilian governments faced. Even though he could have entirely scrapped the Hudood Ordinances, he only chose to amend a part of it, not wanting to offend the right-wing forces.

Granted that there is relatively more press freedom than before, but in this age of globalisation, the Musharraf regime could not afford to earn the bad name of being repressive of press freedom. Accessibility of news and information through the internet and the electronic media revolution is the reason why this regime chose to give relative freedom to the press. Still, the press is not entirely free and cannot dare to publish something that could go against the interests of the military establishment.

Military rule is arbitrary by its inherent nature. It is a one-man monarchy. It does not matter whether the people like the decisions of the monarch or not, they will have to go with them because his decision is final. One example is that of Balochistan. Even though politicians like Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain realise the depth of the political crisis there and have suggested that a political solution be sought, the ego of General Musharraf would not allow such an overture. The whims of the military dictator can cost the country one of its vital parts. Another problem of military rule is the succession problem. Who will come after Musharraf? Will there be a peaceful handover/takeover? Such political uncertainty would be disadvantageous for the country. No military ruler gave up power voluntarily. Ayub was forced to step down after the masses rose against him; Yahya could not face the country after the 1971 disaster; Zia died in a mysterious plane crash and only time will tell how Musharraf’s rule ends.

It is a sad fact of history that not more than 200 families have shared political power in Pakistan since independence. These politicians have exploited the country in collaboration with the military. There is a dearth of political leadership in Pakistan and the major political parties have no agenda whatsoever except to fatten their bank balances. Nawaz and Benazir are not the solution to the problems of Pakistan. Neither is military rule. We need a leadership with a vision and sincerity to address issues; with a political will to allow provincial autonomy and challenge injustices; with moderate policies and future vision to control problems like education, population, water distribution, etc. Till such a leadership emerges, we are doomed to be ruled by the military in one form or another.


Afzaal said…
So, where are the new, dynamic, young progressive leaders? Lamenting is fine, but action is required!
mehmal said…
For that, we need to revive the Left first. Pakistan's Left is almost dead and a country where only the Right and Centre are present, but not the Left, cannot produce any viable leadership.

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