Give democracy a chance

The past few weeks were full of political speculation in Pakistan. There were rumours of a coup but most political observers were of the view that in this time and age it is very difficult for the military to go for a direct coup. It all began with a press release issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) after Prime Minister Gilani gave an interview to China’s People’s Daily Online in which Mr Gilani called the affidavits submitted by the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Kayani and DG ISI General Pasha as “unconstitutional and illegal”. This obviously irked the military top brass. The dire warning issued by the ISPR on January 11 against a sitting prime minister is unprecedented, saying that: “There can be no allegation more serious than what the Honourable Prime Minister has levelled against COAS and DG ISI and has unfortunately charged the officers for violation of the Constitution of the country. This has very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country.” The threat was not lost on anyone. The same day the prime minister dismissed the Defence Secretary Lieutenant-General (retd) Naeem Khalid Lodhi citing “gross misconduct and illegal action which created misunderstanding” between the state institutions. Another important development was the change of command at the 111th Infantry Brigade (also known as the Triple One Brigade). In the past this brigade has been used whenever the army has mounted a coup. The symbolism of all these ‘changes’ was important but it was just that: posturing.

On top of that, Prime Minister Gilani was served with a contempt of court notice for not writing a letter to the Swiss government to reopen the graft cases against President Asif Zardari. The premier appeared before the Supreme Court yesterday (January 19) and said that he respected the judiciary and would never even contemplate committing contempt of court but also maintained that the president enjoys immunity and a letter to the Swiss authorities would only be sent when Mr Zardari no more hold the office of the president. The government is playing its cards well. On the one hand, there is an annoyed military, while on the other a judiciary that is seemingly biased against the government. It was in this context that a pro-democracy resolution was passed in parliament recently.

Democracy in Pakistan has suffered many blows over the past six decades. Even when there was no direct military rule, democratically elected governments were not allowed to function properly. Palace intrigues haunted each and every civilian government. When the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) came to power after winning the 2008 general elections, people welcomed the government after nine years of military rule under General Pervez Musharraf. But as happens in our country, moves to destabilise the government were set in motion from the very beginning. This government tried to appease the military one way or the other but the Memogate issue brought the two state institutions on the brink of a confrontation. Add to it the judiciary’s overreach in cases pertaining to the government and we had a readymade disaster waiting in the wings. The PPP-led coalition government might be weak but the way it has asserted itself in recent months in the face of adversarial challenges from the two most powerful institutions in the country is something new and heartening.

What happens in the coming days is something we are all waiting to see. There are speculations that early elections could be called and 2012 will be the year of the new general elections. The undemocratic forces have tried their best to oust this government through any means from the onset but have so far failed. It would have been ideal had the government completed its tenure but even if it calls early elections, that would be within their constitutional right. Supremacy of parliament and respect for the constitution is what we have fought for over the years. That Pakistan needs democracy is something we cannot deny. When people exercise their right to vote, it strengthens democracy. And when the military in Pakistan is unable to mount a coup, it is also a win for democracy. Let us celebrate democracy in Pakistan, however nascent and weak at the moment it may be.

(Originally published in Mid-Day)


Popular posts from this blog

Freedoms and sport

Religious extremism in Pakistan (Part V)

Shifting towards the Right