A dangerous precedent

In the aftermath of the disastrous implementation of Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution of Pakistan by the Election Commission’s returning officers (ROs), many are asking why the political parties did not remove General Zia-ul-Haq’s amendments from the Constitution when they had a chance during the previous democratic government’s tenure. It is indeed an omission for which they are now paying heavily but, predictably, the opposition to these amendments came from the religious and rightwing parties. In a country like ours, getting an ‘anti-Islam’ label can be quite damaging and dangerous so the previous parliament was cautious enough to let these articles remain in the Constitution.

Journalist Iftikhar Ahmad (@jawabdeyh) tweeted, “Height of McCarthyism”, after news broke out that noted columnist and PML-N leader Ayaz Amir’s nomination papers were rejected by the Election Commission for writing columns against the ‘ideology of Pakistan’ and Islam. Iftikhar Ahmad is right. The ROs played the role of Joe McCarthy down to a tee. They tried to do to the political class what McCarthy did to his political opponents and those with a conscience. While the Election Tribunals have overturned the RO’s decision in many cases – including Ayaz Amir’s, who is now allowed to contest the election – it was disturbing to see some journalists endorsing Articles 62 and 63 in their columns and on TV talk shows. If we are not allowed to engage in discourse lest someone accuses us of being anti-state or anti-religion, it means an end of rationality in Pakistan. One hopes that the next parliament will form a consensus on changing these moralistic articles but the question is, at whose behest were these articles, inserted by an evil military dictator, implemented during this exercise? Apparently, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry had directed the ROs to implement Articles 62 and 63. Whether unintentionally or by design, a dangerous precedent has been set; by the end of this exercise of so-called ‘scrutiny’, the entire political class was demonised in Pakistan. Many believe it is a well-crafted strategy by the undemocratic forces to discredit the next parliament.

As it is, our politicians have been at the receiving end of many a malicious campaign. According to ‘The Next Generation Goes to the Ballot Box’, a report by the British Council Pakistan, only 29% of our youth believe in democracy as a system while 94% think the country is heading in the wrong direction. Given a huge youth bulge in Pakistan, these results should ring alarm bells for the country as a whole. In essence, it means that the anti-democratic forces, including the military establishment and some sections of the media, have been quite successful at getting their desired results through their propaganda campaign against the political class.

What is it that makes the military establishment and its cohorts so uncomfortable with the idea of democracy? A strong, democratic Pakistan would mean an end to the military’s hegemony and its hold on national discourse. It is due to the military’s vested interest that extremist forces were strengthened in the first place. Now these forces are out to destroy this country. Our political leaders have already paid for their mistakes of omission and commission through long terms of imprisonments, exile, persistent character-assassination, perennial stigmatisation and even sacrifices of life. The people of Pakistan have suffered with both an unenviable quality of life and being consigned to the embarrassing status of a pariah community on the world stage. Democracy may not be a perfect system but it is one that the Pakistanis must invest in wholeheartedly so as to make this country a better place.

(Originally published in Mid-Day)


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