Sun. Sep 25th, 2022

Why Democracy?

By Amir Hussain

In theory, Pakistan is a nascent democracy where for the first time in its topsy-turvy political history of governance transition from one civilian rule to another has been managed successfully.

We have seen this smooth transition of power from the PPP to the PML-N through an electoral process that was beset with allegations of rigging and unsuccessful attempts by opposition parties to dislodge the ruling civilian government which is in its third year now. Political narratives built around rigging, electioneering and corruption echoed well among the masses. But they had little impact on conventional politics. Some conspiracy theorists believe that non-civilian forces are simply waiting for an opportune moment to break this continuity of civil rule.

Apart from the prognoses of our conspiracy theorists, the reality is much more complicated; democratic transition still faces birth pangs and the military establishment calls the shot when it comes to formulating national economic and security policies as well as the key dimensions of foreign policy.

At times, democratic rule seems to be in tatters, inflicted by inter- and intraparty strife, corruption, incompetence and intrigues. The marathon sit-ins and politics of agitation – as the Sharifs would call it – crippled the sitting government during the last two years. The situation was further aggravated by the recent episode of the Panama leaks – thanks to the handling of the situation by Nawaz Sharif and his cabinet.

The most significant political narrative that came out of the sit-ins of the PTI and PAT was about direct political action, nothing less than deposing the sitting prime minister no matter how undemocratic the means to do so may be.

While transition to democratic rule is mired in the quagmire of political expediency, opportunism, lack of confidence and trust deficit, the non-political forces seem to exercise unprecedented restraint even as PTI, PAT and Awami Muslim League’s desperation to have the sitting government removed in favour of the trio is all too obvious.

On its part, the government is perceived to be trying to please top military man by exploiting a natural human instinct – the will to power and glory. What is certain is that our self-proclaimed champions of democracy lack the political wherewithal, statesmanship, capacity and vision to see beyond their own inhibitions, nurtured over years of dictatorial regimes. For the situation to be otherwise, it will only come with the evolution of democratic institutions.

We are nowhere near such an ideal state of democracy – at least in the present form of governance. The credible minimum deterrence to unconstitutional rule and change is the ability of political leaders to mobilise citizens, or at least the perception that any unconstitutional attempt to remove an elected government may invite popular resentment and resistance.

For democracies to work, there are certain political prerequisites which must be met; and Pakistani democracy has to learn them quickly to avoid another relapse into dictatorship. First is the conviction and self-belief within political parties that empowering people will yield positive outcomes for all institutions of state.

Second, political parties must exhibit a democratic spirit by allowing intra-party elections and by replacing family dynasties with an accountable, transparent and meritocratic system. None of the major political parties display this democratic will. This includes the emerging PTI, which heavily relies on the political charisma of Imran Khan rather than on democratic ideals to mobilise political support.

Third, civilian governments must attain genuine popular support as a bulwark against unconstitutional political moves. And they must simultaneously strive to integrate the so-called ‘centrifugal political forces’ into mainstream politics through robust political and social security measures. In the restive province of Balochistan, for instance, there is no political roadmap other than narrowly focused security-based makeshift solutions to longstanding political problems.

Fourth, the current government must immediately work towards an inclusive political framework that can entail extending constitutional cover and writ of governance to hitherto politically excluded regions like Gilgit-Baltistan.

This calls for formulating a clear, realistic and time-bound roadmap for democratic transition and the mainstreaming of institutions of peoples’ representation. Pakistan is at a critical juncture of its history today in the context of converging international interests that compete for a larger pie in the global economy and strive to control areas of geostrategic importance for political and economic supremacy.

The reverberations from the so-called ‘New Great Game’ have begun to be felt with the launch of the CPEC – in particular in Gilgit-Baltistan, the gateway of the CPEC. There is an increasing sense of deprivation in Gilgit-Baltistan for being politically and economically marginalised for seven decades now. This is further aggravated because the very gateway of the CPEC has nothing to gain from the huge investment of $46 billion.

First and foremost, Gilgit-Baltistan must be brought under the ambit of the Pakistani constitution to allow these people to realise their full potential and contribute towards national development. The area has huge development potential from tourism – one of the most lucrative and profit-making industries of the world.

GB also has 60,000MW identified potential of power generation from its hydro resources and huge mineral reserves, so critical for the socioeconomic development of Pakistan. This huge geographical area of 28,000 square miles with two million in population has all the economic, political and legal credentials to be the fifth province of Pakistan. One can imagine the patriotism of these mountain communities who won their own freedom from the pro-Indian Dogra rule on Nov 1, 1948 without any external support and then voluntarily joined Pakistan.

The people of GB retained their unique cultural and political identities even when under occupation by the foreign invaders from Kashmir during the time of British colonialism. The people of GB never found any cultural and political resonance with the occupation forces of Kashmiri rajas. Their diverse cultural and ethnic mosaic and politically imagined identities could not be assimilated into a foreign culture and political system.

Pakistan, therefore, needs to rethink its Kashmir policy vis-à-vis GB in the backdrop of the unique cultural and political history of this region rather than imposing the colonial legal and political instruments of what Prof Mehmood Hamdani would term the ‘dichotomy of citizens and subjects in the same country’.

It would not be politically wise to keep the people of GB deprived of their legitimate political rights in an era where certain regional and global economic and political interests may exploit this sense of deprivation to foment violence at the gateway of the CPEC.

The solution does not lie in beefing up security along the CPEC route as we are used to doing in Balochistan – albeit ineffectively. There is a larger political and constitutional question that must be addressed to attain peace, harmony and prosperity. We can hardly afford any delays to dispense democracy if we are committed to peace, prosperity, stability and transformation in Pakistan.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad. Email:

Courtesy: The News 

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