Pakistan’s democracy test: An Indian view

Dynamics of Pakistan’s 13th General Elections will demonstrate reaffirmation of democracy in Pakistan; Subhajit Naskar, an Indian academic from Kolkata argues

Subhajit Naskar 

As the day of General election approaches Pakistan, the face-off between the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and state institutions is intensifying. Following Nawaz Sharif’s dismissal and disqualification over alleged corruption charges in July last year, there has been a massive surge in the alliance between the military and the Judiciary. This murky storm is expected to escalate in the upcoming days.

However, something distinctive happened since Sharif’s Lifetime Ban from Power and Politics. Pakistani Judiciary revived complete dominance and hegemony over civilian and electoral politics. Since then, the judiciary’s unrelenting attempt to command democracy significantly emerged as a new hybrid in the country’s complex civil-military dispensation. That is so because; the democratic deficit of Pakistan is often ascribed to its fragile judiciary.

The forthcoming election for many reasons is being viewed by the international community with decisive optimism as it will redefine Pakistan’s faith in a substantive democratic process through electoral contestations. As the country is set to conduct its second consecutive democratic transition of power on July 25, the ruling PML(N) rides with a tremendous anti-incumbency wave across the country, particularly in the post-Sharif removal from office.

It is unfortunate that political polarisation and cynicism has increased in current electoral campaigns to such amagnitude that deepening of democracy will depend on how democratic sentiments traverse through the leaders and masses alike.

Amidst the growing crisis, Imran Khan, Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-E-Insaf (PTI) sees his party a major contender, as Imran has prudently rebooted his ‘Taliban Khan’ image to an Anti-corruption crusader. He tells his supporters from rallies “Pakistan’s issue has nothing to do with liberalism or fundamentalism. Pakistan has an issue of governance”. Many see him as a potential savior who can steer a failing Pakistan to an ‘Islamic Socialist Republic’.

The four military coups of Pakistan happened because of the disorder and chaos in political parties and in the parliament. Hence, military rule crippled the civil society, participatory political processes, democratic regulations were stifled and values were further subverted.

Though this has to be accepted with a pinch of salt as PTI led government released a massive fund this year for Darul Uloom Haqqania, the religious seminary prepares Taliban fighters for Jihad. For Sharif, his removal from office is engineered by the all-powerful Military-Judiciary combine to derail the Democratic process. He is contesting the upcoming elections not against Imran or Zardari. Rather, he sees ‘Khalai Makhlooq’ (aliens) involved in conducting the whole election process.

Although, both PML-N and PTI are engaged in high pitch criticism against each other. Subsequently, there has been a steep denigration of the standard in the political debate on the part of both political parties. Since Sharif’s political clout has ostensibly faded, the party’s MNA’s and MPA’s broke away and many joined PTI. His brother, Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif himself failed to re-energize the party, demoralized by the Sharif’s disqualification from office. Therefore, conventional wisdom suggests that if the PML-N continues to remain divided in this way, it will be politically routed in July when the nation goes to the polls.

Amidst the growing crisis, Imran Khan, Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-E-Insaf (PTI) sees his party a major contender, as Imran has prudently rebooted his ‘Taliban Khan’ image to an Anti-corruption crusader.

As, over more than sixty years of an ‘establishment’ dominated political order, whether by the martial law administrators or by the army in cooperation with civilians has not endorsed the democratic formation of the country in most senses of the word. The four military coups of Pakistan happened because of the disorder and chaos in political parties and in the parliament. Hence, military rule crippled the civil society, participatory political processes, democratic regulations were stifled and values were further subverted.

By aiding the existing feudal and tribal structures, the military in Pakistan had only strengthened non-democratic forces in the country whose interests remain tied to the prevention of Pakistan’s true democratic transformation. In December 1971, under the leadership of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the elected representatives strove to make inroads to establish the supremacy of public officials. Thereafter, civilian leaders have failed to block external interventions in the workings of government which further diminished their credibility.

The ruling elite of Pakistan doesn’t see any incentive in the country’s true democratic change, for that will directly challenge their political influence in the country. Arguably, the entire society remains divided into ethnic, caste, tribal and family lines. The protection of the family, ethnic, caste, and tribal interests are considered far important during ticket distributions than merit.

The four military coups of Pakistan happened because of the disorder and chaos in political parties and in the parliament. Hence, Military rule crippled the civil society, participatory political processes, democratic regulations were stifled and values were further subverted.

Consequently, the political system that would promote justice, fairness and a truly democratic order where anyone has a practical chance to run for a National Assembly or Provincial Assembly seat without having to worry about massive financial and patronage support is far from consideration. Taking this as a blessing, the military has also played a central role in undermining democratic culture in Pakistan from the barracks during short stints of civilian regimes.

It is unfortunate that political polarisation and cynicism has increased in current electoral campaigns to such a magnitude that deepening of democracy will depend on how democratic sentiments traverse through the leaders and masses alike. With a void of ideas amid the assault on institutions, democracy in Pakistan upsurges, which will be contingent on the legitimacy of the upcoming general elections of 2018.

Lastly, constructing and upholding democracy in Pakistan after the general election will be a great moment to siege. Post-election tasks are many, that not only requires due diligence, time and, but most importantly, an accord among the powerful groups and elites that will subsequently shape a democratic political culture. As, French Political scientist Tocqueville in his “Author’s Introduction” to Democracy in America, unveiled ‘how democracy evolved in the West not through the kind of moral fiat we are trying to impose throughout the world but as an organic outgrowth of development’. Therefore, a Tocquevillian reference needs to be captured by Pakistan’s whole political spectrum.

Subhajit Naskar is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at Jadavpur University, Kolkata and an Alumni of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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