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TEXT: Some nine years ago the democratic saga was formally inaugurated with the February 2008 elections. That yielded two major and a string of minor parties. The next elections in May 2013 catapulted one major political party, three or four major opposition parties and some minor ones. While the PPP and the PMLN were the major parties in 2008 elections, the 2013 elections gave PMLN an absolute majority, the PPP and the PTI a strong political base as the main opposition parties, the MQM and JUI(F) a considerable share, besides a rash of other parties like ANP, QWP the minor Balochistan parties, etc. But despite this longish journey and a host of parties claiming democratic legitimacy, the dominant question that stares the nation ominously, even as it will be celebrating its 70th birthday in coming August is: why Democracy is still in such disarray?

A brief review of developments during the past nine years may hopefully explain our current predicament and angst. Initially, still imbued and induced by the Benazir-Nawaz’s charter of Democracy (2006), the PPP and the PML-N, which had ruled Pakistan alternatively for eleven years (1988-1999) before the military takeover, started well, signed the Murree Declaration in mid-March and got a coalition under PM Yusuf Raza Gilani sworn in on March 25.

In perspective, Asif Ali Zardari’s reconciliation stance had paid off huge dividends, inducing the MQM, ANP and JUI (Fazal) joining the coalition at the center, the MQM in Sindh and the other two in the western provinces of KP and Balochistan. While Sindh and Balochistan had PPP CM’s, ANP had the scepter in the KP. Even the PML-N ministry in the Punjab under Shahbaz Sharif had the PPP as its coalition partner, initially. Eight years of political wilderness had diluted the measure of vengefulness between the two major parties, inducing them pragmatically towards a smooth transition and raising hopes for stability, better performance and good governance.

But subsequent developments caused hiccups. PPP’s reneging on its pledge to restore Chief Justice Iftikhar led the PML-N to a walkout off the coalition, but it consistently retained the posture of a “friendly” opposition. The joint PPP-PML-N campaign led to the ouster of Gen. Musharraf from the Presidency, although the PPP was the greatest beneficiary through Musharraf’s NRO. Zardari got himself elected as President on September 5. Six months later, Nawaz’s long march and Gen. Kiyani’s intervention got the Chief Justice restored on March 16, 2009. But their only irony is that instead of making the judiciary really independent, they restored Iftikhar amassed all the powers in his soily hands, becoming himself autocratic all the way.

Meanwhile Salman Taseer’s appointment as Punjab governor signaled PPP’s ultimate aim of isolating the PML-N and rock its boat in the Punjab. For the next five years, under Taseer and his successor the PPP tried every trick in the trade to nibble at the PML edifice – but all to no avail. Instead, the PPP conspiracies solidified and hardened the PML-N bastion beyond repair, even as the May 2013 election results have demonstrably indicated.

Since 2011, the rise of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf has been phenomenal. Imran fired the imagination of the spacious youth segment and inspired the educated and professional classes. He emerged as the “third” force, and became the “hope” for national integration. No wonder, he held a series of extremely successful rallies, even one in Karachi, the MQM stronghold.

Imran himself was optimistic, confident, ambitious, even self conceited to wrest the plum of power nationally in the May 2013 elections. In this he failed since he couldn’t dent the entrenched and hardened PML-N bastion in the Punjab, the largest province with a majority of NA seats. Though denied a bite at the apple nationally, yet the PTI made tremendous gains. It secured the third place in the NA, the largest number of seats in the KP enabling it to form a coalition with its own CM, the second largest party in Karachi denting the MQM, and a sizeable presence in the Punjab where the PPP has been wiped out.

During the past three years, two developments have affected PTI’s course, shifting postures and fortunes. End to corruption and poor performance/governance were the PTI’s core election pledges, and the PTI failed this litmus test on both counts in the KP. Instead of turning KP into a model province, Imran has been engrossed in image building, especially through the electronic media.

Second, Imran’s shocking tilt in Taliban’s favour. He repeatedly urged dialogue/negotiations with the blood hounds who have caused so much havoc, mayhem and destruction all over Pakistan, from Kashmir to Karachi, since 2007. Imran’s Taliban tilt obviously caused a dent in his burgeoning constituency, and held back thousands upon thousand intending to throng the PTI in droves, awaiting a positive and rational stance.

Initially, the Nawaz regime and especially the all powerful Nisar Ali Khan had also a soft corner for Taliban. But four months of protracted negotiations with the Taliban who strongly refusing to extend the ceasefire and suspend their attacks convinced the regime of Tailiban’s dishonesty and fraud, to gain time to consolidated itself. Thus, finally, the regime has been willy nilly forced to go in for the last option – the Zarb-i-Azb.

The Zarb, launched in mid June, quietly and sans fanfare, has been progressing slowly but satisfactorily. Thousands of militants, both foreign and local, have been killed, their ammunition factories and stockpiles, tunnels, training camps have been set ablaze, vast swathes of land in South Waziristan has been cleared and Miranshah secured, and the Pakistani forces are knocking at the entry points of North Waziristan. The trapped militants are crossing over to Afghanistan, but the irony is that Kabul is lukewarm in restraining them and helping out Pakistan at this critical hour. In any case, the Zarb is the best thing that has happened to ensure life, property and the pursuit of happiness to Pakistanis as a whole during the past ten years.

Now, against this background comes Imran Khan’s tsunami on August 14, 2014 – the PTI’s one million “Azadi” March who would descend on D-Chowk in Islamabad to listen to Imran’s declaration of his plans for mid-term elections and then go in for a dharna (sit-in). For how long is anybody’s guess. Till the regime falters and submit? After that, what follows? A classic case of “After me, the deluge”!

To cash in on the explosive situation, the scheming Allama Tahirul Qadri (Minhajul Quran) keeps the nation in suspense about his upcoming Inqilab March. The Choudries of Gujarat, with their platform shattered in the May 2013 elections, are out to cash in on any straw they could lay their hands on, but fortuitously their dream of cobbling together a grand coalition around Qadri proved to be stillborn from day one. But for Rana Sanaullah’s brutal massacre of protesting Minhaj followers on June 14 Qadri’s June 23 return to Pakistan wouldn’t have caused even a ripple. Whether he joins up with Imran or not, Qadri is desperate to make his mark in regime change. And all this makes the evolving scenario more explosive, more critical and more ominous.

One fundamental basic needs to be recognised by all those who swear by democracy and democratic rights. Protest marches and rallies but without forced closure of shops etc is a legitimate democracy right, but dharnas (sit-ins) is definitely not. Because sit-ins grossly violate the democratic rights of non-sitters. Dharnas adversely affect the life and normal activities of not only their neighbourhood, but almost the entire city. For instance, the MQM dharna at Numaish Chowrangi did not effect the London Metropolitan Police but penalized MQM constituents in District Central the most, those who had voted the MQM to power. Also, the dharna affected far afield from Clifton and Defence to Manghopir. Hence dharnas, wherever they are indulged in, are, a great nuisance. Imran who swears by the constitutional path should make a special note of this nuisance value of dharnas.

There are other causes as well such as lack of Local Bodies empowerment and intra party elections and democracy, and cultivation of “Personality Cults” in all major and minor parties except for the JI that cause democracy to be still in disarray, even after nine years of a crisis ridden journey.

(The?late?writer, an HEC Distinguished National Professor, co-edited Unesco’s history of humanity, vol. VI, and the Jinnah Anthology (3rd edn, 2011) and edited in Quest of Jinnah (2007), the only oral history on Pakistan’s founding father.)

Professor Sharif al Mujahid

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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