‘Democracy is retreating globally’, noted The Economist in January last year. Tribal nationalism has returned with a vengeance, amid rise of populist leaders. As politics in the global North becomes more inward-looking, impetus for push of democratic values across developing countries has lost steam.
Domestically, this has reflected itself in foreign relations with global powers taking a more overtly transactional tone, with pretences kept in the past - such as Kerry-Lugar - even losing symbolic meaning. Navigating choppy waters has not been so precarious for political forces intent on staying on the right side of history – at least not in the last 15 years. Yet sanity appears to have gone missing-in-action during events of past week.
If there was any doubt about adventurism being on the cards – developments over the weekend should certainly turn it into a palpable fear. A spin of economic and political ‘mismanagement’ by the incumbents has been in the offing for several months now, with surrogate commentators increasingly displaying buyer’s remorse.
One view of course is that adventurism is beholden to no excuse, but enablers certainly help the cause. Perceived failure to deliver in Punjab amid rising utility prices, coupled with zero headway on the simmering Kashmir situation had already left the core constituency frustrated. Tragedies such as Tezgam only make a bad situation worse, and it doesn’t help that justice was not seen to be done in Sahiwal inquiry - fodder for those looking to start a fire.
A government unhinged must bring satisfaction to any hounded opposition, but in turning the screws on the incumbents the key matter is of degree, not principle. Opposition certainly has the right to wiggle back some breathing space, but should it come at the cost of realizing everyone’s worst fears?
This is certainly not the first time in history that the system appears partial. But seasoned opposition leaders are well aware that partiality has always been an ephemeral concept. The metaphorical page remains same only for so long, until those in a hurry to scribble own version turn to the next.
The struggle for democracy is a long and tortuous road where gains are incremental yet setbacks disproportionate. And who is more aware of it then political forces that compromised repeatedly in the shape of 17th amendment and National Reconciliation Ordinance to restore semblance of democracy, one step at a time.
So, unless the opposition leadership is prepared to declare its past compromises grievous errors of judgement, it has precious little moral standing to demand fairness from a partial system, only this time stacked against it. To repeat, if the restoration of bargaining position comes at the cost of folding back of the democratic order, is it worth it?
For the incumbents, no advice but a lesson of history. Forty years ago, another populist leader with a persistent mass appeal became increasingly isolated in the political area, instead becoming dependent on executive authority exercised via ordinances. He also believed he had the system on his side. Bhutto may very well be alive to his followers today, but the dark night following his departure was certainly a long one.