The Withering Away of Democracy

Spearhead Analysis – 18.07.2014

By Saman Tariq
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

Nawaz Sharif and Imran KhanThe recent battle between key political entities pertaining to Article 62 and 63 of the Constitution has yet again polluted the democratic atmosphere in Pakistan with fumes of political opportunism. Politics in Pakistan thrives on Machiavellianism; the practice of influencing the affairs of state for one’s own advantage with little regard to consequences or morality.  The righteous Article 62 and 63, byproduct of General Zia-ul-Haq, in an effort to legitimize his military regime, are now seen as tools for settling political scores by undermining religiosity of the opponents. Arsalan Iftikhar, allegedly launched by PML (N), is determined to get Imran Khan disqualified for being deceitful and unfaithful; consequently, Imran Khan has also called for the disqualification of Prime Minister Nawaz Shariff through similar legal proceedings.

In retrospect, Pakistan has always been plagued by political uncertainty; the four military regimes stand witness to this testimony. The problem faced by Pakistani politicians is threefold as put by Stephen Cohen in his book “The Idea of Pakistan”:  balancing military’s power, building political support and addressing critical long term issues. Unfortunately, the political parties have constantly been ineffective at all three fronts and this failure coupled with opportunist designs have superseded greater democratic interests, creating a space for establishment’s involvement in political affairs of the state.  Furthermore, all major political parties have at one point or the other nurtured close ties with the establishment either as a prerequisite for maintaining political hold or for political gains.

This dilemma is well reflected in the speculations of an extraordinary concession being offered by the government to former President and Army Chief Pervez Musharraf with regards to his treason trial, earlier opposed by PML (N) during PPP government. There is a possibility that the government is crumbling to pressures however, any such move now would further tarnish the image of PML (N) as a democratic force, given their historic baggage of rising to prominence under  Zia-ul-Haq. The initial enthusiasm of the top party officials to hold a dictator accountable and set a precedent has vanished with the emergence of an anti-government block of political opponents resorting to street agitation.

For PTI, this is not about soaring expectations and disappointing results of 2013 elections, electoral reforms, or even those four allegedly rigged constituencies anymore, as claimed. Why else only after much criticism, half-hearted attempts are being made by the party to build political consensus for electoral reforms which should have been pressed for in the parliament long before. In the middle of all this, along with new demands by PTI for audit of the entire 2013 general election, the protests and march in the federal capital point towards a more confrontational approach at federal level.

Where PTI is holding on to its false projection of democratic norms, Tahir-ul-Qadri is quite vocal about dislodging the government for the betterment of the country. The recent confrontations between PAT workers and Punjab Police have massively gone in favor of the former as a major portion of media’s focus is now on Tahir-ul-Qadri’s next move and this unfortunate incident has opened political avenues for the party. Also highlighted were the apprehensions of PML (N) with regards to power politics and their inability to handle street agitation without excessive use of force.

Interestingly, in current setting of political upheaval, the nexus between the key players PTI, PML (Q), Tahir-ul-Qadri and Shiekh Rashid can be traced back to the controversial referendum of 2002 and the subsequent elections under an Army General turned President. Where Chaudhry Shujaat and Pervaiz Elahi are making efforts to bring PTI and Tahir-ul-Qadri on the same page, for PML (N) the possibility of street agitation by the opposition is likely to send Nawaz Shariff into deeper state of paranoia. The government, not having learned much from the events surrounding Tahir-ul-Qadri’s arrival, responded to these calls by announcing to hold the central ceremony of Independence Day at D Chowk, the same venue as the march planned by PTI.

Suspicions have been raised over the abrupt emergence of Tahir-ul Qadri as a strong force against the two democratic governments and his alleged links with the establishment, an alliance with Tahir-ul-Qadri of any of the key political players is likely to put the political system in further turmoil. The timing could not have been more inconvenient for the government as the general public is dejected by continuous social, economic and security issues, power outages being one of them.

As for PPP, their distance from street agitation styled politics is reflecting well on their self proclaimed image of champion of democracy for the time being. The marks left on the political system by PPP, of abusive treatment of political opponents during Bhutto’s tenure, refusal to hand over power to Sheihk Mujib-ur-Rehman despite winning a clear majority which contributed in the disintegration of East Pakistan and the dismissal of Balochistan government in 1973 paving way for the four year long military action in the province, are of relentless opportunism. However, if needed PML (N) is not expected to get much support from PPP against anti-government forces considering that the government has opened up court proceedings against some prominent PPP politicians. While the party is contemplating the long march invitation by PTI, Co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari’s criticism of the PM for meddling in provincial affairs and his reluctance to concede to demands of PTI for re-count in four constituencies, mirror no empathy for the PML (N).

With an ongoing military operation Zarb-e-Azb followed by an influx of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from North Waziristan, the need for a conducive political environment has intensified. Rather than political point scoring over IDPs, both PTI and PML (N) should focus on relief efforts, with a special focus on monitoring camps for any plausible hindrance by extremist elements as indicated by different reports.

Overall, the opposition is undermining democratic process by indulging in instigative protests and marches, building consensus against a democratic government which might pave way for unconstitutional forces to take charge of the country.  The role of opposition in Pakistan has rather been confrontational than constructive in highlighting important issues prevalent in the country.  Pakistan ranks dead last in South Asia in terms of public expenditure on education yet, no substantial  changes have been seen at the federal or provincial level. Similarly, in health sector, polio cases have been reported in KPK and Sindh whereas positive environmental samples of polio have also been found in Punjab and Balochistan, the latter declared polio free earlier.  The responsibility lies with the provincial governments but they would rather indulge in blame games than take measures to improve the situation at hand. Amidst energy crises, military operation, security issues, health emergency; calls for invocation of Article 62 and 63 have proved yet again that in Pakistan the only constant is political opportunism.