Pathetic democratic eras in Pakistan
The sudden demise of Quaid-e-Azam on September 11, 1948 left the nation stricken with grief and added to the travails of Pakistan but provided an opportunity to India to put its plan to undo Pakistan into motion. Hardly had he closed his eyes when the hidden demented forces of hate and greed who had remained suppressed under the awe-inspiring personality of Quaid, surfaced and started to dismantle the edifice bit by bit. The commotion that followed after the assassination of PM Liaquat Ali Khan on October 16, 1951 at the hands of an Afghan national sank the nation in a bottomless abyss. Growing trend of regionalism helped the Indian agencies to accelerate their insidious plan to sow seeds of misgivings and distrust among various communities and to keep the government of Pakistan politically unstable and economically weak.
Following Liaquat’s death, the bureaucrats and military hijacked the political process. By severing its ties with the masses and failing to get organized, Muslim League lost its élan and direction and sank into limbo after getting defeated by Jugto Front in East Pakistan and thus paved the way for civil-military bureaucrats to rise to power. Governor General Ghulam Muhammad followed by Iskandar Mirza caused irreparable damage to democracy and the state during the crucial first decade merely to perpetuate their stay in power. They strengthened authority of bureaucracy at the expense of developing political institutions. By validating the dissolution of Khawaja Nazimuddin’s Constituent Assembly in 1955 by Ghulam Muhammad, Chief Justice Muhammad Munir Ahmed laid a poor precedent for emulation by others.
Antagonism replaced cooperation among groups and state institutions. Fascism overtook democratic norms and all those who assumed power in quick succession were political lightweights with feet of clay. They tore the ideals of the founder of the nation into shreds and hungered for pelf and power. The feudal landlords and elites thwarted the country’s democratic evolution as well as economic progress merely to retain power. Self-seekers and sycophants filled up all the high posts and opened the floodgates of bribery, corruption, red-tapism and nepotism. Honest workers were hounded and persecuted while the dishonest and rogues were patronized and shielded.
Elections were postponed on one pretext or the other since elected members of Muslim League and Republican Party, chips of the same block, had discredited them so much that they were afraid that the electorates would disown them. A small coterie of politicians and bureaucrats ruled the country in different combinations under different labels and never allowed democracy or national institutions to strike roots. Decent politics were replaced with hooliganism and democracy stultified. Politics had been reduced to a game of intrigue and chicanery. Misdeeds of the unscrupulous politicians gave rise to the idea that democracy was ill-suited to the genius of Pakistanis – that it was some kind of outlandish clap-trap which must be got rid of and replaced with some form of dictatorship. It took nine years to formulate consensus 1956 constitution on the basis of parity between two wings but after ceding to demands of Bengalis to accept Bengali as a state language and replacing ‘separate electorate’ with ‘joint electorate’. The latter enabled India to make rapid inroads in the chosen target of East Pakistan with the help of affluent Hindu Bengalis.
It was under such pathetic conditions that President Mirza abrogated the 1956 constitution, dissolved the national and provincial assemblies and imposed martial law on 7 October 1958. Political parties were suspended on the following day. His actions were validated by chief justice Munir under the doctrine of necessity. On 28 October, Gen Ayub Khan forced Mirza to resign and he assumed power. The people had for a long time wished for a Messiah who could stymie the rot, cleanse the stables and alleviate their sufferings. Ayub and his team undertook comprehensive reforms and in a short span of time all socio-economic indicators went in positive and GDP climbed to 7%. While agricultural output was among the best in the world, national production shot up to 28.4% as against the target of 24% and industries boomed. There was all round improvements in all departments. Huntington praised Ayub Khan in these words, ‘ More than any other political leader in a modernizing country after World War II, Ayub Khan came close to filling the role of Solon or Lycurgus or great legislator on the Platonic or Rousseau-an model’. Karl Von described him as a role model for others to emulate.
Ayub Khan preferred presidential form of government since it checkmated centrifugal forces that were gaining strength in smaller provinces. During Ayub’s Decade of Development in the 1960’s, Pakistan was at the threshold of becoming an Asian economic giant and one of the greatest nations of the world. He did what no other leader including Bengali PMs could do to uplift East Pakistan. His wide ranging gains started to plummet as a result of ZA Bhutto-Mujib led agitations and led to his fall in March 1969 and takeover by Gen Yahya Khan. Yahya abrogated 1962 constitution, imposed martial law and soon after in his bid to appease the agitating Bengalis dissolved One-Unit scheme which once again reverted West Pakistan into four provinces while East Pakistan remained a single homogenous unit. He also redoubled efforts to minimize east-west disparities. First ever general elections were held in December 1970 on the basis of adult franchise and one-man-one-vote. These steps however failed to mitigate the grouses of Bengalis and ultimately led to establishment of Bangladesh in December 1971 and fall of Yahya regime.
Socialist reforms and nationalization during ZA Bhutto’s stint from 1972 to 1977 failed to bring about the promised relief to the common man and instead the buoyancy experienced during Ayub era evaporated. His autocracy and rigging in 1977 elections gave birth to PNA movement and gave an excuse to Gen Ziaul Haq to intervene and takeover power in July 1977. His act was also validated by the Supreme Court. During his eleven year rule he managed to revive the economy and the GDP rose to 7%, however, the economic downslide in the third democratic era in the 1990s took the country to the verge of economic collapse. During the second stint of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan was declared as the second most corrupt nation in the world.
The economy once again surged up during Gen Musharraf’s eight year rule but crashed once Zardari led PPP government took over in 2008. The last coalition government broke all previous records of corruption, inefficiency and mis-governance as a result of which GDP sunk to 3%. There is acute energy crisis due to which industries are dying, economy is in dire straits, all public sector enterprises are in ruins and inflation is very high. The reason is that almost all members of the parliament were neck deep involved in mega scams and were looting the nation with both hands without fear of accountability. That lot was worse than the ones who were in power in the first decade since three of the ruling political parties have militant wings who in league with Mafias are heavily involved in target killings in Karachi. Legislators including chief minister in Balochistan Assembly in league with criminals were involved in kidnapping for ransom, car lifting and corruption. The corrupt officials were protected and rewarded and honest ones hounded and persecuted. Under the concept of reconciliation, system of accountability was terminated and all crooks and criminals were let off the hook. No terrorist was convicted and hanged due to inherent flaws in system of investigation and judiciary.
Pakistan instead of turning into an ideal state as dreamed by Quaid-e-Azam is now being called a failing state and the most dangerous country in the world. Love, affection and spirit of brotherhood that oozed in abundance after the birth of Pakistan have been replaced with antagonism, greed and selfishness. Sectarianism, ethnicity, corruption and immorality are eating into the vitals of the country. Muslims are killing Muslims with lunatic ferocity as is seen in Karachi and Quetta where police is politicized. Aggrieved Hazaras in Quetta and people in Karachi are frantically asking the Army to intervene and save them from the demented hordes. People see little hope in coming elections since they fear that the flawed electoral system and the handpicked Election Commission (EC), which the status quo loving mainstream parties do not want to reform, or to let the EC to carryout full scrutiny of contestants, will recycle the same lot of rogues. Fair, free and transparent elections are crucial for true democracy and bright future of Pakistan. The Army has a chance to wash away the stains of 1988, 1990 and 2002 rigged elections it carries by preventing rigging and ensuring free and fair elections.
The writer is a retired Brig and a defence analyst. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org