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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 11

Dawn over Pakistan

Saturday 1 March 2008, by Nikhil Chakravartty


After a long, dark night, there are signs of a new dawn over Pakistan. The overpowering interest and excitement over the recently-held general elections in that country—at many places taking the form of a veritable mass upsurge—demonstrated the clearest repudiation of the eleven-year-old military dictatorship which had actually come to power through a coup in the wake of the last general elections.

There have been many impediments in the process of the elections and there are undoubtedly pitfalls ahead on the road to a stable democratically-elected government in Pakistan. These are only to be expected, because no military junta consents smoothly to abdicate power, particularly when it has so long enjoyed the generous patronage of the Pentagon.

Besides, the imbalance that has been fostered for four decades to sharpen the disparities among different well-marked regions of Pakistan—with the Punjabi domination of the armed forces and to a large measure of the civil service—is likely to be exploited by the entrenched vested interests, scared at the prospect of having to face a democratic government. There are no doubt other constraints and contradictions in the complex situation prevailing in Pakistan politics today. The journey ahead can by no means be smooth and easy.

But the central point in the reality of Pakistan today is that the most powerful military dictatorship in Asia, if not the world, has been overthrown. And with all its pulls and pressures, bullying and blandishment, it cannot return to power. Benazir Bhutto, who has emerged as the symbol of the democratic assertion in Pakistan, is certainly not going to have an easy time. Many problems and harassments will beset her. But there can be no going back to the days of Zia’s ruthless dictatorship clothed with the trappings of fundamentalist bigotry.

The historic significance of the democratic elections in Pakistan lies precisely in this that in South Asia today, the days of military dictatorships are over. What has happened in Pakistan, coming in the wake of Burma, is bound to have its wholesome repercussions on Bangladesh, where the political base of the democratic forces has been traditionally stronger. General Ershad’s has been a tinpot outfit compared to General Zia’s iron rule. The reactionary forces in Bangladesh which have so long been seeking inspiration from Pakistan and patronage from the oil-soaked Arab world, will be put to difficulty by this remarkable leap-forward towards democracy in Pakistan.

More directly a matter of interest and concern for India is that these momentous developments in Pakistan will have their impact on its relations with this country. The democratic forces in this country shall always share in the jubilation at the victory of democracy in our immediate neighbourhood. Many of the outstanding problems that come in the way of improving relations between the two countries will no doubt require patient and painstaking handling before solutions could be reached. At the same time, let us not forget that the war-cry of the Generals in Pakistan has always been against India, and that the most important Indo-Pak agreement signed in Simla sixteen years ago was between the elected representatives of the two countries. The prospect for reconciliation has certainly been enhanced with the present democratic upsurge in Pakistan.

To facilitate this significant development it is for India to take the initiative. Not only is India the bigger neighbour, it has a long and sustained career as a viable practising democracy, and it is, therefore, its privilege and responsibility to stand by the democratic forces in Pakistan.

(Mainstream, November 26, 1988)

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