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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 10

Resurrection of Democracy in Pakistan


Sunday 24 February 2008, by SC


More than five months ago, following former Pakistan Primer Nawaz Sharif’s forced deportation to Jeddah within hours of his landing at Islamabad on September 10, it was written in these columns (in the September 15 issue of this journal) that the countdown had begun for “Bush’s friend Mush”:
It’s just a matter of time before Musharraf is bundled out of power. In the wake of the real crisis for the military ruler the issue of whether or not he contests the presidential poll in uniform has become a subject of secondary importance. Precisely because before the bar of public opinion and of course the judiciary he has lost whatever legitimacy he ever had to conduct the affairs of state.

The movement for democracy in Pakistan, which has already acquired wider magnitude than in the past, is bound to gather renewed momentum in the coming days.

The results of the just concluded February 18 elections in our neighbouring state have vindicated those observations in full measure.

Pervez Musharraf had sought to trample underfeet the Pakistani people’s democratic aspirations. This was best reflected in his attacks on the country’s judicial system and judiciary. Only few days ago he described the sacked Chief Justice Iftikhar M. Chaudhry a “scum of the earth”. By that very pronouncement he exposed himself and his autocratic proclivities. It is unthinkable that the head of state in a democratic set-up would ever characterise the country’s Chief Justice in such a manner. He also bared his fangs by imposing the emergency, jailing political rivals and gagging the media even as his mentors and friends in Washington looked on impassively. Today the people have spoken through the ballot: they have expressed their unmbiguous desire to see Musharraf departs from the scene.

The King’s party comprising Musharraf’s a men has been forced to bite the dust. All the stalwarts of the party, the PML-Q, have been decisively defeated. Their defeats were atributed to their proximity to Musharraf.

The elections were a referendum on Musharraf. Till the last moment he tried to manipulate the elections, rig the results; but the vigilance of the people as well as the stern warnings issued by international observers (especially from the the head of the monitoring team of the European Union) foiled his game. Sensing the people’s mood (also moulded by former PM Benazir Bhutto’s tragic assassination) the major Opposition parties—the PPP and PML-N—decided to join hands against the military dictator. Hopefully this unity would be maintained in the days ahead. Whether or not Musharraf is impeached, the judiciary must be given back its independence for which reason reinstatement of the Cheif justice becomes an imperative necessity.

The results of the elections have provided ample evidence of the limited appeal of the religious and sectarian parties. The striking success of the secular Awami National Party in the NWFP brings out this fact in sharp relief.
With the resurrection of democracy in Pakistan a new chapter is about to unfold in our region. The defeat of the military backed administration is of extraordinary significance. And the exit of Musharraf from the political scene would constitute the last nail in the coffin of the military dictatorship.

India can offer much to Pakistan in terms of nourishing its democratic institutions (provided we do not repeat the faux pas of seeking to bolster Musharraf as was thoughtlessly done in the recent past). But before we do that we too must ensure the strengthening of our secular democracy. The recent shameful incidents in Mumbai (that is, the brazen attacks on non-Maharash-trians residing there), the shocking treatment being meted out to Bangladeshi author-in-exile Taslima Nasreen (who considers India as her home), the unfortunate stand of New Delhi with regard to the military junta of Myanmar (which is still trying to debar pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from contesting the polls) can only weaken our democratic credentials and tarnish our image in the world at large. Unless we introspect on these activities and take rectificatory measures at the earliest, we cannot hope to become the catalyst in extending the frontiers of democracy in South Asia.

The welcome developments in our neighbouring state must encourage us to adopt concrete steps in that direction.

February 21 S.C.

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