Dr Nasreen Akhtar
FOR several decades, Pakistan has been experiencing dynastic rule by the Bhutto and Sharif families. Surprisingly election 2018 ended the dynastic politics and both families failed to regain power. Ironically these two families and historical strong political rivals have developed consensus to regain political power by hook or by crook. Maryam Nawaz Sharif, Vice-President of his father’s Party — PML-N and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Chairperson of his mother’s Party – PPP, are leading parties. Both had a meeting at Iftar party to derail the government. What is new to entrench this close political tie? The answer is nothing new. It’s all about power and politics of personal interest and old tactics that how to derail Imran Khan’s government. The two parties PPP and PML-N would march to protect their political legacy — favouritism, nepotism and corruption. They claim they would protest for the poor people of Pakistan because people are suffering due to high prices. But who is responsible? Would they tell the people that how they have been enjoying at people’s taxes and still enjoying.
The end of dynastic politics has introduced the new pattern of politics in the country – stern accountability, rule of law and justice. The new politics may not suit to the old ruling families; indeed, they have their political survival with old political system. True democracy has not taken root in Pakistan. It has been hijacked by the powerful personalities. In seven decades, we have only two democratic transitions, in 2013-2018, when one elected party took over from another political party (PML-N, PTI). We consider this as the beginning of a new democratic change in Pakistan, as it has set a new pattern. Theoretically, there is a grand consensus on democracy to grow in Pakistan but there are many elements “political as well as religious that considers democracy more as a means to power than an ideology”. One of the many reasons for the decline of Bhutto and Sharif families in election 2018 was lack of their ideological commitment to democratic values, norms as well as governance.
The quality of the democratic experience from 2008-2018 lacked true democratic values. This period prompted politics of “patrimonialsim” which badly ruined the state’s core institutions. Consequently corruption and injustice prevailed. In the last ten years politics was dominated by the personalities and their ideologies. Pakistan’s early democratic experience after its independence was not democratic in its nature, however it was chaotic, disorderly and characterized by instability, frequent shifts in political loyalty. If we look at Pakistan’s political history the weak and undemocratic party system has been one of the most important reasons for undemocratic political culture and unstable parliamentary democracy. Political parties are the fundamental actors in promoting democratic institutions, values and norms. Political parties mainly educate their followers and voters but in Pakistan political parties have failed to introduce democratic values – western or Islamic. Neither have they learned from the US, UK nor India and Bangladesh where political parties do not play with their national or security interests.
The political parties with a few exceptions of religious and urban-based parties are mainly dominated by the traditional elites, in Sindh and Punjab, which secure votes more on the basis of their family history. For this reason, the mainstream parties have become stagnant with the same leaders, voices, program and propaganda. For instance, the performance of political parties in the present elected Parliament is disappointing. How do they behave whenever they sit in the people’s house -Parliament? Opposition parties strive to defend their party leaders – Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari. For decades, Pakistan’s politics was dominated by the family politics. Dynastic quality of leadership is a big handicap for the democratization of political parties. Ms Maryam and Bilawal would not introduce new values in politics rather they would defend their fathers or themselves.
Let me explain briefly that how families ruled Pakistan. Pakistan has been known as ‘failed democratic state’ because democratic values never worked. Political leaders became authoritative when they came in power. They tried to reform the Army for political purposes, which increased rift between the civil and military leaders. From Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to Nawaz Sharif all democratic governments wanted their upper hand over the military institution. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif both promoted politics of ‘Patrimonialism’. Political leaders were elected by the people but they ignored the people’s sentiments and they never deemed (themselves) ‘accountable’ as the country’s ruler or they enjoyed Constitutional Immunity.
Election 2018 has introduced the new political culture which never existed in Pakistan. This is the first time in Pakistan’s politics that the people of Pakistan voted a party which never been in power and promised to eliminate corruption and ‘patrimonialism’ from Pakistani politics. Prime Minister Imran Khan has introduced a new political ideology that requires corruption-free Pakistan, stern accountability and justice. Khan’s ideology has exasperated his political rivals and they are making a grand political alliance. The politics of alliances is not new phenomenon in Pakistan. These alliances protect each other and play different cards – ethnic, linguistic and religious. These cards may hurt democratic process and the national security. The world has been changed and social media has taken over traditional media. How strange that the political nexus is united on one point agenda that is to bring down an elected government which is not corrupt. The political parties and political leaders are responsible to educate the people to be civilized not to be anarchic. After decades a democratic government is struggling in projecting Pakistan in the world. Both Bhutto and Sharif parties have their roots in Pakistani politics. This is time to perform and unite for Pakistan not for personal desires and dreams. Derailing democracy may not serve their political purposes; however, it would make another political history then who will benefit? The time will decide.
—The writer is Assistant Professor, IIUI, Islamabad.
Dr Nasreen Akhtar