Failure of democratic process

Muhammad Asif

WHILE criticising the military establishment for its interference in political affairs, few important factors, i.e. our blemished political history, must be considered. After the assassination of the first Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan in October 1951, the then Governor General of Pakistan, Khawaja Nazimuddin appointed a civil bureaucrat, Malik Ghulam Muhammad, as the Governor General of Pakistan. This was the first political blunder committed by a politician that proved to be a fateful turning point that derailed the political process in Pakistan. Malik Ghulam Muhammad will be known for undermining the civilian control over military and the democratic norms. Due to his failing health, Malik Ghulam Muhammad was replaced by another civil bureaucrat, Iskander Ali Mirza as the Governor-General of Pakistan in 1955, before his election as the first President of Pakistan after the promulgation of the first Constitution of Pakistan, in 1956. Apprehending the non-cooperation of members of parliament in his re-election as the President Mirza imposed Martial Law after abrogating the Constitution of Pakistan and dismissed the government of Malik Feroz Khan Noon on October 08, 1958. The first Muslim Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan Army, General Muhammad Ayub Khan, dismissed Iskander Mirza, when the differences between them reached a point of no return. President Mirza lacked the parliamentary spirit as he dismissed four elected prime ministers in a period of two years.
When General Ayub Khan took over as the Martial Law Administer, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was the only civilian who was inducted as a Minister in his first cabinet. After serving in a dictator’s Cabinet for nearly 8 years, Bhutto founded the Pakistan People’s Party in 1967 to act as the opposition leader. Bhutto launched a public agitation against Ayub Khan in 1968. Under the pressure of public, Ayub Khan bowed out of power by handing the reins of government to General Yahya Khan as the Chief Martial Law Administrator on March 26, 1969. After General Yahya Khan assumed charge as the Chief Martial Law Administrator, Bhutto, willingly accepted to serve as the Foreign Minister for the second time in the cabinet of another military dictator. As a Cabinet Member, he fully supported most undemocratic decision of the military dictator of not handing over the power to Sheikh Mujib Ur Rehman, who had won overall majority seats of National Assembly in general elections held in 1970. Due to Yahya Khan’s refusal to hand over government to Sheikh Mujib Ur Rehman, coupled with Indian support to the separatists, East Pakistan was separated from Pakistan on December 20, 1971. After East Pakistan’s debacle, Yahya Khan handed over the government to Bhutto. Bhutto ruled Pakistan for five and half years from December 20, 1971 to July 5, 1977. As a ruler, he will be remembered for both positive and negative policies and achievements. The major factor that contributed towards Bhutto’s fall was his style of ruling, and treatment meted out to his political opponents. All opposition political parties got united to launch a mass movement to overthrow Bhutto with the mindset of “do or die”’. As a result of the movement launched by opposition, General Zia ul Haq, Chief of the Army Staff, imposed Martial Law on July 5, 1977. Resultantly, the political process in Pakistan was once again suspended for eleven years. The extent to which the Army or the politicians were responsible for derailing the democratic process, is a debatable issue.
Almost three months after the death of General Muhammad Zia ul Haq in an air crash on August 17, 1988, general election was held on party basis after more than eleven years. The main contestants in these elections were the pro-Bhutto elements, led by his daughter Benazir Bhutto and anti-Bhutto (or pro-Zia ul Haq) elements led by Mian Nawaz Sharif. The eleven year civilian rule from December 1988 to October 1999, besides four general elections, saw both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif ruling Pakistan as the Prime Minister alternately for two terms, each. Both of them were not able to complete full term of five years even once. The period from December 1988 to October 1999, witnessed the erosion of known democratic and political practices. Buying and changing loyalties became accepted political norms by the politicians, right from the lowest to the top most level. The dismissal of the second government of Nawaz Sharif by the Army on October 12, 1999 besides halting political process, served to bring about a perceptible change in the outlook of politicians. The judgment of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in July 2017 that disqualified Nawaz Sharif from holding a public and political office, further reinforced the change in the outlook of politicians. Besides making the politicians, including those who were the staunch supporters of military dictators, Zia ul Haq and Pervaiz Musharraf, champions of democracy, these two developments united them against the rest of the state institutions.
After the judgment of the Supreme Court, Nawaz Sharif and his family chose to politicise a legal issue by mobilizing people of Pakistan against the state institutions, including the Army. Such moves are fraught with the possibilities of derailing the democratic process in Pakistan, again. In the modern times, nothing could be more embarrassing for a nation than being ruled by a military dictator. To ensure the continuation of democratic process is the collective responsibility of the entire nation. Our survival and salvation as a nation lies in accepting the supremacy of the Constitution of Pakistan, which reflects the collective will of the people of Pakistan. Our past experience shows that the violation of the constitution by the politicians or the establishment has always resulted in halting the political and democratic process in the country.
— The writer, a retired Brig, is professional educationist based in Rawalpindi.

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