It wasn’t easy. it wasn’t easy at all.
I think I should say this merely to remind people that Bhutto sb’s constitutional government lasted for a total of less than 4 years. After that in the 90s when democracy was ostensibly restored, both the prime ministers viz Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Shaheed couldn’t last three years. The incumbents will complete four years in the upcoming days.
I know that a country where the constitution was broken with unparalleled consistency, nothing can be said with certainty. But still, the times they are a changing and it seems the conditions are not that unfavourably disposed to democracy anymore. However fast and furiously the SC decisions come, they can’t and won’t wrap up democracy; and there are no apparent reasons for the military to take over. No military dictator moves in without the American go-ahead as they need American patronage not only to take over government but to run its affairs as well.
All the dictators that Pakistan was subjected to were promoting American interests. These stooges bartered off Pakistan’s interests to serve the US to cement their seat of power. It is a separate issue that they were discarded disgracefully when the US no longer needed their services. No military dictator exit with their dignity intact. The last one is living exultant in a state of helplessness. There is a court notice now tacked to his house’s door and Interpol has issues red warrants against him. If he comes back to Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif is waiting for him here.
Obviously, there are still forces and vested interests out and about to take down democracy. They have been at it four years. What these fools don’t understand is that their requests, entreaties and appellations are not enough to incite a coup. What is needed first and foremost is American approval. Once that has been obtained, then these people are needed to write their laudatory write-ups, to cook up and distribute sweet-treats at the end of democracy and to issue appreciative statements to manufacture the impression that it was democracy that was flawed and the albatross around our neck and it is the men in uniform who are the saviours. But these people adjuring the military for four years have not succeeded because Amreeka bahadur has not given the green signal.
Everyone knows that there is neither any principle nor any rationale behind taking over government rule undemocratically. There is merely an opportunity. As soon as a general sees that the iron is hot, they strike. They neither look left nor right and pounce. And then out come the worst of the social riff-raff from the woodworks to sing in sycophancy. Those mounds of riff-raff still exist and we can still hear the murmurings of these vested interests from deep within their bowels. But what is to be done? The US is not giving any encouragement.
But on the contrary, there are many loud and persistent discouraging voices. Thus an environment has been created that even if a dictator does take over, he will find it nigh impossible to run government. It’s pretty easy to shout slogans about American defeat and weakness here at home but it is still mighty difficult to prop and run a dictatorship without American support practically speaking. It may be possible in a country like Burma where generals can suffice with two pairs of uniforms and a worn and mended pair of boots and can keep their impoverished public in line. But in our country, the tribe of influentials, be they in uniform or not in uniform, are not used to adversity. The people who are fond of bringing dictatorships back should understand that even their families will grow weary of the difficult lifestyle they will have to suffer through if they swoop upon government without American backing. I say this because every dictatorship in Pakistan has been formed due to American wishes and efforts and has also been ousted with it.
There are other countries in the world which could support our dictators but they won’t be able to sponsor the lavish lifestyles of our ruling elites. Otherwise, China could be looked to as a dependable friend in this regard. There friendship is with the Pakistani public. They have scarce concern for governments. With respect to their habits and manners, no government of ours would want to be under Chinese influence. It is the public pressure that compels our governments to pursue good relations with China. Our rulers especially try to use the ‘China card’ when they are getting no love from the US. But the US is well aware of this clichéd ploy as is China which is why the ‘China card’ has not been played successfully by any khaki or civilian ruler.
The incumbent democratic dispensation is the weakest one in the history of Pakistan. It is the only government that has constantly played on the backfoot against the military government. It is the government which has had to take back many decisions. It is the government that made announcements and found that it couldn’t go through with them. The world witnessed that when a delegation of Pakistan’s highest leadership, both civilian and military, visited the US, the most importance was given to one COAS. The rest of the delegation appeared like mere tacked-on adornments and the real negotiations were carried out with the one who was considered to have the real power.
Internally speaking, the elected government has had to face a constant battle for survival. No previous government has had to face the SC that the present day government has had to. No day has passed in the previous three years when some person or some group has not looked expectantly at the SC to give a decision that would tip the scales (pun not intended). All kudos to the government that it has survived while an independent and active Supreme Court in place. The ruling classes of Pakistan do not have this temperament of taking this kind of treatment lying down. But it is the force of circumstances that they had to bear it. Now the situation is such that every subsequent government will have to live with the reality that an active and independent apex court is in place. Despite all of democracy’s flaws, this attribute alone is enough to support the incumbents that the judiciary is taking historic and unprecedented decisions on its watch and also has the ability to get them implemented. If I start to count, there are many arguments in favour of this embattled and vulnerable government but that it has let the judiciary function and has functioned itself in the face of a functioning judiciary is enough for now. By doing so, it has strengthened the federation like never before under any dictator. If the problem of Balochistan came under the purview of parliament, it would have been solved long ago too. Now the situation is such that the government is thinking of holding elections on the designated time but the possibility of elections in October can also not be discounted. Let’s see what happens.
The writer is one of Pakistan’s most widely read columnists.