“Democracy is the best revenge” — famous words of shaheed Benazir Bhutto, the builder of the PPP post judicial murder of her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The founder of the PPP was ousted by his wily army chief General Zia-ul-Haq exactly 38 years ago on 5 July 1977.
Apart from suffering Zia’s eleven long years’ ideological dictatorship, the country also endured another coupster General Pervez Musharraf’s authoritarian rule in the name of true democracy for full nine years. The period has also seen the PPP and PML–N taking turns to rule in the name of democracy.
Now Nawaz Sharif is prime minister for the third time. Previously Ms Bhutto was elected twice prime minister and after her assassination in December 2007 her widower Asif Ali Zardari ruled for full five years of the PPP’s term, a first in Pakistan’s messy political history.
But today not only the PPP itself but also democracy is at the crossroads in Pakistan. Most analysts are in a state of self-doubt, asking the obvious question: is democracy the best revenge? And if so, for whom? The cruel joke is that it is the hapless people of the country who are the sufferers both under dictatorship and democracy.
The present state of affairs is pathetic. The PPP is in complete disarray and clueless in the wake of mass defections in Punjab to the new kid on the block, an ascendant PTI headed by the charismatic Imran Khan.
So far as the ruling PML-N is concerned, its optics are better than its predecessor PPP government. However Prime Minister Sharif, instead of bringing transparency and inclusiveness in his style of governance, is ruling in a highly personalised manner. At times he even looks detached and burnt out.
The present state of affairs is pathetic. The PPP is in complete disarray and clueless in the wake of mass defections in Punjab to the new kid on the block, an ascendant PTI headed by the charismatic Imran Khan
The only winner in the milieu seems to be the omnipresent military under General Raheel Sharif. Thanks to the ongoing war on terror in the form of Zarb-e-Azb and in some ways even before the operation against terrorism started last year in June, the army had started asserting itself.
But now thanks to the NAP (National Action Plan) and the apex committees in the provinces — ostensibly formed to root out terrorists — the military’s footprint is becoming more and more pronounced. In the context of the Karachi operation the MQM is at the wrong end of the stick.
However, the ruling PPP is also feeling the heat. Zardari, after an emotional fusillade against the generals and Prime Minister Sharif distancing from him by refusing to meet him, is in Dubai for the time being.
But back home the PPP is in complete disarray. Perhaps partly owing to its top leadership’s benign neglect of Punjab post the rout it suffered in May 2013 elections. Even in Sindh it is wary of the probing eyes of the Rangers.
These are not good optics for traditional Punjabi politicians who now dominate the party in the province. Inqilabi (revolutionary) politics is a relic of the past for the PPP. Headed by a quintessentially pro establishment politician Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo, it has nothing new to offer to the jiyalas.
In the past two years Mr Zardari and political heir-apparent Bilawal have hardly visited Punjab despite promises to the contrary. Resultantly Wattoo, who is part of the problem rather than the solution, is ruling the roost.
The PPP, failing to get its act together in the largest province, is increasingly become marginalised. Winning substantial number of seats in Punjab — the jewel in the crown — in the National Assembly is a sine qua non for any party worth its salt to form its government at the federal level.
But it seems that the PPP, after retreating to rural Sindh, has simply lost the stomach to fight in the rest of the country. It’s a pity that a party with a liberal voice and countrywide grass-root support-base was trounced by the PML-N in the May 2013 general elections. And now the PPP is being haemorrhaged by the PTI in Punjab through mass defections.
In any future general elections the two pro establishment parties will slug it out in Punjab. Both have no ideological qualms in ceding space to the military.
Of course gross mishandling by the civilians can precipitate a takeover bid. But for the time being, despite a partly orchestrated state of uncertainty, there is no clear and present danger of the military overtly intervening
For that matter Mr Zardari completed his five-year term by cohabiting with the military under General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. However, no matter how much the PPP leadership bends over backwards, the military establishment has never given it the benefit of doubt. Culturally and ideologically speaking it is more comfortable being in bed with right wing and Isalmic parties.
Despite the fact that the traditional camel’s nose is already in the tent, some voices amongst the commentarati are clamouring for packing up the civilian setup. According to the narrative the so-called civilian rulers have completely failed to deliver. Hence the answer is not in more democracy but another bout of military rule.
This self-serving logic is completely flawed in the sense that it conveniently papers over the dark military rules Pakistan has suffered during almost half of the period since its inception. Each military dictator without exception brought the country further down during his rule in the name of reforming the system.
Pakistan fared no better under civilian rulers but military rulers certainly left it poorer, not only in the literal sense but also by destroying the very ethos of the nation. Now hopes are being pinned on General Raheel Sharif. A soldier who shoots straight from the hip, the general has expressed no inclination to oblige.
And why should he? Governance is certainly not the military’s cup of tea. And if the army is ruling the roost and its image and approval rating is sky high why should it soil its hands by indulging in an overt intervention?
Of course gross mishandling by the civilians can precipitate a takeover bid. But for the time being, despite a partly orchestrated state of uncertainty, there is no clear and present danger of the military overtly intervening.
According to a recent study by Freedom House, an advocacy group, reproduced by the Economist, freedom and growth make for a pretty unbeatable combination. The study, after looking at data for 175 countries from 1960 to 2010, finds that a “permanent” democratisation — where there is no slide back to autocracy — leads to an increase of about 20 percent in GDP in the subsequent 25 years.
So yes; the answer is more democracy than winding up the system. But politicians reading the writing on the wall should get their act altogether without further ado.