The cycle has been that the military overthrows the government; installs political parties that support the dictatorship; those parties grow up and destabilise the country and the military overthrows the government again. Though there are fears that this may happen again, as in the past the constitution was not able to deter coups, the 18th amendment protects the republic from becoming undemocratic again. The amendment will have to be repealed or the constitution will have to be amended for another military dictatorship to preside.

This is not to suggest that there is a threat of martial law, after all, the military has been consistently saying that all it is doing is worrying about accountability and federalism in the country and a coup is never going to happen. Still, with all the op-eds being written about the Bajwa Doctrine*, and stories pouring in about government officials saying that another dictatorship is not going to happen, it is worthy here to evaluate two things: 1) there is no legal room for martial law in the current structure of the constitution, 2) there are reasons why a dictatorship in Pakistan is not a good idea, even as Pakistanis love and respect the military.

For the first point: a ploy which many dictators used is no longer an option for the military to dismantle the civilian rule i.e. the president of the country can no longer dismiss Parliament unless advised by the Prime Minister. Holding constitution in abeyance is tantamount to high treason, and thus by todays laws, Zia ul-Haq or Musharraf would have committed treason against the state.

Some precedent of judicial resistance has also been set in the last decade. Where once the judiciary had given legitimacy to dictatorships, in 2007 the refusal of the Chief Justice and twelve other Supreme Court judges to sign Musharraf’s decision to suspend the constitution and rule by decree in November 2007, for the first time, brought the judiciary and the executive in direct confrontation with each other. A resistant judiciary that refuses to ratify a military coup is essential, and what the people of Pakistan deserve according to its constitution.

As for the second point of why we shouldn’t want a dictatorship; firstly, dictators have a penchant for creating ordinances that are extra constitutional. As much as we would like to believe that a benevolent dictator can miraculously fix Pakistan’s problem that actual representatives of the people cannot, our track record says otherwise. The constitution provides for presidential ordinances, but they can only be effective for four months unless approved by parliament or reissued. The extra-constitutional regimes have developed a tradition of exempting ordinances issued while the constitution is in abeyance. General Musharraf’s ordinances from1999 to 2002 never lapsed, even though they never received parliament’s approval. These include ordinances that amended the basic media laws barring the use of any material which defames or brings into ridicule the Head of State, or members of the armed forces, or executive, legislative or judicial organs of the state. Dictatorships can easily mean the end of free speech. While there are many who do support curbs on media and private freedom, let’s not forget that many others don’t, and Pakistan should be a free country. Loving or hating the military, any political party, or any social or ethnic groups should not affect anyone’s political rights (which are obviously supposed to be equal).

Secondly, military dictatorships always extend way beyond the initial promise of coup makers to hold elections instantly, and have always spawned new political parties that are pro-military and that always make mistakes once they are able to take charge. The PML-N is a clear case in point. Some believe that the PTI may be the next teacher’s pet. If parties cannot take birth organically, and cannot hold their own without establishment support, whatever that establishment is, they have no business in the system. Such machinations have led to the total corruption and collapse of popular parties like the PPP and to the undeserved rise of parties like the PML-N as well as religious parties. Another coup means more puppets, more new and old parties vying for patronage, and another hit to a young and already crippled party system. A coup is not the cure.

Thirdly, dictatorships in the past used to bring in military and economic aid thanks to the Cold War and War on Terror. But that was a time when dictatorships were still in favour with global superpowers. An undemocratic Pakistan will trigger international sanctions from the UN and the EU and damage trade deals and global reputation.

Lastly, we do care about still wanting to be a truly democratic state, don’t we? We would like our representatives to truly represent us and for parties to not be corrupt, no? If we care about accountability, and representation, the parliament is the place to look to. It may seem like a raw deal right now, but strength takes time to build. If the federal system is not strong, and provinces are being left behind, and that is the concern of the military, then we only need better economic policy and sharing of resources. Military rule in Pakistan has always meant centralisation, which the 18th amendment tried to remedy. While devolution had been attempted local government systems were powerless due to undeveloped and inefficient party systems destroyed by repeat dictatorships who washed over any progress political parties could make every decade or so.

If the people of Pakistan really do want the military to be able to step in, then the 18th amendment has to be repealed, and that requires a lot of work in the parliament. That is the only legal way to get a dictator back in office. Else, it is treason against the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

*Technically there is no such thing as the Bajwa Doctrine. The term is attributed to statements made by COAS Qamar Bajwa to the media. But again, there was technically no such thing as the Bush Doctrine, it was just the term used for US unilaterally interfering into other countries. By such an analogy, there may be something to the doctrine. According to media reports the doctrine criticises the 18th amendment as major cause of unbalance between federation and the provinces, apparently more dangerous than six points of Sheikh Mujeeb (!?). The perception is that the amendment has changed Pakistan from a federation to confederation. It does not however clearly imply military interference, unless such comments can be considered interference. The question asked by Khurram Hussain in Dawn is: Why is the army chief even talking about the 18th Amendment, let alone making such strong remarks against it? It is hoped that it is only out of concerns about economic fairness and management and nothing else. However, reports of what General Bajwa said make it seem like he has a grand vision about everything — from critical political problems to the economy and foreign policy. Previous army chiefs have also been similar visionaries who were unhappy with the political system and wanted change. It will come as no surprise if he becomes our new new messiah.


The writer is studying South Asian history and politics at the Oxford University and is the former Op-Ed Editor of The Nation.