The defining feature of Pakistan’s political landscape since its creation has been the tussle for supremacy between the democratic and the anti-democratic forces. This tussle sometimes was obvious for all to see when adventurist generals, in violation of their oath of honour and in direct opposition to the advice given by the Quaid-e-Azam to the army officers at the Command and Staff College, Quetta, took control of the reins of power by derailing the democratic process and crushing the democratic forces. In the process, they inflicted enormous damage on the country by stunting the growth of democratic institutions, aggravating political instability, undermining the sanctity of the constitution and the rule of law, encouraging corruption, promoting cronyism and sycophancy instead of the principle of merit in the functioning of the government, and permitting the loot and plunder of the nation’s resources. The responsibility for several disasters that struck the nation like the tragic dismemberment of the country in 1971 lies squarely on the shoulders of the military rulers and the coterie of generals around them. Besides, they sullied the reputation of the Pakistan army, which deserves the nation’s respect, by involving it in politics.
On other occasions, when there was the semblance of democracy in the country, the anti-democratic forces linked to the deep state hatched intrigues and conspiracies behind the scene to destabilize elected governments through character assassination, malicious propaganda campaigns, harassment of political workers and political engineering. The formation of IJI was perhaps the most prominent, but not the only, example of political engineering undertaken by the anti-democratic forces. The main aim of these conspiracies was to protect the vested economic and financial interests of the renegade elements belonging to the deep state and to ensure that the elected governments functioned in accordance with their wishes instead of reflecting the will of the people of Pakistan who had elected them. Consequently, democratic institutions failed to take root and the ability of the elected governments to provide good governance was undermined in the country.
One had hoped that following Musharraf’s ouster in 2008, the country had seen the end of the long nightmare of direct military rule and indirect interference by the anti-democratic forces in the political process. Unfortunately, these hopes have not fully materialized. Partly, the responsibility for the negative turn of events over the past few years lies with the politicians themselves who failed to give a good account of themselves in governing the country. But the anti-democratic forces belonging to the deep state through various stratagems played their own negative role in destabilizing the democratically elected governments and undermining their ability to perform well. The previous PML(N) government at the Centre particularly bore the brunt of these shenanigans because of its refusal to bow down in the face of the unreasonable demands of the deep state. The result was the long dharna of 2014 and, after its failure, a sustained negative propaganda campaign to discredit the PML(N) government and bring about its ouster. These efforts were partly successful as former PM Nawaz Sharif was disqualified by the Supreme Court on technical grounds through a highly controversial judgment. However, the PML(N) was able to complete its five-tenure as provided in the constitution.
Unfortunately, PTI led by Imran Khan during the past few years played an extremely negative role in collusion with the renegade elements belonging to the deep state in the attempts to destabilize the democratic system and bring about the ouster of the PML(N) government on different grounds. Imran Khan’s references to the umpire’s finger during the dharna of 2014, which was inspired by anti-democratic forces closely linked to the deep state, and his verbal attacks on the Parliament from time to time have served to cast serious doubts on his democratic credentials. Senior politician Javed Hashmi’s revelations have further strengthened the suspicions that Imran Khan is prepared to go to any length in pursuit of his life-long ambition to become the Prime Minister even if it leads to the undermining of the democratic system in the country. Even in terms of governance, the performance of the PTI government in KPK left a lot to be desired.
Ideologically, Imran and his party claimed to be the harbinger of the change of the exploitative and oppressive status quo. However, the fact that Imran Khan has now joined hands with the traditional ‘lotas’ or turncoats as well as the renegade elements belonging to the deep state, who actually represent and define the status quo, in his quest for power shows that his slogans of change are hollow. Consequently, the nation is likely to witness more of the same instead of any dramatic change for the better under a PTI government under Imran Khan’s leadership at the Centre.
The suspicions that the PML(N) has been singled out for especially harsh treatment by the anti-democratic forces have been strengthened by the unusual manner in which the fall of the PML(N) government in Balochistan was organized by the deep state, the election of the new Chairman of the Senate, and NAB’s special attention to PML(N)’s supporters in its drive to eliminate corruption, as alleged by several commentators, analysts, and media representatives. There are also reports of pressure by the establishment on media houses for self-censorship, arbitrary restrictions on the circulation of newspapers and telecast of channels that do not toe the line favoured by the establishment, and the publicly aired complaints that politicians are being threatened to change loyalties in favour of those parties which are in the good books of the establishment. These are worrisome developments which require the immediate corrective attention of the Election Commission to prevent rigging before and during the forthcoming elections.
The central issue in the general elections on 25 July would be the question as to who would decide the destiny of the country: the democratic forces representing the will of the people and accountable to them or the anti-democratic forces belonging to the deep state who are wedded to the country’s current exploitative and oppressive status quo. In the current scenario, it is not difficult to see who stands for undiluted democracy and who is for controlled democracy favoured by the establishment. PTI through its past record and hobnobbing with the establishment in quest for power has made it abundantly clear that the promotion of democracy enjoys the lowest priority in its calculations. Its slogan for change of the status quo, which is highly desirable otherwise, carries no significance because it is now allied with the proponents of the status quo and elements tainted with corruption.
PPP’s past poor performance in governing the country and allegations of massive corruption against it hardly inspire any confidence in its future plans for the country. Its democratic credentials have also been tarnished by the alacrity with which it complied with the designs of the anti-democratic forces in bringing down the PML(N) government in Balochistan. Under the circumstances, PML(N) is the only party which, in the face of the enormous pressure being exerted on it by the establishment, deserves the support of the democratic forces at the forthcoming elections in the interest of strengthening the democratic process. Even judged from the point of view of governance, such support would be justified by PML(N)’s far superior performance at the Centre, for instance in overcoming the energy crisis, as compared with the past record of PPP. The performance of the PML(N) government in Punjab under the leadership of Shahbaz Sharif was also much better than that of PTI in KPK and PPP in Sindh.
The writer is a retired ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.