Once again Pakistan is passing through a critical period of its short history of 70 years rocked as it is by strong crosscurrents sweeping across the country. The Faizabad dharna was just the latest manifestation of the clash of these crosscurrents. The perennial tussle for supremacy between the democratic and anti-democratic forces is one of the main reasons why the country is in a state of disarray. Pakistan, unfortunately, is also the battleground between the protagonists of enlightenment and progress on the one side, and the preachers of obscurantism, bigotry and retrogression on the other. This battle for the soul of Pakistan is no less serious in determining its destiny than the clash between the democratic and anti-democratic forces. The situation becomes even more complex when one takes into account the growing rift between the haves and have-nots in the country. One can mention other factors like terrorism, the culture of lawlessness from which our society suffers, the general state of ignorance, and the malign influence of pirs, waderas and the people of their ilk in the society, which make the current state of affairs explosive in its ramifications. As if this was not enough the country is simultaneously faced with conspiracies by enemy powers to destabilize and weaken it.
The confrontation between the democratic and anti-democratic forces is not new. Its germs were there as early as in 1948 when the Quaid-e-Azam cautioned senior army officers at the Command and Staff College, Quetta against tendencies which violated the law of the land and their oath of honour. This warning was blatantly disregarded by adventurist generals of the army repeatedly, each time leading the country to a national disaster. Ayub’s take-over derailed the democratic process just as the country was getting ready for general elections under the newly adopted constitution and sowed the seeds of the dismemberment of the country. Yahya’s military rule carried the process further leading to a military defeat and the loss of East Pakistan under the worst possible circumstances. Zia-ul-Haq’s military government was responsible for hanging an elected Prime Minister, damaging grievously political institutions of the state, exploiting religion for the prolongation of his rule, and encouraging religious extremism in the country. Pervez Musharraf and the coterie of generals around him, in direct violation of the constitution and their oath of honour, overthrew an elected government to save themselves from court martial which they deserved for launching the disastrous Kargil operation in defiance of the writ of the state.
Despite these tragic experiences, each one of these adventurist generals refused to learn from the past, perhaps as a reflection of their lack of understanding of the history of the modern world and its political evolution. They were eager to fill up the space provided by the incompetence of the politicians in coming to grips with the daunting challenges facing the country instead of allowing the tender plant of democracy to take root. Even when they were not ruling the country directly, renegade elements from the military establishment indulged in intrigues to play political parties against one another with the objective of destabilizing duly elected governments. The formation of IJI was a clear evidence of the involvement of such elements in distorting the political process in Pakistan. Events since Musharraf’s ouster in 2008 show that these renegade elements have not desisted from intrigues to destabilize elected governments. Imran Khan’s dharna of 2014 was one such attempt by these elements to destabilize a duly elected government on cooked up charges of rigging of the 2013 general elections, which were found to beuntrue.
It is a tragedy of monumental proportions that Pakistan’s superior judiciary, whose primary responsibility is to uphold the constitution, validated all the martial laws and military take-overs in the past. The poor record of our superior judiciary adds to the burden of the incumbent judges while giving their judgments, especially on important constitutional and legal issues relevant to the smooth functioning of the democratic process in Pakistan. They must refrain from ill-advised remarks and observations which tend to convey the impression of bias and malice, thus, denying the defendants fair trial to which they are entitled under the constitution. Hasty and legally controversial judgments will merely erode the prestige of the judiciary in the eyes of the common man. The superior judiciary, thus, has a heavy responsibility on its shoulders if it wishes to redeem its lost prestige because of the validation of military take-overs in the past.
The tidal wave of religious extremism from which our country is suffering currently has aggravated its instability to the delight of our external enemies. The Faizabad dharna brought home the strength that preachers of bigotry and obscurantism have unfortunately gained in our society. The abject surrender of the government, secured through the intervention of the army and the ISI, for ending the dharna should ring alarm bells in the various centres of power and among the people who support enlightenment, moderation, and progressive interpretation of Islam based on its basic teachings and real spirit. The way the Faizabad dharna ended has raised many questions about the role of the security agencies to which satisfactory answers must be provided. In accordance with the principle of unintended consequences, it also clearly showed the extent to which the democratic system has been destabilized and the capacity of the present government has been weakened by the controversial Panama judgment and its aftermath in handling sensitive issues and developments.
The growing inequalities of income and wealth, and the disenchantment of the masses from the prevailing system because of the life of deprivation, injustice, and misery, which they are forced to lead, are providing fuel to the fires of instability lit by political polarization, religious extremism and terrorism. If the civil and military elite fail to take steps for social and economic justice in accordance with the egalitarian and progressive principles of Islam, they will soon face the revolt of the masses who are reaching the limits of their patience. The tendency of the civil and military elite to grab undue benefits through corruption, both illegal and legalized under the cover of unjust laws and rules, has no justification in a just and progressive society. As for the system of justice, the less said about it, the better. Undoubtedly, our police and prosecution departments are in need of reforms to improve their performance. But one would also like to ask the incumbent judges of the superior judiciary what steps they have taken to rid the judicial system of corruption and inefficiency, especially at the lower levels of judiciary, and to ensure that speedy and inexpensive justice is available to the common man.
Our leaders, whether in the civil or the military, and whether in the legislature, executive or the judiciary, need to be reminded that the country, besides facing internal challenges, is also confronted by serious external threats to its security and well-being. Our success in overcoming these challenges requires, above all, national unity and cohesive functioning of the different institutions of the state be it the legislature, the executive, or the judiciary. Institutional clashes must be avoided at any cost. Every institution of the state must operate within its constitutional limits. None of them has the monopoly of wisdom, integrity, or patriotism. It is only through adherence to the law of the land, sincerity of purpose, and cohesive functioning that they can strengthen the security and promote the economic well-being of the country.