An overview of the evolution of democracy in Pakistan leads one to the inescapable conclusion that it has been a case of two steps forward, one step backward with the democratic and anti-democratic forces led by renegade elements of the deep state arrayed against each other. Despite the strongly worded advice given by the Quaid-e-Azam to a group of senior military officers at Quetta on 14 June, 1948 to refrain from interference in politics, Pakistan has been the victim of four military take-overs, each of them leading to a national disaster of one kind or the other. It is also a tragic reality that all of these military interventions were validated by the Supreme Court to its discredit. Unfortunately, the senior bureaucracy also played a negative role in subverting democracy in the country by joining hands with the military dictators. Thus, the democratic process was not really allowed by the deep state to take root in our political culture. Even when democracy was revived, it was subjected to shenanigans to undermine and destabilize it. Consequently, none of the democratically elected Prime Ministers was able to complete his/her full term of office. The fate of the Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif governments in 1990’s alone is sufficient to drive home this point.
This is not to deny the immaturity, inefficiency and corruption of Pakistan’s political class which also allowed itself to be manipulated by the country’s anti-democratic forces for serving the latter’s self-interests. The casualty, however, always was the national interest. As the performance of the military regimes including the last one led by Pervez Musharraf showed, they were no less immature, inefficient, or corrupt. By way of contrast, the democratic process was never interrupted in India thanks to the strong start given by Nehru allowing the democratic institutions to gain strength and the principle of civilian supremacy to be established. As a result, while India has emerged as a mature democracy with high rate of economic growth, Pakistan is still far from that ideal. The repeated interruptions of the democratic process have not only engendered political instability in the country but also slowed down its economic progress, undermined its external security, and tarnished its image in the comity of nations.
It was generally hoped that the installation of democratically elected governments at federal and provincial levels in 2008 would prove to be a turning point in the evolution of the democratic process in the country. Alas, those hopes have been belied by later developments. Anti-democratic forces have not missed any opportunity to undermine the two democratically elected federal governments since then. The standard formula followed by the deep state for achieving this objective has been to launch a covert propaganda campaign through print, electronic, and social media to delegitimise the government of the day and then, after thus softening the target, wait for the right opportunity to deliver the coup de grace. Nawaz Sharif has become the latest victim of this covert attempt by the deep state to undermine and oust an elected Prime Minister.
The first attempt to oust Nawaz Sharif was made in 2014 on the alleged charge of the rigging of the general elections in 2013. Imran Khan and PTI played the role of a willing partner in that shady attempt with the behind-the-scene support of renegade elements from the deep state. As disclosed by senior politician Javed Hashmi later, Imran Khan’s repeatedly expressed hope for intervention by the “umpire” at that time reflected a conspiracy to send packing an elected government. The attempt to overthrow Nawaz Sharif, however, failed when the COAS of the time refused to oblige Imran Khan, the democratic forces united behind the elected government, and the subsequent investigation by the Supreme Court failed to find evidence of organized rigging during the 2013 general elections.
The Panama leaks issue provided the elements determined to destabilize an elected government another opportunity for the fulfillment of their designs. This time the attempt to oust an elected Prime Minister before the expiry of his term succeeded albeit on questionable legal grounds. Because of the various legal flaws from which it suffers in the opinions of several legal luminaries in the country, the Supreme Court verdict that led to Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification has become extremely controversial. It is likely to take the country backward rather than forward in its march towards a mature democracy in which different institutions of the state function within their constitutional limits in the best interests of the people. This is, however, not to deny the imperative for Nawaz Sharif to clear his name of charges of amassing wealth beyond his known sources of income through a fair trial. If he is indeed found guilty of financial wrongdoings, he should get the punishment that he deserves under the law.
Under the present circumstances, the possibility of the involvement of the intelligence agencies of enemy states in conspiracies to destabilize Pakistan cannot be totally ruled out. India’s enduring animosity towards Pakistan and the CPEC is well-known to us. The arrest of Kulbhushan Yadav on charges of involvement in terrorist activities in Pakistan clearly shows India’s determination to destabilize Pakistan politically. The same may be true about other foreign governments with inimical intentions towards Pakistan because of its nuclear-weapon arsenal and CPEC. By way of example, let us see one of the policy options that Graham Allison, a well-known American expert in statecraft, offers to his government for politically destabilizing and weakening China in his book, “Destined for War—-Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?”
“For example, the US government could use its cyber-capabilities to steal and then leak through third parties inside China damaging truths about past and present abuses, revealing, for example, how its current leaders became wealthy.” (p.224)
International politics is a cruel game which is played with no holds barred. Look at the controversy raging in the US currently on the alleged Russian interference in the American presidential elections last year, which may have tipped the balance in favour of President Trump. The feeling of shock and dismay on the part of the US leadership and people at this possibility is understandable as no country would like its political process to be subverted by a foreign power. But let us also not forget that the US itself has been historically guilty of undermining, destabilizing and overthrowing foreign governments through covert mean at its disposal. There was a time when it went to the extent of assassinating foreign leaders in pursuance of its own perceived national agenda. When the history of Pakistan’s current era is written, it would be an interesting subject for historians to investigate what role, if any, was played by unfriendly powers in fomenting political instability in the country and which forces in Pakistan became witting or unwitting instruments of their conspiracies. This is not to suggest that the US has been involved in fomenting political instability in Pakistan but just to caution against the various general possibilities.
Fortunately for the country and apparently because of the negative consequences of the derailing of democracy, the Chief of the Army Staff has unequivocally expressed his
commitment to the continuation of the democratic process in the country. While this commitment is welcome, the politicians also need to get their own act together in providing good governance with the aim of strengthening democracy, accelerating economic progress, improving the lot of the common man, providing speedy justice to the downtrodden, and eradicating corruption in the country. This in turn requires a full-fledged reform of the current system of governance.