Whatever is said about the credentials and hidden agenda of Dr Tahirul Qadri, the fact remains that he is working for a reform of the electoral process with the aim of screening out constitutionally undesirable elements from our future elected houses. Some of his demands may be considered excessive or unrealistic, but his declared objective of seeking to ensure that a better lot of politicians contest the elections is unexceptional.

Imran Khan too wants change for the better, by seeking, through the elections, to get rid of the corrupt and incompetent politicians holding power for the past many decades.

It was, therefore, not very surprising to see the two coming close to each other. Also, it is possible that the results of the recent opinion poll ratings may have induced PTI to forge alliances with other political groups.

The movement to cleanse the terribly polluted politics of Pakistan brings to mind the resolve, many years back, of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto to usher in a new era in the country, by following a code of conduct and binding themselves to pursue the agreed goals and policies. The Charter of Democracy, they signed in the year 2006, begins with the words: “We the elected leaders of Pakistan have deliberated on the political crisis in our beloved homeland, the threats to its survival, the erosion of the federation’s unity, the military’s subordination of all state institutions, the marginalisation of civil society, the mockery of the constitution and representative institutions, growing poverty, unemployment and inequality, brutalisation of society, breakdown of the rule of law and the unprecedented hardships facing our people under a military dictatorship, which has pushed our beloved country to the brink of the total disaster.”

Trying to avoid another military overlordship, they committed themselves to undiluted democracy, universally recognised fundamental rights, internal party democracy, a bipartisan working of Parliament through a powerful committee system, the empowerment of people at the grassroots levels, emancipation of  the people from poverty, ignorance, want and disease, uplift of women and minorities, an independent judiciary, a neutral civil service, rule of law as well as merit. They also pledged to commit themselves to concede “the rights of the vibrant opposition and ideological/political tolerance.” And lastly, that “we shall not join a military regime or any military sponsored government.”

It did not take long, however, for one of the parties to put aside these pledges and commitments to start hobnobbing with the then military dictator and negotiating a deal with him with the blessings of foreign powers. The bargain was translated into action, inter alia, through a specially-devised ordinance issued by the military (so-called) “Chief Executive” of the country.

Unfortunate, indeed, that one of the signatories of the Charter, Ms Benazir Bhutto, was killed soon after her return from exile. Her husband made the best of the situation: first by fastening his hold on the party leadership, and then successfully using the sympathy vote to forge a coalition government in three provinces and at the centre. He also managed to get himself elected to the office of the President of Pakistan after Musharraf’s exit.

Much has been said and written about the unenviable record of the PPP-led governments at the federal level and in the three provinces. Suffice it to say that never has the country seen so much of misgovernance, corruption, skyrocketing prices of commodities of everyday use, shortages of electricity, and a virtual collapse of law and order. Never before, economically, the country had so disgracefully gone down so much and its image abroad sunk so low.

Nearly forty thousand of its nationals have lost their lives because of a senseless war initiated by the last dictator. The regime worked assiduously to keep the judiciary under its thumb. Thanks to the lawyers movement supported by a political party and the civil society, the higher judiciary was restored. To our good fortune, we now have independent higher courts.

The Supreme Court, and especially the restored Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, have during the last few years done a great job in putting the government in the dock by taking up highly scandalous cases of corruption and misuse of authority by ministers and government functionaries. But for the Supreme Court’s vigilance and diligence, the government would have continued to indulge in corruption and highly reprehensible practices without let and hindrance.

With such a tainted government that does not hesitate to use to its advantage public resources, right and left, and that is known for violating rules and regulations (it sacrificed a Prime Minister, who was asked to flout the Supreme Court verdict, for a long time), Qadri and Imran and for that matter many other political parties, including the PML-N, are rightly apprehensive of considerable electoral manipulation. Hence, their concern for a truly independent Election Commission armed with adequate powers to check pressures and ensure fair elections.

Everybody accepts the integrity of the Chief Election Commissioner, while there are some doubts about the Provincial Election Commissioners. Messrs Qadri and Imran may not succeed in replacing them, but their agitation is bound to alert Fakhru Bhai to keep a vigilant eye on their conduct prior to and during the elections.

It would be ungenerous not to recognise the PPP leaders’ remarkable political finesse in throwing up one “shosha” after another. The latest is the flurry created with regard to the new provinces. In Zardari, the country has a master political tactician. We keep seeing rabbits popping up out of hats every other day. Suddenly, Manzoor Wattoo was foisted as provincial party head over the old weather-beaten jiyalas. Just see how a new Governor has been planted in the Punjab to boost the PPP electoral fortunes.

To conclude the column on a serious note, the coming elections will, indeed, be a historic battle between good and evil. Qadri, Imran and some others, including Nawaz, will have to work hard to successfully face the looming formidable challenges. The country can no longer afford to continue with the patronage-and-kinship ridden politics. We have to change and fight for a new Pakistan.

The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and a freelance political and international relations analyst. Email: pacade@brain.net.pk