Indeed the times have changed. On Dec 19, 2017 the Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa landed with his team on the parliament building to brief the Senate. It was a major event for a fledgling democracy like Pakistan, while in established democracies of the world it is considered a routine matter. According to Winston Churchill, ‘War is too serious a business to be left to the Generals’. In mid 1977 when the PNA movement was at its peak, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) the first elected Prime Minister (PM) of the country also landed in the old parliamentary building which is now the headquarters of the National Data Registration Authority (NADRA). His landing was followed by his historic speech in which he blamed the United States for destabilizing his government.
The fall of Quaid-e-Awam and his Awami Hakumat (People’s Government) was a major setback for civilian authority. In the decades of the eighties once again the Khaki encroachments were introduced to control the elected parliament. Through Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (JIT) Mian Nawaz Sharif was launched as a political face of Zia the tyrant. PML(N) represented establishment interests in the house. There were haunting scenes during sessions. Once Benazir came to the house wearing a yellow dress, she was called a taxi. Khawaja Asif was shown manhandling Raza Rabbani to please their masters. Khawaja Sahib then went on to call Dr. Shireen Mazari ‘tractor trolley’ in the current assembly. He also used foul language on the return of PTI members after the Dharna. Khawaja Saad Rafique is now talking about “chor darwaza” or back door entries into politics.
Except for the 1970 house, the establishment has always had a foot hold in politics through ‘chor darwaza’ politicians. In the eighties/nineties it was PML(J)/PML(N), in the new millennium it was PML(Q). Currently this representation is at the lowest, as PMNL(N) has changed its loyalties and PML(Q) has been reduced to size. It is an opportunity for the political forces to join hands and shut the ‘chor darwaza’ for all times to come by agreeing on the rules of the ballot.
The armed forces currently are involved in the war on terror which they are winning for the country. Their performance on the battlefront needs to be saluted but it should be curtain time for their political role which is mainly responsible for our dismal state today. Every institution should play its role as stipulated in the 1973 constitution.
All the three main political parties: PTI, PPP and PML(N) are not siding with the establishment. Another fool proof, free and fair election in 2018 can re-establish the democratic order that has remained derailed since 1977. The Army Chief is right in saying that the parliament is responsible for formulating policies that the executive has to implement. Manipulated ballots produce tainted leadership which then form ‘enemy cabinets’ to serve vested self-interests. The Election Cell within ISI has been repeatedly blamed for manipulating the electoral process. Either the cell should be disbanded or should come clean against this allegation.
For an effective parliament there has to be a credible ballot in the absence of which only ‘rogues’ and ‘hounds’ manage to enter the corridors of power bringing bad name to both democracy and their benefactors.
Politics require political solutions which our politicians are not capable of achieving. The recent impasse could have been avoided by a pragmatic approach. The electoral exercise in 2013 was disputed. In order to resolve the dispute Kaptaan demanded opening of four test constituencies. The demand was turned down which triggered the Dharna in August 2014. After Kaptaans long sit-in the civil authority was seriously weakened which resulted in strengthening of the khakis as they arbitrated between the two feuding political forces.
In 1977 ZAB committed the same mistake by delaying the re-election despite his popularity. He relied on the ‘kursi’ (chair) rather going back to his supporters. Astute leaders like Abdul Hafiz Kardar and Aitzaz Ahsan advised him to announce immediate re-balloting. On his refusal they resigned. The ensuing protests weakened the fledgling democratic order and the third usurper was able to reverse all the democratic gains and re-introduce the political rogues and hawks. Earlier Ayub Khan had done the same damage in 1958.
By contrast Indian politicians have been able to handle their political battles politically. The Indian President has the authority to dissolve the parliament which he has never exercised in seventy years. Ghulam Ishaq Khan (GIK) the Baboo President dismissed two elected governments but had to go home on the third attempt. Even President Farooq Leghari the democrat dismissed the administration of his own party. Benazir Bhutto never pardoned him for this act.
Democracy is a numbers game it thrives on participation and peaceful protests. Ballot strengthens the process provided it is free, fair and credible. Another honest electoral exercise in 2018 can put the country back on track enabling the democratic order to strengthen. The elections in 1970 resulted in the ablest house ever with an outstanding cabinet which was then replaced by manipulated ballots and third rate political leadership that the nation endures till today. Once the parliament takes complete responsibility of running the country through able and honest leadership, khaki briefings will then become a norm not an exception as it has been.
The writer is Ex-Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation.