“Those who cannot remember the past

are condemned to repeat it.”

–George Santayana

It has been Pakistan’s bad luck or just pure coincidence that after about a decade of the restoration of democracy in the country every time, the nation goes through the cycle of uprooting the tender plant of democracy for the sake of a saviour in the form of an adventurist general. Only, of course, to be disappointed by the performance of this saviour after roughly another decade and return to a new democratic experiment. The first period of military rule from 1958 to 1971 spanning the governments of Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan ultimately resulted in an ignominious military defeat and surrender at Dhaka and the dismemberment of the country. Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime (1977-88) sowed the seeds of religious extremism and terrorism from which the country continues to suffer grievously. Pervez Musharraf left behind a legacy of the disastrous Kargil adventure, a virtual surrender before the US and a sell-out to India, the monster of terrorism in the form of TTP and its affiliates, and political instability. All of these military dictators were responsible collectively for derailing the process of democracy, undermining the rule of law without which sustained internal stability and economic progress remains a mirage, and weakening the different institutions of the state particularly the elected legislative assemblies and the judiciary.

Certainly, there is widespread discontent in the country once again because of the failure of our elected civilian rulers at the federal and provincial levels to deliver and meet the legitimate expectations of the common man. The ineptitude of our federal and provincial governments calls for corrective measures to reform the system in the best interest of the country. It is not, however, an argument for dismantling the democratic system altogether which may lead the nation to another disaster as its past experience shows. That some of our opinion makers are again calling for another messiah in the form of a military dictator reflects their naivete and their refusal to learn any lessons from the nation’s woeful past experiences. It also betrays their inability to comprehend the relative importance of the system and the man.

No organisation can function effectively without a system, that is, a set of rules which determines its goals and governs its functioning. Of course, the quality of the persons serving in the organisation, especially at the leadership levels, matters. If they are people of high caliber, the organisation’s ability in achieving its goals would be correspondingly strengthened. The organisation would suffer if it is led and manned by people of low quality. But the absence of a system would spell chaos and lead to disastrous results for the organisation. In fact, the absence of a system would threaten the very existence of the organisation. Needless to say that the better the system, the better would be its functioning and results.

These general remarks have direct relevance for the functioning of a state as an association of individuals organised to attain certain common goals. The modern state is expected to ensure internal peace and stability, establish the rule of law, provide social and economic justice to the people at large, take steps for the economic growth and prosperity of the nation, and safeguard the country against external threats to its security. For the realisation of these goals, the modern state operates in accordance with its chosen system of government as enshrined in its constitution, which constitutes its fundamental law and determines the way the different institutions of state, especially legislature, executive and judiciary, operate and interact with each other. In a democracy, the functioning of the government ideally should reflect the wishes and aspirations of the people as conveyed through their chosen representatives.

It is the rule of law, an indispensable condition for internal peace and stability, social and economic justice, and economic progress, which keeps the system of government in place and ensures coordination among the various institutions of the state. In the absence of the rule of law, the system would simply fall apart leading to chaos and anarchy. While the presence of capable and dynamic leaders in different institutions of state does raise the over-all efficiency of the government, nobody is indispensable. The system of government enshrined in the constitution would ensure continuity in the functioning of the government and stability in the country as individuals at leading positions come and go.

The constitution and the rule of law are the first casualty of a military take-over, thereby eroding the foundation on which the modern system of government operates. It is the fiat of the military ruler which becomes the law of the land rather than well-considered legislation adopted by the elected representatives of the people. Laws promulgated by a military ruler, therefore, tend to be arbitrary and capricious lacking popular sanction. The new military regime promises the moon while grabbing the reins of power. But as time passes it is unable to fulfill its promises for a variety of reasons. To begin with it lacks roots among the people. Its decisions reflect the thinking of the ruling junta rather than the wishes and preferences of the people at large. So a divide starts developing between its operations and what the people want. To overcome this handicap, most military rulers assemble around them advisers from different walks of life and political elements rejected by the people. Since these individuals depend upon the military ruler for continuity in their positions, they often tell their military boss what he wants to hear instead of giving him objective information and advice which sometimes may be unpleasant. Thus, the military ruler is gradually surrounded by sycophants who distance him from the harsh political and economic realities leading to policy blunders. Secondly, in the modern world, state policies have little chance of success unless they are backed by popular sanction. This condition is rarely fulfilled in a military regime. So even when the military ruler wants to take the right decision, he is handicapped by the lack of public support. Finally, perhaps the most dangerous consequence of a military take-over is the absence of a system of checks and balances leading to serious policy blunders and national catastrophes as our own historical experience shows.

In short, a military dictator is not a panacea for the ills of our society or an answer to the mismanagement of the country’s affairs by the incumbent elected political governments at federal and provincial levels. If anything, the military rule would ultimately worsen the situation further. The solution of our problems lies in the reform of the existing democratic system so that it becomes responsive to the aspirations of the people of Pakistan and ensures good governance and rapid economic progress in conditions of internal and external security. This would necessarily be an evolutionary process with each positive step building upon the progress made earlier. However, if our ruling elite continue to ignore the welfare of the people at large for the sake of their vested interests leaving them in a state of deprivation and abject poverty, the situation may lead to a bloody revolution. Such a scenario will be to the detriment of both the elite and the downtrodden as well as the country as a whole because of the accompanying chaos and instability. Hopefully, our civilian and military elite will wake up from the deep slumber into which they have fallen and take urgent corrective steps before it is too late.