Pakistan’s history is a story of missed goals, squandered opportunities, and a loss of vision or a long-term sense of direction. It was supposed to be a state based on Islam’s progressive; ideals encouraging dynamism and pursuit of knowledge, and offering full protection to non-Muslims in practicing their religion. We have turned it into an extremist, almost obscurantist, Islamic state where the state accords a low priority to education and where non-Muslim minorities suffer adverse discrimination. It was supposed to be a welfare state committed to Islamic injunctions of human equality and brotherhood. Instead, we have an exploitative system of government in which the masses suffer under grinding poverty while the exploitative elites rob the national wealth to fill their pockets. Pakistan, which came into existence through a political struggle and the exercise of the right of vote, was meant to be a democracy. Unfortunately, for almost half of its short history as an independent country it was ruled by adventurous generals with the connivance of the superior judiciary and the top bureaucracy. In the process, the country has squandered numerous opportunities to develop itself on the right lines with a sense of purpose and a clear vision of its future destiny.

The responsibility for this deplorable state of affairs lies with both the political and non-political leaders of the country although each of them has the tendency to put the blame at the door-step of the other. The most important task of the leadership of any country is to devise a political system which suits the genius of its people, sets down the responsibilities and rights of different organs of state, the social contract between the state and the people, and the way the leaders of the state are to be chosen and held accountable for their deeds and misdeeds. Pakistan at its inception was expected to be a democracy ruled by elected representatives of its people. It was hoped that these elected representatives would be responsive to the wishes of the people in running the affairs of the state. Quaid-e-Azam was quite clear about the necessity of a democratic set-up in the country when he warned the military officers to remain faithful to their oath of honour and keep away from involvement in politics during his famous talk to them in Quetta.

Quaid-e-Azam’s demise soon after Pakistan came into being did not allow him sufficient time for the framing of its constitution. Unfortunately, his immediate political successors failed to rise up to the occasion and it was not until 1956 that the country got its first constitution. Meanwhile, a lot of precious time had been wasted. The intervening time enabled Pakistan’s top civil and military bureaucracy to spread its tentacles into affairs which in a normal democratic country would be reserved for elected representatives of the people. Pakistan’s superior judiciary, to its discredit, repeatedly played an ignoble role in conniving at this unhealthy trend, giving birth to the so-called doctrine of necessity. The inevitable result of this negative development was Ayub’s martial law which set the pattern for similar military take-overs subsequently to the detriment of the political evolution of the country on healthy and democratic lines. The military rulers, perhaps because of their low level of education and lack of comprehension of the complexity of national affairs, inflicted enormous damage on Pakistan’s polity and led the country to several disasters, the most tragic being the military defeat and the dismemberment of the country in December, 1971 under Yahya.

In short, the responsibility for derailing repeatedly the democratic order and stunting the evolution of the political process on healthy lines in Pakistan lies squarely with the country’s adventurous and unscrupulous generals who refused to learn from history and repeatedly subjected the nation to military rule with the connivance of the superior judiciary and elements from the senior echelons of the civilian bureaucracy. It would be wrong, however, to blame the army, which deserves our respect for its sacrifices in the service of the nation, as an institution for the treasonous conduct of these renegade generals of whom Pervez Musharraf was the latest example.

One cannot also absolve the politicians of their responsibility in mismanaging the nation’s affairs and for plundering the country’s resources for their personal benefits. But as far as corruption is concerned, senior bureaucrats, senior members of the military establishment, and even some of the judges have not missed any opportunity for enriching themselves through corruption, whether legalized or otherwise. An example of “legalized corruption” is the practice of allotment of residential and commercial plots and agricultural land at throwaway prices to these elements. This misuse of the state’s land amounts to robbing the poor masses – who are its real owners – for satisfying the greed of the well-to-do classes. The policy of doling out state land to the rich at the expense of the poor is exactly the reverse of what should happen in a welfare state.

But the beneficiaries of this “legalized corruption” do not see any contradiction when they criticize others for their corruption. Many of them have been advocating a so-called national government or a government of technocrats, which is a euphemism for military rule in disguise, to root out corruption and run the government on efficient lines. They tend to forget that the country has been subjected to several such experiments in the past with disastrous or unsatisfactory results. As Einstein said, “Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.”

There is no magic solution of the serious problems of inefficient management of the nation’s affairs and corruption. The last thing that we need for this purpose is military rule, disguised or otherwise. The rule of law is a must for rectifying our systemic flaws whereas military rule basically implies the absence of the rule of law. It is not surprising, therefore, that Pervez Musharraf, the last military ruler, who is on trial on charges of high treason, is currently a fugitive from law. It is of the utmost importance that the sanctity of the constitution and the rule of law must be upheld in the country. Further, all the institutions of state must operate within their constitutional limits in accordance with the principle of the supremacy of the civilian elected government. It is accordingly a matter of considerable satisfaction that the current military leadership has repeatedly expressed its commitment to constitutional rule in the country.

Our existing democratic system suffers from many shortcomings. In particular, the procedures for checking corruption and ensuring accountability of elected leaders, senior civilian and military government officials, and senior judges suffer from many loopholes which should be closed by strengthening the system of accountability. Meanwhile, those accused of corruption must be judged through a fair trial. But the judiciary should resist the temptation to adopt extra-legal procedures in trying the accused. Further, the procedures for elections must be reformed to ensure fair and transparent elections so that elected representatives and their policies truly reflect the wishes of the people.

Pakistan’s survival and progress demands that we must stick to the democratic system of government while reforming it as needed in the interest of the welfare of the people and the efficient management of the nation’s affairs. This will be a long and hard struggle. But this is the only way in which the nation’s progress and prosperity can be ensured, its security can be strengthened, and the welfare of its people can be enhanced. The lesson of history is that for nations there is no short-cut to progress or greatness.