For the last four years, Pakistan has been living through a farce. Although most people know it is a farce, yet, for various reasons, choose not to admit it. The farce is that the country has in place a democratic system with an elected government, which functions as democratic governments do in a country subject to the rule of law.

The reality is that none of this is true. This is nothing new; it has been the case in every period of rule by the elected governments (whether of politicians or generals). What is new is the introduction of what may be called as the ‘Zardari Doctrine’. (This is an innovation in the Second and Third World politics, which deserves such a title.) The Zardari doctrine states that there is enough loot available in the country to satisfy everyone; therefore, instead of politicians fighting for power to obtain access to it, they should join together and share it. Through this mantra, Mr Zardari, in one clever stroke, removed all political opposition to his rule.

He extended the doctrine’s application to the other power centre in Pakistan (the military) by increasing their salaries, ignoring their money-making in commercial and land businesses, and thrusting extensions of service on their pliable generals. He did the same with the civil service: so long as they toed the line, they could prosper by exploiting their positions for personal gains. Parts of the media have always been up for sale. For a while, he had a pliant superior judiciary (until he was forced to accept the present Chief Justice of the Supreme Court).

All these people benefitting from this farce of a ‘democratic government’ (the politicians, the military, the civil servants, and the media) were quite content to accept the fraud and pretend that it was not really happening. There were others who saw the play-acting for what it was, and the terrible damage it was inflicting upon the country and its people, but realised that the time-honoured way of ending the charade through military intervention was even worse. They were forced to remain silent and hoped that the country could survive till the next election; they, too, had to go along with the farce. Ordinary people realised a few months after the election what kind of government they had elected, but their opinion or voice does not count.

Unfortunately for all those benefitting from it, this farce can no longer go on. The military is no longer prepared to tolerate the government’s attempts to enable the US to control Pakistan’s policies. The Supreme Court has reached the limit of its patience in being ignored and defied by the government in its attempts to ensure accountability and the rule of law. Underlying these crises is the steady eroding of the country’s economic situation due to the cessation of foreign aid, and the massive corruption and maladministration of the government. This farce must be brought to an end in a manner that does the least lasting damage to the country. Otherwise, it will blow up in an uncontrolled way that could leave us worse off than we already are.

Mr Zardari seeks to deal with the current showdown with the Supreme Court by prolonging the farce. He plans to pre-empt the court’s challenge by seeking the endorsement of ‘the sovereign Parliament’. Everyone knows that Parliament is no such thing; the majority of its members belong to his party and its allies, and they are completely beholden to him. To claim that they represent the people is laughable, yet this is the farcical slogan that will be raised. All those who benefit from this regime will loudly parrot it. Those who wish to save the country from the turmoil that it is heading towards, must call their bluff. This Parliament does not represent the people. This regime does not govern for the people.

The solution to this critical situation lies in the hands of the Supreme Court. On January 16, the Chief Justice should convene a full court bench, as recommended by Justice Khosa. It should declare that the only viable solution to this grave constitutional clash between the judiciary and the executive (backed by the legislature) is to seek a verdict from the ultimate sovereign authority - the people. That means an immediate end to the tenure of the current legislature. To ensure that these elections are free and fair, they must be properly prepared and conducted under an impartial administration. This requires the immediate replacement of the present government by a non-political caretaker administration. The court should also declare that if the people re-elect the PPP government, then all judges, who subscribed to this order, would resign.

This is the only way in which this four-year old farce can be ended without further damage to the country. In fact, it may well lead to a better and brighter future for it!

The writer is a retired brigadier.