Pakistan today is a battle scene. Arrayed on one side in this battle are the democratic forces, which want to strengthen democracy in the country in the firm belief that it is the best guarantee for enduring political stability, sustainable progress and social justice. On the other side are anti-democratic forces which under different disguises are bent upon subverting the democratic system to protect their vested interests. Some of them also mistakenly believe that democracy does not provide a solution for the country’s serious economic and social problems. The outcome of this battle will decide whether in the years to come Pakistan will emerge as a stable and progressive democracy or whether it will descend into chaos under varied forms of dictatorial regimes whose sole pre-occupation would be the protection of the privileges of the elite.

Pakistan’s history is replete with instances when elected governments were overthrown through military coups undermining democracy and rule of law, and engendering political instability. There were other occasions when the army’s top brass used their influence covertly to weaken or change governments so as to bring them in line with their thinking on conducting the country’s internal and external policies. Unfortunately, many Pakistani politicians became willing partners of this vicious game. This was done many a time in the name of national security while defining security in uni-dimensional terms with focus exclusively on its military dimension to the neglect of its political, economic and diplomatic elements. Unsurprisingly, many of these military interventions resulted in national disasters, the most tragic being the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971.

The economic and commercial empire of our military establishment is similar to that of Egypt’s military forces, which have ruled that country for more than 60 years with disastrous results. It was partly to protect its empire that, after the brief interruption of one year, the rule of the elected President was brought to an end by the Egyptian military through a coup. The coup was preceded by a propaganda campaign and public demonstrations covertly orchestrated by the Egyptian military to undermine the authority and the legitimacy of the elected government.

Fortunately, the situation in Pakistan is far better than that which prevailed in Egypt last year. Firstly, most of the political parties with the exception of PTI are rightly united in rejecting the demands for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s resignation through dharnas merely on the basis of unproven allegations. Secondly, it appears that the Pakistan army as an institution has drawn the right lessons from its past unhappy experiences and is in no mood to repeat its past mistakes. In particular, the present Chief of the Army Staff seems determined to keep the army away from involvement in politics. The latest statement by DGISPR that the army will operate within the framework of the constitution and has no intention of meddling in political affairs confirms this conclusion.

This is good news for the country and for professionalism in the army. It shows that the Pakistan army is gradually but surely moving away from the Egyptian model towards the Turkish model. We are all aware how Recep Tayyip Erdogan during his long tenure as the Turkish Prime Minister was able to tame the Turkish military, which had carried out several coups and hanged a Prime Minister, and was able to establish the authority of the elected Turkish government over it. Consequently, Turkey has experienced an unprecedented era of political stability and economic progress under his rule.

Which forces and what motivations are behind the current campaign spearheaded by Tahir-ul-Qadri and Imran Khan to derail or weaken the democratic system? Tahir-ul-Qadri has unequivocally rejected the present democratic system and demanded the formation of a national government to take the nation towards the utopia that he has in his mind. He, however, does not bother to explain how this national government would be formed. He has also failed to present to the nation even the outline of the future system of government that he has in mind. His posture and statements appear to be a disguised attempt to invite the army to take over the reins of the government.

As for Imran Khan, I must admit that I have been greatly disappointed by his political immaturity. While his demand for impartial investigation of the alleged rigging of last year’s elections on a fast track basis is understandable, his call for Nawaz Sharif’s resignation while the investigation is taking place is unjustifiable. If unproven allegations are accepted as the basis for resignation demands, no government in the world would be able to perform its functions effectively. His appeals to the people not to pay taxes or electricity bills will encourage lawlessness and anarchy in the country. His complaints about the economic and social ills of the country are valid. But a judgment on the performance of the present federal and provincial governments has to be given by the people of Pakistan through regular elections. This judgment cannot be pronounced by political parties through demonstrations.

It would have been much better for Imran Khan and the country if he had used the opportunity, provided by the last year’s elections, to provide good governance in KPK and act as a strong but responsible opposition party in the centre. If he had chosen this course of action, PTI would have been well placed to win the next general elections. By seeking a short cut to power, he has not only hurt his own democratic credentials but also the prospects of his party’s victory at the next elections.

Javed Hashmi’s disclosures have provided some clues about the elements, which are behind the campaigns of Tahir-ul-Qadri and Imran Khan to weaken and derail the democratic system. It is the same elements which have been propagating the proposal for a government of technocrats instead of an elected government since the fall of Pervez Musharraf’s military dictatorship. Fortunately, the people, having been alerted, are unlikely to fall into the trap, which has been laid for them. The country does need a change for the better in terms of economic progress and social justice. The present federal and provincial governments must heed the people’s call for improvement in their performance. However, nobody can be allowed to derail the democratic system and spread anarchy and instability in the country on the pretext of change. We need to move towards the Turkish model of democracy, stability and progress rather than the Egyptian model of military dictatorship, elitism, corruption and oppression.

    The writer is a retired ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.