New guiding principles
When democratic rule returned in 2008, there was a fear that the period, given the challenges, will be short-lived. Crises—political, strategic and security-related—found it hard to undo the newly reclaimed democratic space. Critics credited the political leadership—under President Zardari—for completion of a successful democratic term and the first peaceful transition of power for its policy of reconciliation. Just as much it was an accomplishment for Pakistan’s political leadership, the credit similarly went to Pakistan’s armed forces’. The second democratic term under PML-N, despite ouster of then PM Nawaz Sharif, after his failure to satisfy the court in the Panama reference, also witnessed a completion of tenure and a second democratic transition, despite his and his government’s lack of agreement with the Supreme Court verdict. Just like the parliament performed under imperfect conditions, the judiciary stood unblemished and Pakistan came out strong, surmounting the threat of metastasised terrorism. Irrespective of how imperfect Pakistan’s political evolution stands; an argument is made to depict Pakistan’s democracy as a façade. This notion needs to be critically evaluated for dual reasons: First, encroachment into political rule by non-political institutes in the past are not worthy of legitimacy, nor can they be seen as favourite alternatives in any future recourse; second, neither political parties across the political divide nor Pakistan’s military, especially the Army, has any appetite for unconstitutional measures or undoing the young democracy in Pakistan.
Growth and development of democracy in Pakistan is, however, conditioned on two fundamental principles; accountability and the rule of law. The consensus now, between the civil and military leadership and institutes, is that accountability and rule of law should be the by-products of democratic rule. Those disagreeing with this, see them as tools to decimate democratic institutes and actors in the country. The problem with this argument, in reality, is that expediency and complacency, without accountability, transparency and rule of law, are sought as necessary evils of a democratic rule in Pakistan.
The fact is sans these tenets, accountability and rule of law, democratic norms and rule will merely be a clichéd term without meaningful essence. Dominated by incumbency, acquiescing practices and at times colluding behaviour, governance and rule of law will just be casualty along with accountability. Most importantly, the public stands immune to receiving dividends of participatory, just and fair democratic rule.
The other question that also warrants appraisal is, whether accountability should be across all political divides and institutions. Normatively, the answer should be a resounding, ‘yes’. Practically, the same is also underscored by civil-military leadership, institutes and judiciary. The question lies on meeting the chasm between the expectations and existing discrepancies, at present.
Does the military, in Pakistan, seek favourable and sacrosanct treatment in this evolving democratic environment? The armed forces remain uncompromising by holding violations of discipline and law to account as part of internal accountability measures. Should this imply that space for improvement is only scant? The answer, again, is not in the affirmative—things can improve to this end. The constant, however, is uncompromising commitment towards institutional discipline, civil supremacy and rule of law in the country. This reality may appear hard to swallow; however, the momentum is heading to this end.
The ideals or lofty goals of decades past were made unattainable by undemocratic leaders. Today, they stand indispensable for political stability, economic development and democratic maturity and supremacy of law in Pakistan. The question is, how incrementally and sustainably, Pakistan transpires a consolidated democratic evolution without resorting to temptations of the past.
The writer is a researcher at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org