After 65 years of Pakistan’s existence, the people are justifiably disillusioned with the performance of our rulers, be they civilian or military, democratic or undemocratic. All of them are responsible in varying degrees for the bad governance and lawlessness that have become the lot of the people of Pakistan.

The dismantling of Musharraf’s military dictatorship and the recommencement of the democratic process rekindled hopes of a new beginning. It was hoped that, instead of the arbitrariness, cronyism, destruction of the institutions of state, widespread poverty, increased inequality of wealth and income, corruption and lawlessness that were the hallmark of the Musharraf era, the people would be able to taste the fruit of democracy in the form of law and order to protect the weak against the excesses of the strong and economic progress to improve their standard of living.

Unfortunately, these expectations were not fulfilled. The corruption, bad governance and open defiance of the dictates of law have reached new heights under the five-year rule of the PPP-led government at the centre. Understandably, the people are now desperate for a change for the better.

It is this overwhelming desire of the people for change that Imran Khan tapped into to build up support for PTI. Imran’s goal has been to secure the mandate of the people for the required change by participating and winning in the forthcoming elections. This is an evolutionary approach aimed at bringing about the required reform, while working through the system.

In contrast, Tahirul Qadri, who wanted to exploit the people’s discontent for his own purposes, chose a different path. His statements, which were in the nature of ultimatums issued from time to time, demanded changes in the political and electoral system in the name of the people of Pakistan, but without any mandate from them. He, therefore, chose the method of the long march, instead of participation in the elections to highlight his demands and demonstrate the public support for them.

Qadri stressed initially that polls should not be held without key reforms, relating to the caretaker governments and the electoral process, even if it meant delaying them beyond the mandatory period laid down in the constitution. His demand that military and judiciary should be consulted in the establishment of the caretaker governments preceding the elections caused widespread concern, as being the thin end of the wedge to reintroduce the army’s role in the political process in violation of the constitution.

There was also a lack of clarity about his ultimate political aims and objectives. Questions were raised about his sincerity of purpose because of his Canadian nationality, which he has not renounced so far. No wonder that there was little support for Qadri’s overall agenda and approach in the mainstream political parties, especially those in the opposition at the centre.

Qadri ultimately failed to achieve the high sounding and ambitious goals that he had set for himself at the public meeting held at Lahore on December 23 last year. The agreement that he finally reached with the representatives of the coalition partners in the federal government was a far cry from his earlier demands. Fortunately, in accordance with the letter and spirit of the constitution, it did not provide for any consultation with the military or the judiciary for the establishment of the caretaker government.

Recent developments in the country have once again generated a debate whether the country needs a revolutionary or an evolutionary approach to overcome its current grave political, economic and social problems. Those in favour of a revolutionary approach cite the desperation of the people and their disappointment with the current system, which has failed to deliver during the past five years. They fear that business as usual will merely prolong the agony of the people, as the present ruling class will continue to rule the country for protecting its own vested interests, rather than the interests of the people at large.

They, therefore, advocate radical steps, even if they are extra-constitutional or unconstitutional to stabilise the economy, to provide immediate relief to the people and to restore law and order in the country. If one reads between the lines, the advocates of this revolutionary approach are indirectly calling for another experiment with disguised or undisguised military rule. Their refrain as in the past is that the county is more important than the constitution and, therefore, anything is permissible in the interest of the country.

It seems that those advocating this revolutionary approach have failed to draw the right lessons from our history. The past four military takeovers in various ways are the main source of many of the ills from which the country currently suffers. The cavalier fashion in which our military rulers trampled on the constitution sounded the death-knell for the rule of law in this country. If our military rulers could violate the constitution with impunity, they regarded the normal law of the land with even greater contempt. Thus, military governments are primarily (but not exclusively) responsible for the lawlessness in the country.

The absence of rule of law means that the weak and the poor in the society are at the mercy of the powerful and the rich sections of the society. It also means that there is no check on the excesses of the state machinery against the rights of the people. Considering the important role that contractual obligations play in the economic field, the absence of the rule of law also has a retarding effect on the economic progress of the country.

From the political point of view, military governments have been responsible for most of the national disasters. Ayub Khan was responsible for the blunder of the 1965 war, which derailed our economy and sowed the seeds for the dismemberment of Pakistan. Yahya Khan’s mishandling led to Pakistan’s military defeat in East Pakistan and its separation. Ziaul Haq was responsible for mutilating the country’s constitution and encouraging religious extremism, which later spawned the demon of terrorism in the country. Musharraf was responsible, besides Kargil, for leading the country to the abyss of 9/11 from whose catastrophic effects we are still suffering in the form of terrorist attacks and other spillover effects of the continuing armed conflict between the foreign forces and their opponents in Afghanistan. In foreign affairs, his sole achievement was capitulation before the US and sell out to India!

Overall, these military rulers treated the country as their personal fiefdoms. They engendered instability in the country by weakening the institutions of the state for their personal interests. They did not allow the democratic process to take root in the country. Every time they took the reins of the government in their hands, they left the country in a worse shape than the one which they inherited from their predecessors.

In a nutshell, the country would be much better off without another experiment of military rule, whether disguised or undisguised. Hopefully, the forthcoming elections will throw up better leaders at the federal and provincial levels, as people will surely reject corrupt and incompetent representatives.

Our long-term interest lies in continuing the democratic process and in reforming it by learning from our mistakes as we go along. If we have the courage and the patience to persevere, political and economic conditions in the country will definitely improve over time. Perseverance and hard slog are the answer to our problems. There is no magic formula for an instantaneous resolution of the challenges confronting our nation. So steady evolutionary progress, rather than revolutionary chaos, is the need of the hour.

The writer is a retired ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs. Email: javid.husain@gmail.com