The discussion on democracy in Pakistani media is becoming more meaningful and productive each day. Commentators are crossing self-imposed red lines, daring to see beyond the politically-correct jargon on parliamentary democracy and questioning the very shaky foundations of our dubious democracy project in the process. Obviously, there is no point in reforming a system that is rotten and undemocratic to the core. What our democracy needs is a revolution.

Don’t get me wrong now. I’m not talking about a revolution which starts with a speech by the army chief and goes on to revamp the political elite from the top. While God only knows whether things will come to such a pass or not, the revolution I’m talking about is something entirely different and has more to do with rethinking the basic features of our elitist democracy with a view to making it citizen-centric. Such revolutions start in the realm of ideas. And going by the mood of more than a few opinion-writers, this one has clearly started.

So, by questioning a system that has stopped working for the people, are these writers inviting another martial law? For pointing out the utter failure and structural defects of our democracy project, and suggesting solutions that do not fit neatly into our existing constitutional arrangement, are they to be included in the list of enemies of democracy? Why should such candid soul-searching about democracy be seen as an invitation to the COAS to wrap up the system? What stops the existing and future political leaders from drawing upon these fresh and independent perspectives? Going by the theory of it, they should be the ones most responsive to the media and actually leading this discussion on imagining a new future for Pakistan’s democracy.

Regarding Pakistan’s democracy, one thing is certain: Either we envisage a new future for it or there would be no future for it. Except for those who are still not tired of going round and round the democracy bush chanting misleading mantras to the gods of ‘continuity’ and ‘parliamentary supremacy’, it is pretty obvious to everyone else that our problems won’t go away with the holding of more elections. While these blindfolded champions would like the parliament’s authority to be unfettered, it is hardly a comforting thought for those whose faith in the current system is not as blind as theirs.

These rigid mullahs of democracy are not very different from the maulvis and maulanas peddling Islam; they worship the form and procedures but are unmindful of the spirit and outcomes. They are the ones who told us to pamper our democracy project like a spoilt brat, shielding it from even valid criticism and turning a blind eye to the serious crimes of its leaders and chamchas. As it turns out, our democracy has been standing upon pillars of salt that are dissolving before our eyes in the flood of an across-the-board action led by the armed forces.

The leaders and mullahs of democracy are not happy that the operation that started with the stated goal of breaking the back of terrorists has expanded to include a crackdown on corruption and criminal mafias. They’d rather not see the connection. To everyone else, it is not hard to decipher the nexus between all these problems and how they feed upon each other. Slogans of political victimisation are being raised by the leading lights of our democracy but they have lost the last remnants of something crucial that the armed forces have gained under the leadership of General Raheel Sharif: Public trust. The widespread support for the military-led operation is unmistakable.

One parliamentary party after another is complaining that it is being pushed against the wall. Those not complaining so far are expected to join the chorus when the operation reaches their door. Nobody’s sure what will happen when it reaches the core of PML-N. That’s what everyone is worried about, I guess. Will it create another stand-off between the civilian government in Islamabad and the military? Given the popularity of the armed forces, aren’t we clearly headed for another martial law in such an eventuality? Should we be writing opinion pieces maligning our democracy these days? Shouldn’t we postpone our democracy-bashing for another time? I don’t think so.

Now is as good a time as any to take a hard look at our democracy. Clearly, whether the Nawaz government is booted out or not is something that won’t depend upon what the opinion-writers have to say on democracy. Such decisions are taken due to very different considerations. In the present context, more than anything else, it depends on the government’s ability to stay on the same page as the COAS as far as the ongoing operation is concerned, especially once the ruling party starts feeling the heat. It seems that the Nawaz administration would further improve its chances if it stops dragging its feet and take the implementation of National Action Plan more seriously.

Just like they are not supposed to be cheer-leaders for martial laws, opinion-writers bear no responsibility for saving a system just because it comes with the holy tag of democracy. In fact, in a broken system like ours where political leaders have been reduced to players of unethical and self-serving games of power, it is important to keep reminding them of their purpose in our lives. It is important to identify the anti-democratic structures on which our present system stands and to imagine a better system that does justice to the name of democracy.

Fate could not have dealt a fairer hand to our petty political leaders. Despite their claims of representing the people, COAS General Raheel Sharif is the most popular person in Pakistan. As if this single fact was not bad enough for them, even the credit for sparking this healthy and substantive debate on democracy in the Pakistani media goes to him. Had he not started the military-led operation against terrorists and put pressure on the system to perform, we would still be unsure about how useless it really is.