Since the dawn of the modern age, the democratic process has been an essential ingredient of the onward march of human history. Countries that adopted the democratic form of government and stuck to it despite the vicissitudes of time were, by and large, able to move ahead in the race for human progress. Those which chose to practice various forms of dictatorial rule or the absolute rule of monarchy were left far behind in this race. One main reason why the West was able to pull ahead of the rest of the world was its adoption of the democratic form of government in which the people elected their rulers who were accountable to them and who could be changed if their performance was not satisfactory. Popular sanction and the threat of periodic accountability through elections generally ensured that democratically elected governments would work in the best interest of the people. This is, of course, not to deny the important role of the quest for knowledge and the spirit of enquiry in the dawn of the modern era.

Even a cursory glance at the world around us is sufficient to bring home these truths. By and large, one common factor which distinguishes the developed countries from the less developed ones is the existence of a mature democratic system which provides the people with the opportunity to elect and, if necessary, change their rulers through periodic elections. These countries have witnessed ups and downs. On occasions, their democratically governments were not able to perform well causing a great deal of disappointment and anger among the people. Still, they stuck to democracy because of its unique advantages. On the other hand, dictatorship or its variants sometimes create the illusion of fast decision making and quick results. But in the long run, dictatorship is a far inferior system of government than democracy because it suffers from three inherent flaws. Firstly, since the people do not play any significant role in the choice of the dictator, it is highly unlikely that his policies will reflect their wishes and preferences. Secondly, there is no system of checks and balances to ensure that the dictator is prevented from pursuing flawed policies. Thirdly, most dictatorships fail to provide a generally accepted rule of succession. Consequently, the country has to go through political instability with its attendant adverse consequences every time a new ruler has to be selected to assume the reins of the government.

Unfortunately, Pakistan soon after its birth became the victim of military dictatorship despite the clear advice of the Quaid-e-Azam to the senior army officers to steer clear of politics and let the politicians do their job. A succession of army generals starting with General Ayub Khan imposed military dictatorship on the people of Pakistan in disregard of the teachings of the Quaid-e-Azam, the provisions of the constitution, and their oath of honour. These ambitious and unscrupulous generals prevented the democratic system of government from taking root in the country. In the absence of a system of checks and balances, their policy blunders led to disastrous results for the country, the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971 being the most important example of their misrule. Repeated violations of the constitution with impunity bred lawlessness in the country and corruption in different sectors of the society. The muzzling of the voice of the people created a gulf between them and the rulers, enabled the ruling elite to exploit the resources of the nation for their personal benefit, widened inequalities of income and wealth, encouraged favouritism at the expense of the principle of merit, and aggravated poverty and a sense of deprivation among the masses.

Of course, politicians, bureaucrats and the judiciary must bear their own share of the blame for the repeated military take-overs. The politicians through their inability to provide good governance created the vacuum which the ambitious army generals readily filled up. The judiciary, whose job was to safeguard the constitution, became a willing partner in the shenanigans to justify the military rule. Senior bureaucrats extended support to the generals’ dictatorial rule for the sake of their personal benefits. In the process, the country and the masses suffered.

One would assume that after four experiments with the military rule and after witnessing their adverse consequences for the country, there would be a national consensus in favour of democracy and against dictatorship. Unfortunately, that is not the case. There are still some in the country who have not drawn the right lessons from our past experience. Pervez Musharraf, for instance, still continues to propagate the point of view that the army chief has no option but to take over the reins of the government if the choice is between the state and the constitution. This is, of course, an open invitation to the COAS to topple democratically governments at will since he would be the prosecutor, the jury and the judge.

There is also a group of retired senior army officers and civilian bureaucrats, which has been carrying on a campaign over the past several years to replace the democratically elected government by a government of technocrats to be selected by the army top brass. This is a veiled attempt to re-impose military rule in Pakistan. Only in this case the military would try to run the government from behind the scene while the so-called “technocrats” would be in charge for public consumption. This proposal, which is in direct violation of article 6 of the constitution, is apparently based on the misplaced belief that somehow the “technocrats” under the supervision of the army would be able to deliver where the democratic governments have failed. Considering the blatant and massive corruption of which these “technocrats” have been accused and considering the day-to-day examples of misuse of power by them for personal gains, one wonders how they would be able to perform in the best interest of the country, particularly in the absence of any accountability to the public or their elected representatives. Above all, they cannot pretend to be better aware of the wishes and preferences of the people than their elected representatives.

Imran Khan’s support, voiced in 2014, to the proposal for a government of technocrats to replace a duly elected government, which had completed just one year of its five-year term, was shocking. It was a thinly veiled attempt to take the country back to military rule. Luckily for the country, that attempt failed thanks mainly to the united front formed by all the other political parties and the admirable conduct of the Chief of the Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif.

The Panama leaks issue has provided Imran Khan and some other disgruntled elements another opportunity to destabilize the current democratically elected government at the Centre irrespective of its consequences for the democratic process or the country which is facing a serious security threat on its eastern border. It is imperative that PTI is clearly told that whereas it has the legal and constitutional right to agitate peacefully to propagate its views, the law does not allow it to stop through use of force the business of state and normal business activities, or disturb the normal day-to-day life of the citizens of Islamabad. Imran Khan needs to learn that democratic continuity is non-negotiable and no issue can justify endangering the democratic process in the country. At the same time, those accused of corruption, irrespective of their position, must be taken to task through due process of law.