The post Zia “republic” in Pakistan has essentially been a controlled democracy, the pious noises about consolidation of democratic system at different intervals not withstanding. In the last almost three decades appearances might have changed, but the content of the existing political order has not. The top echelons of uniformed bureaucracy have  been calling the shots in running the state system although they do have allies and partners in the top crust of the civilian bureaucracy and elements of political elites co-opted from time to time either through some type of elections or by extra constitutional steps that are subsequently “validated” by elected Parliament. The recent departure of General Musharraf from the country, leaving behind a number of court cases including the one for committing high treason by abrogating the Constitution, has exposed the reality of “transition” of democratic system after the two general elections held in 2008 and 2013. It has also shattered illusions about the supremacy of law created by the lawyer’s movement for restoration of independent judiciary during the last stage of Musharraf’s rule. It was the grandstanding of Iftikhar Mohammad Chauhdhry, the former Chief Justice of Pakistan at the culmination of the lawyers movement that had led to the creation of many illusions including the one that it is possible to put abrogators of the Constitution on trail. Many people had started believing that the era of impunity to usurpers is coming to an end. But that was not to be as we have seen in the case of Musharraf. In hindsight it is not difficult to see that the anti-Musharraf movement was also a successful experiment in managing a controlled societal mobilisation as part of political engineering choreographed from above. But let’s resist the temptation of getting into the details of this distraction.

Be that as it may, Musharraf’s departure has also dealt a fatal blow to the farce of accountability. The process has lost credibility if there was any in the first place. While NAB, FIA and Rangers are sorting out particular persons and organisations, mostly the anti-establishment ones, the most serious case against a former dictator has fallen apart. There can’t be a more serious charge than the one of committing high treason for abrogation of the Constitution. But as we have seen, the judiciary was quite helpless in conducting trials from day one. The court found it difficult to ensure Musharraf’s appearance as he would find shelter in military hospitals pretending to be suffering from various ailments. As if that was not enough “political players” wired to “umpire” descended on Islamabad in the second half of 2014 threatening the Parliament and the Apex Court of the country. The siege of symbols of state ended only after paving ground for a soft coup that resulted in further weakening of civilian control over the state system, particularly over national security and foreign policy. As pointed out earlier this situation is not a new one and has existed for the last few decades. But Musharraf’s departure has led to its dramatic exposure and has underlined the need for a fresh evaluation.

The main problem of the present system of controlled democracy is lack of constitutional sanction. For all practical purposes the system is a de facto one muddling beyond the niceties of legal fiction. There is a serious and glaring contradiction between the federal and parliamentary democratic system provided in the 1973 Constitution and the existing system of controlled democracy in the country. This is the mother of all problems of governance. The permanent executive in the executive branch of the state is exercising over riding powers not supported by constitutional provisions. However brave faces the elected civilian governments may put on it, it is pretty clear that it practically doesn’t enjoy all the powers provided for in the Constitution. The civilian government can only exercise powers allowed to it by permanent part of the ruling establishment. Similar is the case of the judiciary, which finds it very difficult to implement its orders which are in conflict with the basics of controlled democracy. Now this contradiction is not only a stumbling block in the constitutional development of the country aimed at good governance but it is also hampering socio economic development as multiple power centers don’t see to eye on priorities in resource allocation. Every one knows that we have miserably failed in implementing Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in violation of our international commitments. If the system of governance doesn’t change one doesn’t have to be a prophet to predict the fate of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that we are supposed to implement in the next 15 years. It goes without saying that Pakistan as a state and society is in urgent need of reforms to meet challenges like defeating extremism & terrorism, facing climate change, achieving goals of social development and integrating into regional connectivity and economic cooperation. Pakistan needs to clearly think through its path of reforms for evolving into a genuine democratic system from a controlled democracy.

In order to lead the process of reforms  political parties of the country have to come out with a fresh Charter of Democracy. But as I have pointed out in these columns more than once the aforementioned Charter must start with reforms within political parties so that they acquire the necessary organisational and moral strength to introduce reforms in the state system. Benazir Bhutto Shaheed’s proposal for forming a commission of truth and reconciliation is still very much relevant to give a peaceful and civilised closure to the country’s past.

The path of reforms is indispensable for Pakistan to become a state that lives in peace with itself and with the rest of the world.