The deepening crisis has thrown up a number of crucial questions.

     Why does democracy fail to take root in Pakistan? Why do those hopes, raised after elections are held, start petering out on one count or the other and the country begin sliding back to square one? Is parliamentary democracy the right system for Pakistan? Why doesn’t it work satisfactorily for us?

One has to go back to the early days. While it was indeed a people’s struggle for a homeland for Muslims in India, what kind of political assets and traditions did we begin with? Did we have democratically-oriented political parties? Did we hold a national election soon after independence? The answer to both these questions is in the negative. Yes, we faced enormous problems to establish institutions and infrastructure in a newly acquired country. What were the characteristics of our decision-making process? Why did it take nine long years to frame our Constitution and 23 years to hold the first adult franchise national election? What role did we assign to religion in the making of the supreme law of the land? How was it that Quaid-e-Azam’s guidelines as spelt out in his August 11 address (1947) to the Constituent Assembly were not kept in view while drafting the Objectives Resolution? Did we accord due importance to the rights and aspirations of the people of the majority province of East Bengal? Did we properly consult the people’s representatives when all the western provinces were merged into One Unit and Lahore made the capital of West Pakistan? How was it that there were as many as seven governments installed in the first 11 years followed by Martial Law which lasted for about thirteen years? How was it that the rare opportunity we had of a truly democratic setup was wasted by a popular leader followed by another long spell of a military government (and a Prime Minister sent to the gallows). The new regime injected a heavy dose of Islamisation into the polity and the laws of the country. A new phase of post-Martial Law democratic dispensations began with the army flexing muscles from behind the scenes. A number of elected administrations lasted for two to three years. An assertive Prime Minister was deposed, arrested and exiled. Then came another long spell of military rule. The dictator forged a bizarre compromise with a leading political party, agreeing to whitewash the party’s previous deeds.  

A fresh breeze started blowing when a Chief Justice refused to bow before the arrogant military dictator followed by a prolonged lawyers’ movement, resulting in the restoration of judges and the emergence of   an independent judiciary. Thereafter, Pakistan saw the first-ever completion of the five year term of the elected government and a peaceful political transition. After 66 years, the country was moving confidently on the highway of democracy with a stable government in place and a seasoned prime minister at the helm—an added political asset being a new egalitarian political party led by a national hero.

As luck would have it, within a year while the new government was valiantly grappling with the daunting economic and law-order challenges, the fragile foundation of the democratic set up was hit by a vociferous demand for a recount of the votes cast in some of the constituencies. The remedy for the complaints lay with the election commission, the tribunals and the courts but the blame was squarely nailed on the elected government.  The PML-N government was accused of deep involvement in the rigging of elections in collusion with the election commission, the judiciary and the caretaker government. The administration, on its part, didn’t take the accusations seriously and the aggrieved party, finding little positive response, decided to take the matter to the streets. In jumped the demagogue Sheikh-ul-Islam with his devout disciples. These two formidable forces rallied their followers and descended on Islamabad setting up camps in the Red Zone, breathing fire and brimstone, rejecting elections and the legitimacy of the government, asking for its removal, electoral reforms and a New Pakistan. Aided by the nosy and noisy electronic media, providing 24/7 live projections, the container-linked evening shows have gone on day after day, night after night: The PML-N government weakened by the senseless killings of the PAT activists in Lahore hastened to accept 5 of the 6 demands put forward by PTI. Both Qadri and Imran however, refused to budge where the call for Nawaz Sharif’s resignation was concerned. While the FIR has been registered, the PML-N, with support from almost all the political parties represented in the parliament has stuck to the stand not to resign having already agreed to the appointment of an enquiry commission consisting of Supreme Court judges and a parliamentary committee to recommend electoral reforms.

With Qadri whipping up the religious emotions of his followers sitting at the Shahra-e-Dastoor and declaring his resolve to lead them to martyrdom, and with Imran Khan vowing to continue the PTI dharna, mobilizing civil disobedience against the government, Nawaz Sharif has resorted to bring in the army chief to help mediate some sort of settlement amongst the contending parties.

Nawaz Sharif’s surprising move to ask the army chief to help defuse and resolve the escalating crisis has evoked sharp reactions.

First of all, it is noteworthy that the Army Chief’s call was greeted gleefully by both Imran and Qadri who rushed to meet General Raheel Sharif. Although details of what transpired at the meetings are not fully known, both leaders have asserted that they will be sticking to their demands (Imran insisting that the PM must resign and Qadri inter alia pressing for a revision of the FIR).

While Altaf Hussain has welcomed the army chief’s intervention saying that he has “won the people’s hearts and saved the country from bloodshed,” the PPP is unhappy and deeply dismayed at involving the military in political affairs. Most of the other political parties and civil societies have been critical of this development.

I close this column by reverting back to a reference to the foundational infirmities alluded to above—the frequent and long military interludes and a zig-zag and see-saw parliamentary sojourn because of weak democratic traditions, an authoritarian mindset and a feudalistic society.

It remains to be seen how the game ends this time, though it has been played consistently for 66 years.

n    The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and a freelance political and international relations analyst.