Despite serious jolts and jitters caused to our democratic order in the past, now it appears to be finding its roots based on the developing political ethos, characterized by tolerance and the deep desire to improve governance. These are very healthy symbols, promising a brighter future for democracy. The civil-military trust was first lost in 1958 when the civilian government was dismissed by General Ayub. He was forced to abdicate in 1968, but handed power over to General Yahya Khan instead of the Chairman Senate, as the constitution demanded. After the 1970 elections, General Yahya promised to call the National Assembly session in early April 1971 at Dacca, but soon changed his mind which resulted in the revolt and military action, leading to the fall of Dacca. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto lost trust when he summarily dismissed, both the Army and Air Chiefs in 1973. The distrust shaped into open defiance by ACM Asghar Khan who urged General Zia to dismiss the Bhutto government and execute him. General Zia obliged.

In 1988, when General Zia died, the three service chiefs restored the constitution within three hours of his death and handed power over to the Chairman Senate, with the promise that the elections must be held in ninety days. Elections were held on 16 November 1988, and the PPP emerged as the largest party. On 18 November, I invited Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto to dinner and briefed her on all matters that she needed to know as the future Prime Minister. My purpose was to create trust; lost after the hanging of Bhutto by the military ruler. That trust lasted for about ten years, though shaken by 58-2(B), and was lost once more when Nawaz Sharif summarily dismissed two Army chiefs and General Musharraf struck. Then, General Kayani restored the trust by opting out of the 2008 elections. Ever since, a balance of trust has been maintained, now reaffirmed by General Raheel when he expressed that “The military will act under the policy of political leadership.”

The Pakistani nation has remained committed to its national purpose, which is that democracy will be the political order for Pakistan, based on the principles of the Quran and Sunnah. Thus, Pakistanis have never voted for either the secularists or the religious extremists, and yet, disruptionists have increasingly propagated that extremists will come into government. For example, in 1988 when the military leadership decided in favour of elections, the country at the time was swarming with the Jihadis fighting the Russians in Afghanistan. The region as a whole was radicalized, but the Pakistani nation voted for the moderates. Such is the democratic ethos of our nation.

Pakistan has rejected the extremists’ demand of replacing the present political order with the Shariah. Educated youth in particular responded to the call for change by Imran Khan and helped Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf form a government in KPK. It is now put to the test of evolving realistic policies, and utilizing the knowledge, talent and expertise of Pakistanis ignored by our political traditionalists, (who rely mainly on their old cronies with limited perception and outdated opinions). Yet, the PTI is vulnerable from within, because the party revolves around Imran Khan. And God forbid, if he should meet another fork lift fall, the party may disintegrate. Therefore, there is a need to develop a syndicate of leadership, robust enough to evolve policies, so that “ideological underpinnings outclass the founder.”

The national parties, namely PPP and PML (N), have withdrawn to their political bases in Sindh and Punjab – a retreat forced on them by voters who rejected corruption, dynastic politics, bad governance and neglect of the poor and the deprived. The retreat has created a vacuum for the more dynamic forces to move in. In this regard, Pakistan is well ahead of India where the Aam Admi Party was able to form their government in Delhi, out of eight union territories and twenty eight provinces, whereas PTI emerged as the third largest party winning in one province out of four. What is common between them is their struggle to eradicate corruption and poverty.

Corruption and poverty are the bane of our people, of whom more than fifty percent live below the poverty line. The curse of corruption, permeating our entire system has become endemic. This is the malaise our governments have done little to remove. The traditive politics are helping the rich become richer and the poor become poorer. The news of the day may be true: that more than 250 Pakistani billionaires are busy purchasing prestigious real estate in the US, Europe and UAE, with money looted from Pakistan. The looted Pakistani rupee was converted into dollars during the last six months, pushing the dollar up against the rupee. And as the converted dollars were smuggled out of Pakistan, and the Saudi 1.5 billion dollars were added, the dollar lost more than six percent of its value against the rupee; a phenomenon which defies all logic.

The emergence of the third political force demonstrates the desire for change. Our people desire change in traditional politics, and an equitable just social order. This may result in a struggle against the powerful elite who dominate politics and power.“When the rich and powerful gain control of the government, the country declines and decays,” said Ibn-e-Khuldun. That is where the tipping point is; demanding a carefully planned struggle for change, led by the educated youth of the country.

n    The writer is a former chief of army staff.