Pakistan’s tryst with democracy has been fraught with disappointments. As it goes to poll on 25th July 2018, there remain some important issues which require contemplation. The first and perhaps the most important question relates to the fairness of the whole electoral process. A democracy is not about “staging” periodic elections rather the whole sanctity of that process (election) lies in the twin prefixes of “free and fair”. Judging by these two factors alone, one can clearly identify the nature of current electoral process in Pakistan. The irony of “free” election lies in the fact that, while on one hand terrorist outfits and their candidates have been mainstreamed into politics, the leader of the present party in power, PML-N, Nawaz Sharif, has been debarred from contesting election on flimsy grounds of “dishonesty”. As Hussain Haqqani put it, “one can be either corrupt or anti-military in Pakistan, but not both at the same time”. Unfortunately, for Nawaz Sharif he lies in the latter category. Corruption in Pakistan is so rampant that politicians of all hue and colour, not just Nawaz Sharif, have been plagued by it, so what truly defines the character of a politician in Pakistan is his/her attitude towards the Pakistan’s deep state, that is Military and ISI. Anyone who dares to go against the General automatically becomes a persona non grata in Pakistani deep state which pulls the strings of the civilian government.
REIGN OF TERROR
In order to grasp the reality of this electoral process one needs to look at the context in which these elections are taking place. Here, what needs to be looked into is the health of various institutions which ensure the sanctity or legitimacy of any electoral process in any country. These institutions include mainly, judiciary, political parties, and media. The state of these three institutes will give a clear picture of the actual reality of democracy in Pakistan. As far as judiciary is concerned, recently, an Islamabad High Court judge said that, the ISI had been pressurising the Chief Justice of the court to keep Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam in prison, at least until the election result is declared. While the charge made against the ISI has neither been proved yet nor any evidence has been provided in its support, but taking clue from history one can safely assume it to be true. Certain experts have even gone to the extent of terming the judiciary in Pakistan as the handmaiden of army. The ousting of former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif by the apex court on flimsiest legal grounds only stand to prove such critics right. Hence the health of the first pillar tasked with the responsibility of guarding democracy is far from being satisfactory. Coming to political parties, situation here seems to be even worse. Election Commission of Pakistan strangely has given approval to political fronts of various terrorist outfits such as the political front of Hafiz Saeed, Allah-O-Akbar party. has fielded 79 candidates National Assembly and 181 for the four provincial assemblies. Finally, media has been muzzled mercilessly as those who have been voicing dissent against the malpractices of army have been silenced. Speaking to BBC, the CEO of the biggest newspaper group, DAWN, alleged that the army has prevented its circulation in cantonment area. Many independent critics and bloggers of the deep state have also been reported missing. This atmosphere of fear has culminated into an imposition of self-censorship by most media houses.
IS THERE A RAY OF HOPE?
While the above analysis gives a picture of complete despondency in Pakistan, there still remains one final ray of hope; people of Pakistan. The people of Pakistan are ultimately going to be the final deciders of which way this election and their country is headed to. The have the big responsibility of proving that they do not stand with terrorists which they can and let us hope they will prove by not voting for the fundamentalist political parties. It will be unfair as well as biased to argue in support of PML-N simply because of it being the victim of army’s wrath this time, as in the past (1990s) it was Nawaz Sharif who had benefitted by being the “choice” of army. Imran Khan must also remember that while he may be the army’s “favourite” right now but this support is not for nothing, there will be costs in the end, in the form of loss of authority or decision-making power.
Finally, one is compelled to repeat the old and famous saying that still seems relevant to Pakistan, that, “Other countries have an army but in Pakistan, an army has a state”. The dominance of army over civilian government in Pakistan seems likely to continue after this election and in the foreseeable future….hope it changes someday.
— Contributed by Kunwar Suryansh.
Picture Credits: Daily Express