Pakistan: The Present Democratic Setup Has Brought No Relief

My article published in the October, 2010 issue of ‘Asian World’, a monthly newspaper in the West Midlands, UK

When elections were held in Pakistan in 2008, there was optimism that with the true democracy restored, things would get better.

The PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) emerged as the leading party with 97 out of the total 270 seats of the National Assembly. The sympathy vote resulting from Benazir Bhutto’s assassination also contributed towards it. However, Peoples Party was also the only party with solid representation in all the provinces

PPP made the government in the centre with the help of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s PML (N) i.e. Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), which had emerged as the second biggest party, plus regional parties, MQM and ANP, and the religious party JUI.

The chair persons of the two major parties, late Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif had already signed a Charter of democracy in 2006 pledging restoration of democracy and the constitution in letter and spirit. The COD’s 36 points had been framed under four headings: Constitutional Amendments, Code of Conduct, Free and Fair Elections and Civil-Military Relations.

The new democratic set up assumed power in the country in 2008 with Zardari, the widower of late Benazir Bhutto, as the president and his party’s Yousaf Raza Gillani as the prime minister.

But the country’s problems have increased many folds over the last two years.

Economy is in shambles with inflation rate at all-time high. Even the basic food necessities are getting out of common man’s reach. The prices of petrol/diesel are raised frequently. Poverty and unemployment are spiraling upwards. People are committing suicides sometimes collectively with their families.

The minister of electricity had promised that load shedding would finish by the end of 2009 but instead it has increased. The power outages not only make the common man’s life miserable but have also affected the commercial sector very badly.

The law and order has deteriorated alarmingly. Karachi, country’s commercial hub, which has not seen peace for more than two decades, has a new menace in the shape of target killing. The power game between the two main ethnic parties, MQM and ANP, representative of Muhajirs and Pathans respectively has also contributed to the worsening of the situation.

During the former president Musharraf, s regime, the elderly Baloch leader, Nawab Akbar Bugti was killed through a military action in 2006. This infuriated Balochis, and the settlers from other provinces in Baluchistan especially Punjabis have been targeted. A number of Punjabis from all sections of society have been killed in the province. Apart from ethnicity, sectarianism has also divided the society.

The general law and order situation all over the country has never been worse.

The wave of terror attacks blamed on religious extremists mainly Taliban groups have made the population feel insecure, and the country has become a pariah state. Pakistan is ranked among the most dangerous countries in the world. After the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, in March 2009, almost no sports team from abroad is willing to visit Pakistan. More importantly, it has affected investment, from both inside and outside of the country, again harming the economy.

American drone attacks against the suspected terrorist dens in the tribal areas adjoining the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province have also made the people bitter, especially the local populace.

Corruption, favouritism and cronyism are rampant in all forms and in all the tiers of the administration including the highest offices. Recently the prime minister appointed a completely unqualified and inexperienced person as the chairman OGDCL (Oil and Gas Development Company Ltd) but had to revoke the order after Supreme Court’s suo motu notice against his appointment.

If man made problems were not enough, vast areas of the country in all the provinces were inundated this year with the heaviest floods in Pakistan’s history. Around 10% of the total population was affected. The loss has been colossus in terms of human life, property and crops.

Gen (retd) Musharraf promulgated the NRO (National Reconciliation Order) after striking a deal with the PPP leader Benazir Bhutto in order to grant amnesty to all those against whom ‘politically-motivated cases’ were registered between Jan 1, 1986, and Oct 12, 1999. It was an executive order which removed all the civil cases against political parties; an act for which he recently apologized to the Pakistani nation.

Although there were only 34 politicians out of a total of 8041 beneficiaries but the list included some prominent names such as president Zardari, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, and Senator Jehangir Badar, all of PPP; almost all the hierarchy of MQM including their chief Altaf Hussain, parliamentary leader Dr Farooq Sattar, the federal Minister for Ports and Shipping, Babar Ghouri, Sindh Governor Ishratul Ibad, among others.

On the 16th of December, 2009, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled the NRO illegal. But the government defied the orders and so far no major political personality has been charged. Though very recently, after more than nine months of the Supreme Court’s verdict, the federal government is giving indications for selective implementation, removing the NRO beneficiaries from the government.

Apart from judiciary, the media, especially the electronic media, has played an important role in keeping tabs on the wrong doings of the government.

On the political front itself, the scenario is very disturbing.

Differences between the two major coalition partners in the government emerged early. The PML (N) withdrew from the federal cabinet though in the Punjab, the biggest province, both sit in the cabinet. According to the charter of democracy, the president’s powers as per the article 58(B) of the constitution had to be curtailed. It took a long time, and ultimately the 18th amendment was passed by the National Assembly of Pakistan on 8 April, 2010, removing the power of the President of Pakistan to dissolve the Parliament unilaterally, turning Pakistan from a semi-presidential to a parliamentary republic.

Up to 160 elected officials have been accused of faking their degrees in order to meet a requirement for contesting the last elections. This has further tarnished the image of legislators.

Some factions of Pakistan Muslim League like PML (Q), PML (F) and PML (Z) have merged though the biggest Muslim League, PML (N) is very much reluctant. Then the former president Pervez Musharraf has recently launched his own faction of Muslim League and has shown intentions to return to Pakistan.

Does all this indicate an imminent change in Pakistan’s political scenario?

No; all these faces are old and tested. Some people pin their hopes on Imran Khan, the cricketing legend and presently the president of PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf). He might be an honest person but in the country’s deep rooted social and political milieu it seems difficult for his party to attain something meaningful in future elections.

The freedom of judiciary and media has brought some hope. But the country needs complete independence and authority of at least some other important institutions as well, especially the Election Tribunal, NAB (National Accountability Bureau) and CBR (Central Board of Revenue).

The overall picture in world’s sixth biggest country is extremely gloomy with apparently no light at the end of the tunnel.

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