Jan 6, 2010

The threat to democracy

Roedad Khan

2009 was a turning point for Pakistan. A time when history went into high gear. There are many strands to the annus mirabilis of 2009 – the rebirth of idealism, the appearance of civil society and lawyers on the political landscape as powerful allies of democracy, a crusade against high-level corruption, a thirst for rule of law, and an uprising against a stifling order. Today Gen Musharraf is in the dustbin of history. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is back in Court No. 1 of the Supreme Court. The infamous NRO is dead and gone. Something new in our politics has arrived.

This country had sunk into avarice and political corruption, from which nothing but some major act of folly and madness on the part of government, such as the NRO, could arouse it. History will record that the true gains of the agitation for the restoration of deposed judges, and the public outrage against the NRO, have been the unification of the people against despotism, high-level corruption, the sharp awakening of the political conscience of the nation and the dawn of the realisation among the people that they, and only they, are the true guardians of our country.

Today Pakistan sits between hope and fear. Hope for a political possibility that would lead to a sovereign and democratic Pakistan ready to regain its place among the nations of the world. Fear that a thoroughly corrupt regime would manage to survive and perpetuate itself.

I have been frightened for my country only a few times in my life: in 1948 when Mr Jinnah died. I never saw so many people crying, so visibly shaken by sadness. In 1971, it was the secession of East Pakistan. And horror of horrors, Dec 27, 2007, when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, and later when Zardari was elected as president; this last moment was the scariest of all.

To no nation has fate been more malignant than to Pakistan. With few exceptions, Pakistan has long been saddled with poor, even malevolent, leadership: predatory kleptocrats, military dictators, political illiterates and carpetbaggers. Many hoped that Zardari, once elected to the highest office, would have a sense of his own smallness in the sweep of events and would contravene Lord Acton's dictum and grow humbler and wiser. Unfortunately, that has not happened.

A lesson to be drawn from the works of Gibbon is that Rome's enemies lay not outside her borders but within her bosom, and the enemies paved the way for the empire's decline and fall. Many early symptoms that heralded the Roman decline may be seen in our own nation. Today the biggest threat to Pakistan's fledgling democracy, in fact Pakistan itself, does not come from the army or the superior judiciary or the media. It comes from the presidency, the symbol of the unity of the federation! President Zardari is armed with awesome powers, but the weapons of democracy should be wielded only by hands that are clean. If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don't have integrity, nothing else matters. Zardari lacks both integrity and credibility. How can he govern? How can he lead 170 million Pakistanis? How can he inspire them? How can he provide leadership? How can he make democracy work? Instead of uniting the country, Zardari is playing a dangerous game of ethnic cards to perpetuate his corrupt rule. He is playing with fire. But playing with fire tends to produce explosions.

There are already worrisome indications that Zardari is determined to defy the apex court. He is also itching for a showdown with the army. These are dangerous developments. Lunacy is always depressing, but sometimes it is dangerous, especially when you get it manifested in the head of state and it has become a state policy. The first threats of counter-revolutionary activity have already begun to appear. Attempts are being made to subvert the people's will and overturn the judicial revolution. It is the last desperate gamble of a hated and doomed, corrupt autocracy – which fortunately, is soon due to make its exit.

Zardari has taken an oath to "to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of Pakistan." That is not a conditional oath, to be honoured only when it is convenient. And to protect and defend the Constitution, Zardari will have to do more than obey the Constitution himself: he must hold those who violate the Constitution accountable. So why did he let Gen Musharraf get away with high treason? Why was Musharraf given a guard of honour?

It is now clear that Zardari is not worthy of the trust placed in him by the people of Pakistan. He carries a serious baggage. Dogged for years by charges of corruption until they were abruptly dropped under the NRO, to the anger and shock of the people of Pakistan. With the demise of the NRO, all the corruption cases pending against him at home and abroad have resurfaced.

There can't be two suns in the sky. There should be one authority in any government, in any state, in any country. There can't be a second centre of power in a parliamentary form of government. If you create a second centre of power, conflict between the two will develop, confusion and chaos will follow. Cohabitation hasn't worked well in France. President Zia tried it in Pakistan towards the end of his long military rule, but it didn't work. He had to sack the prime minister and dissolve the National Assembly with disastrous consequences for the country. Why make the same mistake again? Why not learn from history? But as Hegel said long ago: "Man learns nothing from history, except that man learns nothing from history."

The great French thinker, Montesquieu, said in the 18th century: "The tyranny of a Prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy." A corrupt government is the inevitable consequence of an indifferent electorate. Politics will never be cleaner in this country, unless and until citizens are willing to give of themselves to the land to which they owe everything. Today apathy is the real enemy. Silence is its accomplice.

The path out of the current predicament is to ensure full implementation of the landmark Supreme Court judgment in letter and spirit. If necessary, people must take to the streets and demonstrate in ever larger numbers in support of rule of law. The more the people advance, the more the authority retreats. We must reclaim the path on which we journeyed before we succumbed to civil and military dictatorship. People must revisit what Pakistan was and where it was going, to gain a better grasp of what it is and where it can and should go. This is how Pakistan's path to its rightful future may be regained.

At this moment, when the nation is standing on the escalator of corruption and anarchy, right-minded citizens cannot afford to stand frozen in disgust and dismay. We cannot merely look upon the political development in sorrow and upon our politicians in anger. The problems facing the country have to be faced and their solutions sought without delay. We are racing against time. A problem avoided turns into a crisis, and the crisis not mastered can turn into a disaster further down the road. Honest and knowledgeable members of civil society must reverse the decision, to which they have adhered for so long, of opting out of the democratic process. I still remain hopeful we can rouse ourselves to save our country. But the time is growing short.

No comments:

Post a Comment