Democracy under Siege


Nadeem Khalid

In his brilliant masterpiece “Chronicle of a Death Foretold”, Marquez narrates the story of a murder, which is about to take place in a small provincial town in Latin America. Nearly the whole town finds out about the impending murder before it occurs, but no one ends up telling the victim either because they cannot find him, they don’t believe the murderers or, in some cases, because they encourage the murderers to go through with it. Nobody is even certain about the motives, which prompted the murderers to commit the heinous act.

In the current crises in Pakistan, it is not just the spectators; even the victim knows about the approaching catastrophe and understands the intricacies of an unfolding well crafted script. For it is a familiar story which is repeating itself for the umpteenth time.

Like a long running play on Broadway, where the cast changes every few years- actors may have changed, but the characters remain the same. We are squarely back to the musical chairs of the 90’s, when the Military and the Judiciary made a mockery of democratic institutions by dismissing civilian governments four times.

However, what is different this time is that instead of meekly accepting the verdict, the main character is vigorously fighting against it. In 1999 the Military staged a coup and then got it validated by the Judiciary by dismissing a few of the dissenting Judges, whereas now the Superior Judiciary is openly hand in gloves with the Military to scuttle the democratic order without the formality of a martial law.

The deafening crescendo of a hysteric media, an arrogant self-righteous Superior Judiciary and the motley crowd of opposition parties is playing havoc with the destiny of a democratic Pakistan under the expert command and control center of the permanent establishment. The multi pronged attack launched against the elected civilian Government four years ago is reaching its crowning point and ultimate goal.

The script for regime change started off with dharnas and diverse political parties in the opposition were brought together by coercing, blackmailing, incentivising and political engineering to dislodge the elected Government. The media was made subservient and the dissenting voices among anchors, channels and newspapers learnt the lesson to obey the real rulers the hard way.

Independent voices of dissent on social media went missing and were thus silenced. The Extreme right in the form of organisations like PAT and TYLRA was unleashed against the ruling party. It culminated in tightening the noose around the neck of the elected government through a well-knitted and coordinated grand alliance between the Judiciary, the agencies and NAB. A parallel government came into being, which selectively targeted the ruling party.

The civilians watched in horror as they lost control of every single department under their rule. In between, Senate elections were massively rigged and elected representatives were harassed and black-mailed to change loyalties in favour of pro-establishment parties. A virtual Martial Law was declared and the limited powers available to the civilian government were forcibly taken away from it-rendering it rudderless and clueless.

Despite these draconian measures, the establishment is afraid of the electorate, which refuses to buy their narrative. What explains this turn of events. Why does such a huge conflict between civilians and khakis arises time and again and what are the interests involved. What has impelled even the Punjab to join the smaller nationalities this time to stand up to the establishment for the cause of establishing civilian hegemony.

It is a conflict between two world views- One which wants to usher this country into an era of peace with its neighbours and promote economic cooperation and connectivity with huge benefits to the local and regional economy; and the other which wants to turn Pakistan into a national security state, maintain permanent conflicts with the neighbours, build a huge war machine and a giant commercial empire for the benefit of the Establishment.

It is also true that the civilians utterly failed to build proper defence lines of the democratic order. They could have put their act together and run a clean and effective Government by giving importance to the Parliament and doing away with the distortions of the constitution made by the Military Rulers of yore. The aristocratic style of governance, reliance on a small kitchen cabinet lacking professionalism, utter disregard of legislation and the parliament led to a state, when other actors found it easier to trespass on the domain of democratic institutions and seize power.

However, it cannot be forgotten also that the elected government has been kept permanently under siege by the Deep State. It does not matter which civilian party comes into power; they all turn against their benefactors in due course of time. However, there is a silver lining here also. One thing is certain that despite their wishes, it has become increasingly difficult for the deep state to rule the country directly and it has to rely on proxies.

The Deep State desires a hung parliament and short term coalition Governments, as it knows that even a weak government will start developing its teeth once in power. The possibility of forcing a technocratic “ Independent” Prime Minister, subservient to the deep state, cannot be ruled out. The willingness of the popular political parties in the opposition to be brought down to the level of puppets of the establishment is astonishing and does not bode well for the future of democracy in Pakistan.

The parties expecting to get to rule Pakistan will be facing a big surprise-they will have no power. As far as the people of Pakistan are concerned, their plight does not seem to be any different from that of Sisyphus, who was condemned by the Greek Gods to an eternity of ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, then helplessly watching it roll back down again.

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