Is worst form of democracy better than military dictatorship?
September 15 was recently commemorated throughout the world as the International Day of Democracy. Yet, for a majority of Asians, true representative democracy remains an illusion. The ‘elected dictatorship’ most often in practice in this region allows people to vote once in four or five years, but they have little say in the decision-making process, matters of governance, or in the development work going on in their area.
Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
This period witnessed palace intrigues of Ghulam Muhammad and Iskandar Mirza and disgusting role of Muslim League. It crossed all limits of probity to remain in power. C-in-C Gen Ayub Khan was given the additional portfolio of Defence Minister and given extensions in service which allowed him to have a strong say in state affairs. Ayub Khan put an end to democratic era and laid the foundation for military dictatorship in October 1958. He lifted martial law and introduced controlled democracy in the form of Basic Democracies (BD system) to have the façade of democracy and yet remain all powerful. Although his ten-year rule is remembered as the golden period of Pakistan, yet his over centralism bred separatism in East Pakistan and damaged growth of democracy. His successor Gen Yahya Khan imposed martial law in March 1969 and had the misfortune of presiding over separation of eastern wing from the body of Pakistan in December 1971.
After his ouster and takeover by ZA Bhutto, the latter wore the hats of president and civilian chief martial law administrator. Soon after introducing 1973 constitution and restoring full parliamentary system, he made seven amendments in the constitution to gain more power. Bhutto laid emphasis on Islamic socialism and nationalization to perk up the lot of poor. He became the most popular leader after Quaid-e-Azam but lost his standing because of his despotism and failing to provide bread, clothing and house to the downtrodden as promised by him.
Gen Musharraf came to power through a military coup and ruled the country with an iron hand for eight years with rubber stamp national assembly under his wings till February 2008. He was replaced by another very powerful civilian president Zardari with an acquiescent elected parliament under Yusaf Gilani and Raja Pervaiz. PPP completed its 5 years (mis)rule under Zardari and was replaced by Nawaz Sharif after controversial elections in 2013. His tenure was marred with corruption and rumours of military take over, but he survived. Nawaz Sharif rule left Zardari far behind in misrule and corruption. Military take over seemed imminent during Dharan by PTI [Imran Khan] and PAT [Tahir ul Qadri] against rigged election however military refrained from take over. However Nawaz Sharif does not seem to have learnt any lessons and continues with his family rule and business empire building.
Each time the military stepped in after forcefully removing the elected government there were rejoicings in the country. Disgruntled politicians nudged military to seize power. Judiciary too had a major role in legitimizing illegal and unconstitutional acts of coup makers. Each military ruler commenced his inning with a big bang and went about introducing host of reforms and correcting the wrongs of politicians and bureaucrats through juggernaut of accountability and produced pleasing results. Euphoria waned within two to three years once the military dictators under pressure from world powers invited same old discarded politicians to share power and legitimize their rule under so-called democracy. Mixture of military and civil never worked since it was like half partridge and half quail. It did not take long for the small group of ruling generals to come under the sway of cunning politicians and bureaucrats. Using their forked tongue they would use their skills of sycophancy, sweet talk and manipulation to disarm the military brass.
Lacking in art of running state affairs, ruling cabal would slip into the carefully laid trap and came out of it only when their goose got wholly cooked. During each martial law, stories of corruption scandals of few generals made headlines. Whatever gains made in the initial years got washed away by corruption and mal practices thereby reigniting misgivings, frustrations, resentment and despair among the masses. Taking advantage of growing despondency of the people, yearning for return to parliamentary system was sparked by discontented politicians to enable them to return to power and recommence their loot and plunder. Major theme of the propaganda campaign against the military dictator revolved on the plank that that the military never allowed democracy to nourish and flourish.
In defence of democracy we derive satisfaction by saying that; "Even worst form of democracy is better than military dictatorship" [misnomer]. We close our eyes to the hard fact that real democracy implies freedom of speech, protection of rights of the poor and alleviation of their sufferings. Our sham democracy has all along protected the rich and neglected the downtrodden classes. Our populist leaders like ZAB, BB and Nawaz were despots who had zero tolerance for dissent. ZAB despite being a populist leader had turned autocratic. He subverted the constitution he himself had authored, opened up Dalai camp, created draconian FSF to browbeat his political opponents and imposed mini-martial law in major cities to defeat PNA movement. BB indulged in massive corruption, antagonised the judiciary, came down heavily upon the MQM, indulged in political gerrymandering to replace provincial ministries with PPP led governments and became overly pro-Indian.
Nawaz Sharif now enjoying his third term as PM, previously tried to arrogate all powers and dreamt of becoming Ameer-ul Momeneen [Commander of Faithfuls]. He locked horns with all the army chiefs as well as the presidents. Gen Musharraf became very popular in his first two years of rule. He lost direction the moment he held farcical presidential referendum, made accountability selective and brought King’s Party to power through rigging. Unflinching loyalty of band of puppeteers allowed him to commit numerous sins without any qualms of conscience which heightened public hatred against the army. Current democratic government sours its throats shouting pro-democracy slogans but all its acts are undemocratic. In fact it is neither presidential nor parliamentary form of government which has bred more confusion and instability. With all powers arrogated in the hands of President Zardari, he has gone a step ahead of Musharraf led regime in pursuing anti-people and pro-US policies. He has turned Gilani led parliament into a toothless national assembly and seems least interested in implementing Charter of Democracy.
Out of 69 years, we have had over 36 years of democratic rule. [52%] Within 33 years of military rule, [48%] military rulers had 16 years [23%] of hotchpotch of military cum controlled democracy. It can therefore be said that military rulers had only 17 years of pure military rule [24%] in their four stints. Negatives of both systems are almost alike. Corruption has been a common factor during military and civilian rules but corruption was institutionalised and touched new heights during civilian rule.
During military rules, apart from few shady persons who brought bad name to the army as a whole, only less than about 5% of the army got involved in martial law or state affairs. In terms of management and governance, military rulers had an edge because of their inbuilt accountability system, honour code, discipline, training in peace and war. Army officers are critically judged by their superiors in fields of man management, leadership qualities, instructional and staff, and imparted regular academic disciplines in multiple fields through educational institutes within and outside the country. Four-star General attains the coveted post of COAS after climbing up highly competitive pyramid system of promotion without a blemish in his service record as well as moral turpitudes. It is a different matter that Generals lose their head once they takeover reins of total power. They get intoxicated with glamour of power and pelf and love to be surrounded by flatterers. They start behaving like feudal lords and resort to trickery to prolong their rule. Believing that their main political power base resided in the army, they cling to their uniform out of fear of losing power. Their beneficiaries keep buttering them and coax them never to remove uniform or abdicate power, but desert them the day they fall from grace.
Civilian rulers devoid of academy grooming are found clueless how to handle state affairs efficiently, honestly and judiciously. Local Bodies [LB]elections were held during military rules, providing nursery for grooming of young leadership. However so called democratic governments avoid LB elections. Zardari avoided it completely during his 5 years tenure. Nawaz Sharif /PML had to hold LB elections in 2015 on orders of Supreme Court.[LB elections are held by provincial government]. They are reluctant to grant powers to LB elected representatives.
Reasons are that politicians are from among the rich feudal class belonging to few well-known families. Most are ill-mannered, semi-literate, corrupt, and self serving and suffering from feudal mindset. Majority are loan defaulters and hoarders with criminal background. They have no respect for rule of law and ethics and derive a sadistic pleasure in breaking or bending rules. The executive head is tied to political expediency, since his survival lay in keeping gluttonous MNAs in good humour. One way to please them is to write off heavy bank loans and to keep them out of the tax net. National institutions are headed by incompetent and corrupt managers who serve the interests of their bosses only. Heavy loans obtained from IMF and World Bank on high interests is squandered on wasteful expenditures and on maintaining high lifestyle of the ruling class.
The lawyers movement in the wake of unjust removal of chief justice of Pakistan Iftikhar which galvanised the civil society was the only instance when the people boldly defied the powerful elites sitting in corridors of power and after weakening and ousting Musharraf won their battle on 16 March 2009. Later the CJ, Iftikhar Ch was exposed, was found protecting his son in corruption allegation. Now he has launched his own political party. His role has left many unanswered questions.
Our leaders – both civilian and military – have betrayed the trust of the people; they failed to live up to the confidence reposed in them. Muhammad Ali Jinnah was the lone exception who kept national interests above his self interests and died fighting for Pakistan. Barring Liaquat Ali, all others who followed him were pygmies interested only in how to prolong their rule and enrich their private coffers and how to preserve their selfish interests. Each one eulogised Quaid-e-Azam and never got tired of quoting his exemplary life but none tried to emulate him. If we make a critical comparative study of performance of military rulers with civilian rulers in terms of economic records and governance, former have excelled in a big way. GDP during Ayub, Zia and Musharraf eras ranged between 6-7%. On the contrary both economic and political graphs of latter remained dismal since sham democracy was practiced.
Under the prevailing contaminated environments and acute dearth of leadership, weak powerless Election Commission, hope for a real democracy is a pipedream unless after electoral reforms, elections are held after strict scrutiny of candidates according to section 62,63 of Constitution of Pakistan. This dream becomes more unachievable during unipolarism since USA is bent upon imposing its own brand of democracy in all Islamic states. Our civilian leaders are tied to the aprons of Washington and lack will to charter independent foreign policy or to change the status quo. Profuse bleeding of the nation owing to US imposed war on terror has brought no change in their attitudes or lifestyle. While the urban based literate seculars are mostly west lovers and affluent, majority residing in rural areas is poor, conservative and religious minded but being illiterate have no say in state affairs. This ignored and uncared for class having been repeatedly betrayed and having suffered the most has become despondent and frustrated and is desperate for a real change. Have-nots having nothing to lose have got invigorated and talk of bloody revolution is in the air.
Islamic fervour had begun to gain momentum in this region in the 1980s. Islamic revolution in Iran and defeat of a super power in Afghanistan acted as a catalyst for energising Islamism within 57 Muslim states rived in secular-Islamist divide. Occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq and persecution of Islamists has not diminished but intensified Islamic militancy the flames of which have engulfed Pakistan as well. Military action in Swat has controlled the flowing lava and has provided temporary reprieve, but has not blocked it permanently. Success was achieved because fake leaders and the led within so-called Taliban movement were sponsored by foreign agencies. Their agenda was to harm Pakistan and not to bring Islamic order. Genuine Taliban are still fighting occupation forces in Afghanistan with zeal and fervour.
Operation Zarb e Azb launched by military has met success but lack of action by political government in implementation of 16 points of NAP [National Action Plan] by civil government is hindrance in achieving the the objectives.
Ideological movement cannot be defeated by military means since it grows like mushrooms. There has to be counter narrative to defeat the ideology of terror. Death of Baitullah or subjugation of Waziristan did not end militancy in Pakistan. Daesh [ISIS] in Middle East is showing its presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A good genuine democratic system, providing justice, security, equal economic opportunities, health care, education and welfare to eradicate poverty will help in discouraging, countering terrorists propaganda efforts.
Islam is not a static pond but like a flowing river. It is growing rapidly even within non-Islamic world despite taking stringent measures and defaming it. Pseudo Islamists have taken up arms because of sustained injustices and repression by US led allied forces together with Muslim rulers subservient to their dictates. Secularism within Muslim countries is one way of diluting Islam but farce of secularism and pro-rich secular democracy has been exposed.
How to get out of Quagmire ?
Till such time the nation attains over 70% literacy rate and find a leader like Quaid-e-Azam, what we need is an authoritative but incorruptible and selfless military dictator imbued with sincerity of purpose assisted by a small team of carefully selected God fearing highly competent technocrats. Criteria for their selection should be on the basis of honesty, integrity, piety, and high reputation with no blemish in their past conduct and their proficiency in the assigned job. Judiciary should be made completely independent and all black sheep within it as well as within legal fraternity weeded out through judicial reforms. Besides, robust accountability cell under a hard nosed and morally upright man of character should be created. [Note: This option is not supported, because it is based upon individuals not institutions. What is the guarantee that this set up will not try to prolong its rule. It does not enjoy any constitutional cover.]
The General Raheel Shareef model, institutionalised approach to pressurize the politicians and government to perform according to constitution, eradicate corruption and eliminate all types of terrorism [religious, armed, economic, corruption] and root out its sympathisers and supporters.
The government [or proposed set up, if adopted in Option-1] should first cleanse govt and semi-govt departments, media and educational institutes of corrupt, morally depraved elements and then rinse the society from criminal elements, quislings and anti-social elements by awarding them exemplary punishments. Feudalism and absentee landlordism should be crushed with an iron hand and frugal and austere living should replace ostentation, pomp and show. Widening gap between rich and poor should be abridged and sense of nationalism and patriotism inculcated among the youth. The team should then earnestly work towards improving moral and education standards and setting up a welfare state under real democracy. The Islamic system of governance and laws should be introduced to set right the moral compass of the society and remove the cobwebs of immorality, obscenity and vulgarity and restore the pristine virtues of Islam. Electoral reforms, empower EC like India, electronic voting, punishing those officials found to be guilty in previous elections.
This is modified, updated version based upon original; "Is worst form of democracy better than military dictatorship?" By Asif Haroon Raja, Asian Tribune, published in 2009; http://www.asiantribune.com/node/22301
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