“The Democracy, Dictatorship and the Presidency”

By. Dr. Zaeem Zia:

When Pakistan and India came into being into 1947, both states faced almost the same problems. Today, we can see a remarkable difference between the two countries. India is one of the largest democracies in the world; on the other hand in Pakistani democracy cannot get out of its infancy. Of many reasons for the failure of democracy to survive, the President House was one.

Presidency is the sign of the integrity, dignity and symbol of federation in Pakistan. The President himself is the head of the state, and holds highest office to serve its citizens. Being said that, the role of the presidency on the contrary to its duties, has never served the democracy. Unfortunately, Presidency was used as a proxy for the establishment to derail the democratic process in Pakistan, unlike in our neighboring country.

History affirms that the Presidents were compliant with unelected institutions instead of their constitutional premises. The loyalty to serve establishment, doomed the primary obligation to serve constitution and uphold the supremacy of the civilians. The first blow to the democracy was the dissolution of the parliament by Sikandar Mirza, and handing over the reign to the field Marshal Ayub Khan and then to his successor General Yahya Khan. The reasons to dismantle the democracy were the political instability and issues related to the foreign policy. Hence, it is a known fact that it was the presidency that encouraged the military intervention in the Pakistani politics.
It did not stop here, and the President house kept aiding to the miseries to the failure of the democracy. The operation “fair play” success and the ouster of the Prime Minister ZAB was the second major blow to the dwindling democracy. Fazle E Ilahe Chodhry preferred to resume his duties as a figure head and later submitted to the General Zia Ul haq, and then begins the darkest era in the history of Pakistan. To add fuel to fire, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismissed governments of both PPP and PMLN in a succession of five years. In the meantime, the democracy in India kept strengthening, the Presidency in India paced itself with the democratic progress, and aided to the success of the legislature in India. President Laghari augmented the worsening of civilian supremacy, by ouster of the Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Followed by General Musharraf over threw the government of the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Allegations for the ousters of all the Premiers were pretty much common, including nepotism, corruption and violation of the administrative affairs. Like always, the national dignity or “Qaumi Ghairat” was another excuse for the devolution. Hence democracy was more of a concubine for the Presidency and unelected institutions.
The Presidency now, does not seem to comply with the mannerism of its predecessors. On the contrary, it has vowed to strengthen the democracy in Pakistan. We attribute every ill happening to the current President Asif Ali Zardari. Even the Osama saga is speculated to be in his knowledge. But then we forget to ask what were our security agencies doing when American seals entered Pakistani boundaries? Or by the way what was the “Ameer Ul momineen OBL” doing in the arm pit of kakool academy? We won’t bother being logical rather we will get driven away with what is being said by the non-state actors. My intentions are not to defend President Zardari, but to argue over the role of the Presidencies in the past, and Presidency now.

President Zardari is strongest president both in terms of its electoral support and parliament. He refused to be the proxy for any “revered institutions” in Pakistan; rather he happily gave away the powers to the Parliament. No one in the history of Pakistan gave away the perks and privileges so easily, particularly when it comes to 58-2B. He is the only President, who upheld the concept of supremacy of the civilian. The democracy survived and 5th budget is another victory of democracy over dictatorship in Pakistan, particularly when no one has plain majority in the parliament and active attempts to derail democracy are at peak. At least, we are confident that Pakistani will cast their votes under a civilian government.

Even though, I do agree with the shortcomings in the governance, the shortfalls in electricity, hike in inflation, law and order situation are not as good as they are supposed to be. The reason for all the problems is not the politicians solely, but the above mentioned facts and forces that do not want the democracy to flourish in Pakistan. We blame the current President for all the ill happening, But do we really do the justice we attribute everything to Zardari? Do we make sense when we say whatever has happened to Pakistan today is due to him? We have to understand the complex governing system particularly in Pakistan. Where few institutions think they are by default independent, or at least they do whatever they want to. Our logic fails when it has to deal with particular institutions, Judiciary and Ghairat, and demand for the evidence before the issue is spread. But this does not work when it’s about Zardari and like minded?
Our revered Institutions should be held more responsible for the failure of the democratic processes. For the personal gains, Military and Judiciary were used frequently, which still holds true. The Political victimization and use of blame-game tactics should not be used to gain power at any cost. The political disharmony is confirming to be the venomous factor for the democracy. Strong bureaucracy and growing influence of the institutions have always been there.

Due to he mistakes made by the previous Presidents, the country finds itself in a precarious situation. Those mistakes elicit themselves in the form of the miseries that we can see, i.e., poverty, lack of progress, social injustice, unemployment, sectarianism and terrorism, monopoly of mullahs, and other institutions within Pakistan. It is unfortunate that Pakistani nation has not learnt from the follies of the past, their non-seriousness in democracy is posing country to serious threats. The reason is the low level Political awareness in Pakistan, particularly when the hegemonic forces bar the media and educational institutions to incorporate political conscience into the people of the country, conclusively people are not even able to resist any martial law and the society succumbs to Martial Laws one after another.

To overcome the miseries of the previous governments, democracy is the only solution and it does not spring out of the thin air, it is a gradual process which benefits masses, not just a few. Like today we can see it in India. Our nation needs to know about the democracy the threats we are facing could be averted by the democracy efficiently. Let’s nurture the delicate plant of democracy until it turns into a fruitful and sheltering plant, for a better future of Pakistan.

Dr. Zaeem Zia, Writer is a scholar based in United States of America, currently in Johns Hopkins University

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