Karl Marx famously said that history repeats itself “first as tragedy, second as farce”. It seems Imran Khan is proving Marx right.
First of all, I am a strong Democrat. I have always detested military dictatorships. Perhaps it’s also the reason why I was so moved by the recent indictment of former President Pervez Musharraf that I even wrote a blog arguing how putting Musharraf on trial for his unlawful acts will strengthen the democratic process in Pakistan that has been hampered by frequent military interventions.
However, it’s only recently that I began to realize that it is not just about military but the civilians have also done equal damage to the growth of a democratic tradition in Pakistan. Especially, since 1970’s, with the rise of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto; when politicians for the first time became truly ascendant over the institutional framework of a country, democracy had constantly fallen prey to confrontation between the government and the opposition parties. The end result has always been the martial law.
For instance, after the 1977 general elections, the political rivalry between the PPP government and the nine parties under the umbrella of ‘Pakistan National Alliance’ led opposition, set the premises for the martial law by dictator Gen Zia Ul Haq on the pretext of what was described as the massive rigging by the PPP government. Although Bhutto agreed to hold new elections, it is now an open secret that how PNA desired for military takeover and the removal of a democratically elected government, which Zia eventually did, and was flowered by the Pakistan National Alliance.
Similarly, the post-Zia period (1988-1997) had seen the body politic of Pakistan sinking into the politics of confrontation between the two major political parties; Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N). The outcome of this politics of vengeance among the civilians was the dissolution of four National Assemblies and dismissal of three elected governments amidst their terms – all done by civilians.
The tragedy is that none of the political parties in Pakistan except Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), has learnt anything from this sad history of political in fighting these days, Imran Khan has vowed to start street agitations against the rigging in the May 11, 2013 general elections. Although genuine are his demands but the tactics Imran Khan is employing to mobilize the opposition against the government prove that he is as venal as the rest of the politicians have been in the past. Most of the parties that are joining his protest (Tahir ul Qadri, Jamaat-e-Islami, Sheikh Rashid) have a strong track record of supporting military dictators.
This also raises serious questions about the man who has been flaunting his democratic credentials for a quite long now.
However, it also reveals a much deeper problem – the lack of faith in the democratic set-up and constitutionalism.
Yesterday, as today, the political parties have failed to operate within the democratic space and instead chose the alternate ways to register their grievances/protests. This democratic space requires pursuing legal means against the claims of rigging, not the street politics. The unwillingness to adhere to the democratic norms, in return, has restrained the growth of culture of political tolerance in Pakistan. As Democracy has shown its head in Pakistan after a long time and the two major parties PPP and PML-N have moved beyond their mutual confrontation, sadly it is the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf today – repeating the same tragic history.
Unfortunately, in Pakistan’s politics, individual and party interests have always taken precedence over the national interests. Despite the fact that the people have always opted for the democratic self-expression, the political parties in pursuit of their myopic interests have failed to define the direction for the country as a whole. It is high time that the PTI, given mandate by the people for economic and social empowerment, work to measure up to their expectations, instead of constant focus on non-issues.
Writer is a graduate of LUMS and currently DAAD scholar 2014, pursuing Master’s in Public Policy and Good Governance, in Germany.