The students of Pakistan’s political history have always confronted a disturbing question as to why a country that owes its independence to political and legal parleys and about which it was believed without an iota of doubt that it would emerge as a strong parliamentary, democratic and federal state, would remain in search of a sustainable democracy right from the time of Independence. In the last 73 years the country faced four military regimes which ruled for around 33 years. It also experienced a number of constitutional arrangements. Beginning with the Government of India Act 1935 that served as interim constitution for 9 years, Pakistan adopted its first constitution in 1956. It was abrogated two and a half years later with the imposition of Martial law. In 1962 the second constitution was given by the military ruler General Ayub Khan. It remained in force for 7 years and was abrogated by him when he relinquished power in favour of another military ruler General Yahya Khan. The latter’s decision to go for a new constitution, led the country to breakup in December 1971, after which, in April 1972, an interim constitution was introduced which remained in force till the adoption of a unanimously agreed permanent constitution that came into force in August 1973. It was believed that after losing half of the country which was also the majority province and after bewildering in search of a constitution for almost quarter of a century, now that the country had been able to make a unanimously approved constitution, it would continue without many obstacles. Unfortunately, all such hopes went in vain as it was either suspended or put in abeyance twice in 1977 and 1999, by two other military rulers General Ziaul Haq and General Pervaiz Musharraf. All the four military rulers also issued their Martial Law Regulations or Provisional Constitutional Orders.
Every military regime eventually ended on the restoration of a civilian set up. This implied that even the military rulers could not provide permanent settlement of political issues, nor could they ensure their own survival. In Pakistan everyone ask why democracy did not prove stable in the country. Nobody ever asks why military rules did not last forever and what compelled these to pave, at the end of the day, way for a civilian set up. Ayub Khan even described his takeover as revolution, and the media, for years called his coup d’état, a Revolution. Yahya Khan tried to open a new constitutional regime, Ziaul Haq employed Islam, and Musharraf projected his liberal credentials to legitimize their rules. None of these worked and all of them left the country in a lurch. Unfortunately, the failure of military regimes did not convince many that the interference of extra-political forces weakens the forces of national integration, and that political process alone ensures national consensus and satisfactory settlement of political and economic issues between people on the one hand and regions on the other. Democracy has the unique capacity of finding solutions for its own weaknesses at a given point of time provided it is allowed to find ways independently. Democracy is a system that is never flawless but that is also never short of redressals. Whenever civilian regimes were allowed to operate in the country they were asked to do so under a given framework which deprived them of autonomy and independent decision making in the areas of domestic and foreign policies. In the first decade of the country’s history behind the pseudo parliamentary system there operated an invisible government of the senior civil and military officers. After 13 years of military rule when the civilian regime took office in December 1971, it had taken to itself to restore the pride and honour of the military that had been defeated in 1971 war with India. However, a rejuvenated topbrass removed the civilian Prime Minister in 1977 to take the country to another military rule of 11 years during which the 8th amendment was inducted in the Constitution to change its parliamentary character and to make it a presidential one. The amendment gave to the President the power to dissolve the National Assembly at his discretion. The article 58-2 (b) was used by the President four times in the subsequent years. The article was repealed in 1997 but was again brought into constitution in 2002 through the 17th Amendment introduced at the behest of General Musharraf. The article was finally got rid of through the 18th Amendment in 2010, which restored the parliamentary system. Ever since then two parliaments completed their tenure and now the third is in operation. Despite formal civilian regimes in office, it is not possible to say that democracy has dawned in the country. The historical dichotomy of civil-military imbalance is still there with the military dominated establishment still in the driving seat of the statecraft. The PPP government (2008 – 2013) and that of Muslim League (N) (2013 – 2018) proved quite unstable. The PPP completed its tenure with two Prime Ministers and the Muslim League too with two. Throughout these years the executive despite having a sound backing of the parliament could not sustain itself due to an over active judiciary. The incumbent regime enjoys the backing of the Establishment and has not been disturbed by the judiciary, but despite this, the cohabitation does not ensure a smooth sailing for the democratic process in the country. Rather the very fate of democracy has been put under question given the succumbing of the civilian dispensation to the perceptions and the historical prejudices of the institutions that define the Establishment in the country.
In the last two years the political picture that has emerged presents a fractured polity. There is the civil military imbalance that cannot be camouflaged by the incumbent regimes claims of being on the same page with the military. Any observer can see that the civilian regime has proved itself to be a pliable functionary and nothing more than that. The Prime Minister who took oath on a parliamentary Constitution does not hide his preference for the presidential form of government. He doesn’t show much regard for the 18th Constitutional Amendment and goes to the extent to call the Chief Ministers dictators despite the fact that in two of the four provinces the Chief Ministers belong to his own party and in another is an ally of his party. The government is being run on the pattern of the presidential system. A number of important portfolios have been allocated to advisers rather than the ministers hailing from the Parliament. The principle of the collective responsibility of the cabinet is breached every now and then. The governors also speak about their liking for the presidential system.
The federal character of the constitution also does not get much respect. Constitutional bodies such as NFC and CCI have remained dormant in the last two years. Neither the Finance Commission Award could be announced nor could the Council of Common Interests have regular meetings. There has been a continuous tussle between the federal government and the government of Sindh.
During the crisis of the Corona Virus federal government and the provincial governments, particularly the government of Sindh had quite different approaches for dealing with the crisis. The difference between the centre and the provinces could be resolved by relying on the constitutional means. Unfortunately the constitutional bodies that could be helpful in this regard like the CCI could not be made use of.
The political scenario does not complete without a reference to the other political parties. The two major parties and their leadership have been engaged in the cases of corruption and other allegations. These parties have also failed to address the issues of the people, rather they devote most of their time and energies either on the projection of their own leadership or denouncing the incumbent power holders. A culture of allegations and counter allegations is prevalent in the country and the people do not get solutions of their miseries which are compounded with the passage of time.
In the presence of weak political institutions, political parties’ reluctance to correct their weaknesses and their involvement in day to day affairs rather than offering long term policy measures to the people, have disappointed the people to the extent that a good member of them have lost all hopes. The situation needs to be addressed and the conscientious should pressurize the political class to come out of its lethargy and after addressing their own weakness should strive for moves which could lead the country out of the prevalent crisis.