September 15 is celebrated every year as the International Day of Democracy to review the state of democracy in the world and uphold the principles and values of democracy. It is therefore apt to review the quality and state of democracy in Pakistan on this day.
Democracy is not merely holding of periodic elections and change of guards every five years. It is a value system that, beyond merely holding of periodic elections, rests on a tripod of values, namely rule of law, accountability and transparency.
Newer and newer standards are set for the attainment of these values. As societies advance newer and newer goal posts are set and as one seems to be nearing achieving a target the goal post recedes farther away. A right for instance that of girl education was unthinkable sometime back. As societies advanced it became a privilege yesterday. Today it is a right. The goal post has changed.
Democracy in Pakistan is faced with innumerable challenges but two of them are outstanding.
One, the first challenge relates to the refusal of the centrists and those with dictatorial mindsets to accept parliamentary supremacy, devolution of political and fiscal powers to provinces and closing the doors on interventionists by the 18th Amendment. How?
Until recently democracy in Pakistan has been directly assaulted by bonaparts by abrogating the constitution, disbanding the Parliament, imposing provisional constitutional orders and sacking the non pliant judges. The takeover was then got endorsed from the courts in the name of ‘doctrine of necessity’ and theory of ‘successful revolution’.
The 18th Constitutional Amendment closed the doors for the direct hijacking of democracy and democratic institutions by the bonaparts. In the past the office of the President had been used to send home an elected parliament. By removing Article 58)2) (b) from the Constitution this door was closed when the Amendment was unanimously passed in 2010.
The 1973 Constitution had made the abrogation of the Constitution an act of high treason no doubt. But the bonaparts circumvented it by suspending the Constitution or holding it in abeyance and the judiciary endorsing the suspension.
Under the 18th amendment not only abrogation but anyone who suspends, or holds in abeyance the Constitution but also the collaborators and abettors also declared guilty of high treason which shall not be validated by any court including the Supreme Court. The doors for taking oath under PCOs and endorsing devices like legal frame work orders (LFOs), provisional constitutional orders (PCOs) were thus closed for ever.
Sending elected prime ministers home or disbanding parliament through an executive order may appear to have ended but there is no cause for celebrations. Two successive prime ministers and a number of parliamentarians during the last decade have been sent home by judicial activism. The days of sacking prime ministers and members of parliament are still not over. Only the manner of sacking them has changed.
As those subverting the Constitution and their abettors found the doors for intervention closed they have started experimenting with a new model of running the statecraft, the hybrid form, to keep their hold on power.
In this hybrid form the driver on the wheel has no controls over the vital levers controlling the vehicle which are controlled by the other controllers in the hybrid system. The driver on the wheel is accountable for safe driving but is denied control of vital levers. And those who manipulate the vital levers of control are not accountable to anyone, neither to the parliament, nor to the judiciary nor to the people. Such a vehicle is fated to meet a disastrous accident sooner or later. This poses a grave threat to the democratic order.
Two, the second challenge relates to the legs of the tripod on which the edifice of democracy rests. If the two of the tripod’s three legs are accountability and transparency the democracy of Pakistan is resting on the weakest foundations.
That accountability has always been used as a tool of political re-engineering in the past has been well known. But until recently it was not so well known how blatantly farcical accountability and transparency has been in the country.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa has been recently accused of serious allegations of wrong doing. Rebutting the allegations he admitted 70 million dollars for family businesses in foreign lands. Out of this 60 million dollars were secured as ‘bank loans and financial facilities’. The total family contribution is about 74, 000 dollars out of which 20,000 dollars is by his wife. His wife divested herself on June 1, 2020 nine days after the Prime Minister directed all special assistants to declare their assets. This he has admitted.
In any state, in any society under any system of accountability this would be a matter of thorough investigations. It would demand satisfactory answers to a host of serious questions including whether the institution he served for so long and to which period the allegations relate stands behind him.
But the Prime Minister declares that this explanation is satisfactory and hopes to close the chapter.
Or take the case of General Pervez Musharraf. Not long ago in a TV interview he publicly admitted to have been gifted millions of dollars into his personal account by an Arab monarch in addition to flats in London and Dubai. No questions asked and there is no accountability of Musharraf because he wore uniform. But two former civilian prime ministers and a president are being chased and hounded even after depositing with Toshakhana legally determined cost of gifts received from foreign dignitaries while in office because they did not wear uniform.
On this international Day of Democracy therefore let us call for ending the hybrid system of state governance, of back seat driving by the unaccountable drivers. Let us also call for across the board accountability of all who get paid out of state exchequer regardless of whether they are clad in uniform or robes or in civvies.
(The writer is a former Senator)