‘Democracy’ has been declining globally every year for the last fifteen years, most significantly in the US and India, the world’s two ‘greatest’ republics, says a report titled “Democracy under Siege” by Freedom House, a respected US-based Think Tank. The report claims that democracy has declined in 73 countries and lists current-day Pakistan as “partly free”. In recent commentaries on the developing conflictual situation in the US, an alarming “civil war” scenario is forecast by the time the next election rolls around in 2024-25 based on fears of vote manipulation and fraud by the new leadership of the Republican Party led by Donald Trump.
One reason for this global decline in democratic systems and values is attributed to the phenomenal rise of social media that has given a voice to lay folks who sense a threat to traditional values or singular identities, or provided an ever-expanding platform for populist prejudices, organized propaganda, disinformation, fake news, etc., eroding the hegemony of elite mainstream media that has supported modern, liberal, constitutional values.
In Pakistan, too, we have experienced a ‘democratic’ slide with the advent of a “hybrid-regime” in 2018 under the joint tutelage of the Miltablishment and a selected populist prime minister. This slide is manifest in targeted victimization of the opposition and crackdowns on the media via pressure from state institutions like NAB, FIA, police and the judiciary and in the railroading of oppressive or undemocratic new laws.
But now, three years down the line, this hybrid regime is crumbling under the weight of its own blunders and contradictions, no less than the misplaced personal ambitions of its chief proponents. Ironically enough, though, it is social media (that was originally the conduit of organised propaganda on behalf of the hybrid regime) that has ended up providing a public platform to expose the machinations, frauds, conspiracies, bankruptcies, U-turns, lies and deceits of the originators and perpetrators of this hybrid-regime, compelling a desperate search within the increasingly discredited Miltablishment for less illegitimate or unpopular options going forward, including the ouster of the PTI regime.
There are two unmistakable manifestations of this potential ‘democratic’ revival. The first is the near-universal loathing of the PTI government for plunging Pakistan into its worst economic crisis since independence, imposing unprecedented and unacceptable hardship on a vast majority of the weak and unprotected classes and segments of the population. The second is dogged resistance by the ousted prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who has won the grudging support of many Pakistanis for demonstrating the courage to expose and attack the civil-military leaders of this anti-people hybrid regime. This is reflected in a surge of popularity for the PMLN which is the leading component of the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement as reflected in the results of recent Cantonment Board, Local Body and national/provincial By-Elections.
As a result, the civil-military “deal” that was clinched in 2014 with the launch of the five month long dharna by Imran Khan (that led to the ouster of Nawaz Sharif by a compliant judiciary and climaxed with a rigged election in 2018) has begun to unravel. The first sign of this is a breakdown of the civil-military one-page narrative that ended last November with a complete loss of faith and trust on both sides over the matter of the transfer of one ISI chief and the appointment of another. The second is a quiet build-up of resistance in the core organs of the state to the blackmail and authoritarianism of the hybrid regime. Judges are beginning to stand and speak up (Qazi Faez Isa, Arshad Butt, Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, Rana Shamim, etc.) against the Miltablishment even as others are increasingly showing dissent in opposing the biased judgments of their weak or compromised colleagues. Equally, supine judges like the discredited former CJ Saquib Nisar have been shown up for what they are. The Election Commission of Pakistan has finally refused to be cowed down by bullying ministers from fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities, including opposition to the introduction of election-rigging EVMs in the next general elections. In a final act of defiance, the ECP is now poised to apply for the disqualification of the PTI prime minister for blatant violations of the law in connection with receiving unauthorized funds from foreign sources and embezzlement of hundreds of millions. And lo and behold, the Chief Justice of the Islamabad High Court, Athar Minallah, has overruled an additional judge of a sessions court who unfairly closed the video testimony of Imran Khan without allowing cross-examination by Khawaja Asif’s lawyer in a defamation case, and ordered the prime minister to present himself for cross examination. The media, too, has sensed a change in wind direction. Pro-Imran anchors and commentators have suddenly discovered the truth about their aging hero and opened their guns on him to redeem their lost credibility. Those journalists who have been sidelined from mainstream media on the instructions of the Miltablishment or government are now openly pointing the finger at their detractors and even naming names. And political ex-loyalists and supporters of Imran Khan are spilling the beans about his corrupt practices.
The DGISPR says the media must refrain from speculating about any “deal” between the Miltablishment and Nawaz Sharif because there is no such thing and the military is not involved in politicking. That is good news. But, given the track record, we shall be justified in looking out for any continuing signs of Miltablishment politicking to extend the original sinning “deal” with Imran Khan. The people of Pakistan want a restoration of their constitutional rights, including the right to elect their civilian leaders, and the sooner this hybrid regime loses its artificial props for good, the better, so that Pakistanis can have their rightful say.