For the umpteenth time, a nationwide electricity blackout occurred on 23 January. It was said that after keeping the system switched off during the night, when they tried to switch it back on, it did not. However, whatever the fault was, electricity supply started getting restored after 15 hours.
The same is the case with democracy in Pakistan. The democracy grid remained switched off for about four years, until the moment darkness engulfed the power grid itself. Then the staff in charge invited the technicians to switch it on, and reconnect it to the constitutional grid. It did not. Democracy is still in an off-mode.
It was all behind the scenes when the technicians were called out to reconnect the system to the constitutional grid. And it was only on 27 October 2022, six months after a successful no confidence motion against the Imran Khan government in April, that an official declaration to the effect was made for the public consumption. In an unprecedented move, the Director General ISI and Director General ISPR conducted a live press conference lasting more than one and half hours.
They admitted publicly the establishment – they addressed themselves as ‘the establishment’ – had made mistakes in the past, mentioning in between the lines, especially their (wholesale) involvement in designing, executing and promoting Project Imran. Before a live audience, they appeared to confess that since the Senate elections in February-March 2021 they had distanced themselves and now, as an ‘institution’, they had resolved to remain confined to their constitutional role in the future.
The former COAS, Gen (retired) Qamar Javed Bajwa, in his farewell speech on 23 November uttered the same thoughts. He said, it was the army’s 70 years of interference in national politics that took various forms, which was unconstitutional, and that was the main reason that army is often a target of criticism. That is why in February 2021, the army undertook hectic deliberations and finally decided it will no longer interfere in any political matters. The message was that that ‘we are strictly adhering to this decision, and will adhere strictly to it in the future also’.
The civil society took this public confession by the establishment as a good omen, but as far as political parties are concerned, they did not realize its immense significance. They allowed it to pass in a casual manner. Whereas it was for them to make a point of this declaration, and devise a future strategy to make the establishment accountable, as well as make them stick to their constitutional role, and take the reins of political matters into their own hands. They did not. They did not take proper advantage of this once in a blue moon occasion. And due to politicians’ injudiciousness, things are still murky.
Instead, they – and in this case the PDM – ran to grab the reins of the government without setting or settling for any terms with the establishment. They tried to reconnect the system to the constitutional grid; it did not work and there the void persists. The anti-democracy mode is not going away. There is too much anti-democratic litter here and there.
The havoc that the establishment played with other institutions, which are prerequisites for the functioning of a democracy, has rendered them still in a dismantled state. The media is yet to recover from the rote behavior it has been coerced into. The judiciary is in a slumber; it was anesthetized into order to submit to the anti- and ultra-constitutional wills of the establishment. That is, the remnants and underlings of the artificially-created and enthroned regime are still reverberating in the courts, bureaucracy, police, and maybe in the establishment, too.
And, no doubt, the polity of Pakistan as a whole is suffering from a hangover of the nightmares it has constantly been subjected to for the last seven decades.
Amidst the uncertainties, exacerbated by the deepening economic crisis the state is mired in, and with the terrorists striking hard at the police and other security agencies, the PDM politicians have but few choices left to make recourse to.
No doubt, Nawaz Sharif and the PMLN did not realize in time the role they were required to play, and thus have lost the anti-establishment initiative by allowing Shehbaz Sharif to head the coalition government. Now they are in the wilderness!
Time and time again, they – the PMLN – proved themselves unworthy of the responsibilities that democratic politics puts on their shoulders, the latest among which is their seizing the reins of the government, disregarding the price they would have to pay as a consequence. They did not foresee this time the crisis is not a usual one; it is an extraordinarily complex situation ridden by multidimensional, chronic crises.
On top is the sort of impending default looming large, and the IMF is not budging a bit. Inflation is peaking at about 28%. All the avenues from where a lending hand could be expected in the past now stand fast closed. Rather, they have snubbed the government, and demanded that Pakistan set its own house in order first. On the foreign front also, the image of the country has suffered unprecedentedly badly, and appears to be beyond repair vis-à-vis its ungovernability and economic vulnerability.
Adding fuel to the fire, Project Imran – an ambitious creation of the establishment – has now gone fully berserk, and is hell-bent on having general elections here and now, at any cost.
Hence, it is evident that the PMLN (and not the PDM) is failing itself unimaginably, as Maryam Nawaz Sharif stubbornly takes charge of the party. PMLN’s senior leadership like Shahid Khaqan Abbasi resigns from its senior vice-presidentship and targets the party’s dynastic hold, while Maryam defends it vociferously.
Lo and behold, now there are voices such as Mushahid Hussain’s coming out louder from within the party that demand from Shehbaz Sharif to leave a ‘lame and limpy government’ and go for the elections immediately. This is what this writer has been arguing for, i.e. give a shock to the system by leaving the government, as well as the national and provincial assemblies, and let the establishment and the courts clean their Augean stables first. Or the PMLN is fated to lose whatever political capital it enjoys now.