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Kayani supports democracy

03 May, 2013

By Malik Muhammad Ashraf


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The Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, while addressing a gathering on the eve of Youm-e-Shuhada at the GHQ in Islamabad, threw unqualified military support behind the democratic process in the country and ensured that the polls will be held on May 11.

General Kayani said: "I assure you that we are committed to wholeheartedly assist and support the conduct of free, fair and peaceful elections; to the best of our capabilities and remaining within the confines of the constitution. I also assure you that this support shall solely be aimed at strengthening democracy and rule of law in the country."

Such a strong and unequivocal support coming from the COAS is not only a reassuring development, in regard to the doubts being expressed about the holding of the elections, in the backdrop of increased terrorist acts targeting political parties, but also reflects a marked change of attitude in the higher echelons of the army about democracy being a panacea to all the ills afflicting Pakistan's political and social fabric.

General Kayani's credentials as a supporter of the democratic process are beyond reproach and amply reinforced by the restraint that the army has exhibited in the past five years, making it possible for a smooth and peaceful transition of power for the first time in the history of Pakistan.

Further, he rightly took a swipe at those who were trying to belittle the sacrifices of the armed forces and law enforcement agencies in the war on terror by repeatedly terming it somebody else's war. Honestly speaking, irrespective of the fact how Pakistan got embroiled in this war and who is responsible for it, the scourge of terrorism poses an existentialist threat to the country and now it is very much our war. A handful of minority has taken up arms against the state to enforce their brand of Islam in the country, challenging the writ of the state and everything it stands for, including democracy. Our armed forces have, undoubtedly, rendered unprecedented sacrifices to defend Pakistan against this threat and their efforts deserve the nation's unqualified gratitude and support. Those who think otherwise are, consciously or unconsciously, strengthening the hands of the state's enemies.

Anyway, the Supreme Court has also repeatedly expressed its determination to ensure that the elections will be held on time. Recently, the Chief Justice reiterated this stance during the hearing of a case pertaining to electoral reforms by saying: "Come what may, the elections will not be delayed."

In the same vein, the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) has been maintaining that the polls will not be delayed even by a single day, while the caretaker setup, despite all odds and threats, too has expressed its resolve to accomplish the task peacefully.

Another landmark development is the 40-page edict issued by the All Pakistan Ulema Council (APUC), clarifying the significance of voting in the light of Islamic teachings and terming the casting of vote a religious duty of every Muslim. The edict's contents bear the stamp of endorsement by the Holy Quran.

The Holy Quran while emphasising the rewards that await the believers in the world hereafter, identifies those who will qualify for them in Surah Al-Shura (42:59) in these words: "Those who obey God, establish prayer and settle their affairs through a process of consultation." So one of the attributes of the believers is their belief in deciding matters among themselves, especially those relating to governance through a broader consensus, i.e. in a democratic way. This shows that Islam, while asserting the sovereignty of God over the entire universe, also puts faith in the ingenuity and sagacity of the human beings in managing their worldly affairs through their collective wisdom. That, indeed, is the essence of democracy.

Further, the Surah refers to the believers as a whole and makes no distinction among them on the basis of gender, which implies that even the womenfolk can participate in the consultative process through exercising their right to vote. It is a recorded history that when the Holy Prophet (pbuh) laid down the foundation of a Muslim state in Medinah, the women owed allegiance to him (Bait). In a way, this was an expression of faith in the leadership of the Prophet (pbuh), which is akin to the modern system of voting in choosing the public representatives. Similar evidence is also available in choosing the Caliphs.   

As a final word, these are very encouraging signs and leave no room for anybody to doubt about the elections and democracy not being in line with the spirit of Islam. However, the success of the elections depends on the voters' participation in the electoral process. Indeed, the people, who along with the armed forces, have suffered immensely due to  terrorism will have to stand up to their tormentors for the country's integrity no matter what it costs. 


The writer is a freelance columnist.

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