Pakistan: Democracy and the Will of the People
16 May, 2011
By Atif Salahuddin
The American raid that took place in Abbottabad a few days ago in which Osama Bin Laden was apparently killed has shocked and shaken the entire nation. The attack has left many people in a state of disbelief which is now giving way to anger; how is it possible that a small American force could penetrate deep into the heart of the country, only a few miles from Islamabad, at the heart of the Pakistan military, carry out it’s mission and then escape undetected?
The denials of complicity from Pakistan’s government and military leadership seem all too familiar and are falling on deaf ears. The charade of the army chiefs being ‘accounted’ over the Abbottabad humiliation in the National Assembly is not going to fool anyone in deflecting the people’s anger. What is particularly disturbing is that it comes hot on the heels of the Raymond Davis debacle. Many people were outraged that Pakistan’s civil and military rulers had allowed the American murderer to leave unpunished under American pressure. The rulers feigned at the time that a ‘blood money’ deal had been agreed with the victim’s family under the Shariah (leaving aside the fact that the family have disappeared from public view and that the Shariah does not permit collaboration with hostile forces operating covertly in the country in the first place). They promised that the American CIA agents operating inside the country would be forced to reduce their footprint and promised the nation that would be no repeat of such flagrant American arrogance; yet now this attack in Abbottabad happens and the shroud over the loins of Pakistani sovereignty has been completely torn away. Is it any surprise that the people simply do not believe what the rulers say anymore?
All of this leads to a deeper question, about our rulers and the Democratic system they use to rule. There are many angles on the question of Democracy in a Muslim nation that require careful consideration ranging from the question of legitimacy of man made legislation, powers of the executive and it’s accountability, the constitution and it’s origin and what role, if any, does Islam play when weighed up against the principle of secularism upon which Democracy is founded i.e. separation of the State’s political affairs from religion. However on this occasion, for now, let us put aside all of these weighty questions and focus on just one basic element; does Democracy in Pakistan truly reflect the majority public opinion, the people’s will in ruling?
When we consider the state of play today, particularly since the re-emergence of Democracy after the Musharraf era, we can make several observations and conclusions. The first is that the entry of Pakistan into America’s War on Terror was undertaken by General Pervez Musharraf in 2001. This was done at a time when there was no serious domestic terrorist threat from any quarter and no suicide bombings but Musharraf still chose to fully support the new American policy in the region. This is a policy decision that has been wholeheartedly embraced by the current PPP led democratic government and if anything the embrace of American policy (and their aid dollars) has only become stronger.
Whilst one can dismiss the former’s decision as that one taken by a dictator that had no people’s representation, the decision by the democratic government, whom the people elected, flies in the face of raw Pakistani public opinion. It is without a shadow of a doubt that ordinary Pakistanis, leaving aside small pockets of the elite, absolutely hate America and her current policy in Pakistan. Moreover, not only that, they absolutely loathe both the democratic and military rulers for continuing to support and helping to implement this American policy. If anyone doubts this then I would suggest that they conduct a simple experiment in political science; let them take a large stars and stripes flag and proudly hold it aloft in any ordinary Pakistani bazaar or popular market, either in Islamabad, Peshawar, Karachi or Lahore or anywhere else and then cheer Obama spontaneously and let us observe how long they last.
After that no brainer it is clear that as far as America’s War on Terror is concerned the policy being pursued by the democratic government is deeply unpopular and unrepresentative; yet it is still happening. How is it possible that Prime Minister Gilani, in the aftermath of the Abbottabad attack, can still publicly endorse the CIA continuing it’s drone strikes inside Pakistan?
This incredulous incongruity is not just limited to the American attacks; let us cast our conceptual net a little wider and consider another set of policy decisions that relate to another fundamental aspect of the Pakistani state, that of the economy. Again let us draw the analogy between Pervez Musharraf’s military rule and that of the current Zardari-Gilani’s democratic government. Musharraf and his finance team accepted new IMF loans; in fact they helped engineer the current IMF programme and oversaw the vast increase in Pakistan’s external and internal debts; undoubtedly unpopular decisions given the oversight and budget cuts the IMF demands but again made by an unrepresentative regime. Yet again we see the current democratic rulers continuing to implement this Musharraf era policy decision and continue to accept IMF loans; not only that but all Pakistanis can testify to the misery the IMF dictated economic agenda is having in the country with subsidies on food and fuel being cut over the last 3 years and price rises across the board for nearly everything including petrol, diesel and in the case of gas and electricity, paying more with no end in sight to the loadshedding. Again no prizes for guessing the unpopularity of all of this, but still the democratic rulers continue to swim against the popular public tide.
It is clear that something is going badly wrong. The system that is supposed to be the ‘rule of the people by the people for the people’ is proving itself to be no different than that of a dictatorship; in fact it is worse because it’s all being done in the name of the people. In Pakistan’s case the ruling class also happens to be the people who sit in huge, well defended palaces and enjoy extravagant wealth which just seems to keep on multiplying with every passing year enjoyed in power whilst more and more of the ruled people seem to be entering penury. To add insult to injury the rulers also keep on telling the rest of us what sacrifices as democrats they have made for the people, they keep on telling us how hard they are working to improve our lives and in the case of the ‘War on Terror’ they keep on telling us how they have made us all safer by eliminating the terrorists. There seems to be something deeply Orwellian about all of this; the reality just does not match this democratic Alice in Wonderland theatre.
At this point defenders of Democracy will jump in to say that Democracy it is still the best thing to have and after all it still has checks and balances in the form of the next election where the ruled can vote out one set of rulers. This though is a fickle and weak argument and an attempt to legitimise this criminal behaviour; the only censure that these corrupt rulers will face is the potential loss of power. But we all know that in Pakistan’s political merry go around one set of Democratic rulers are simply exchanged for another who behave just as worse and blindly follow what the Americans tell them; in fact the current example of the PML-Q joining the PPP government shows that in some cases some of these politicians can get recycled sooner rather than later. Moreover, leaving aside the morality of letting the corrupt go free, the opportunity to vote out a set of rulers will only likely come every four or five years. Some important decisions, such as backing American policy, are irreversible in their disastrous effect and need to be dealt with now; try telling a US drone strike victim who has been killed that he or she can get the chance to vote for a better democrat at the next elections.
The reason why Democracy is failing to represent Pakistani public opinion is that it isn`t actually a representative system at all. Nearly all the politicians who come through this system have to be very wealthy in order to participate; it’s anyone’s guess as to how much the next MNA or MPA party ticket for the next election will cost standing on the platform of the main parties of the PPP, PML-N, MQM and PML-Q. Once you’re ‘in’, of course you have to recoup the money invested on the election campaign plus make some profit on top; that’s exactly what a businessman or woman does, crooked or not. Why else would any Pakistani politician worth his salt take the trouble to get involved in this nation’s sordid politics?
Secondly, because Democracy allows these ‘representatives’ to be the legislators in parliament, they can pass whatever law they like; this serves various nefarious interest groups perfectly. This is the reason why to this day the big feudal landowners, who happen to make up a big portion of those sitting in the National and Provincial assemblies don`t pay any tax on their agricultural income; it’s because they haven`t passed any law requiring themselves to do so but they did pass a law recently requiring the new VAT tax to be imposed across the board to satisfy IMF demands. This is also the reason why when Nawaz Sharif was Prime Minister he passed legislation which did not require anyone to disclose the source of their funds transferred from overseas into Pakistan, an effective license to launder money out of Pakistan in corrupt deals and back in again, with no questions asked with black money and it’s various shades of grey being turned into whiter than white.
In the case of our national leaders the level of profit to be made is completely on another level; here we are talking about multinational level income with international aid and loan deals to be negotiated and then managed. In the case of the Americans and their ‘War on Terror’ it does not take much imagination to visualise what would happen if the right amount of cash was waved in front of the noses of our industrious civil and military leaders. This is why the whole Pakistani state has been hijacked to now serve on the ‘frontline’ of this war; our leaders were literally bought into this war with domestic policies reset and military assets re-directed; too bad the Pakistan military can`t detect American helicopters, it’s not what the Kerry-Lugar aid bill was meant to ensure.
In a Democracy, everything can be re-defined and justified; it just requires the political will and opportunity. In Pakistan’s case we see all the main secular parties plus the so called ‘Islamic’ democratic parties onside in this American game and endorsing the ‘War on Terror’. This is why the Pakistani military campaigns in the tribal areas have been sanctioned and blessed by the National Assembly. This is also explains the disgusting deceitful and contradictory behaviour from our political and military rulers and their incredulous statements in the current predicament. Some of the claims and counter claims we have seen seem like the schoolboy excuse ‘the dog ate my homework’ pack of lies. These statements follow the same pattern of denial as the US has continued it’s drone strikes using bases inside Pakistan and the denial of CIA agents operating in our cities until Raymond Davis was caught. The civilian and military rulers need to rely on smoke and mirrors and their black propaganda because they know full well that telling the ugly truth will bring the people out on to the streets.
It doesn`t take much to see that Democracy has failed the people of Pakistan. What is harder to see is what should be done next? Military rule? We are living with the legacy and effects of the Musharraf rule today that opened the door for the Americans, a completely unaccountable platform for an untouchable ruler; moreover the current military leaders are also on the same pro-American page. An alternative system has to ensure that the rulers can`t just tear up the rule book and change the rules of the game as they play. The rulers need a permanent absolute point of reference rather than the relative code of moral conduct that has allowed them to declare the day to be night and the night to be day. The only system which has the forbearance for this is the Shariah of Islam implemented by the Khilafat.
One example of this is the hadith of the Prophet (SAW) who said when approached by powerful tribe leaders to forgive one of their own that “By Him in Whose Hand is my life, even if Fatima, daughter of Muhammad, was to commit theft, I would have cut off her hand." The point is that what has been revealed in the Quran and Sunnah is set in stone. If any ruler tries to flout an Islamic Shariah rule he would be seen as a transgressor; he has to rule by the rulebook given to him by the Creator. On the other hand all a democrat has to do is pass a bill with a majority and he can make anything legitimate; in the Pakistani parliament we see the rulers passing various bills and their political agendas becoming law. Moreover various polls conducted in the last few years including by the American based University of Maryland and Pew Research Centre remarkably show consistent majority support by the people of Pakistan for the implementation of the Shariah. Can anyone imagine going to an ordinary person in the street and telling him that Allah(SWT) has no role in your political affairs as demanded by secularism? Yet how ironic that in this so called ‘people’s system’ the will of the majority is not reflected at all by the decision making of the rulers as they sit in the lap of Washington.
Pakistan’s rulers seem to think that they can continue making monkeys out of us all with their double talk and with the help of their media lackeys who at times seem more loyal to the Americans than anyone else. However as the saying goes ‘you can fool some of the people all the time, all of the people some of the time but you can`t fool all the people all the time.’ This latest American attack in Abbottabad has made the democratic penny drop for everyone; in the name of the people, it’s time for these charlatans of Democracy to go.