When all economic, political and social indicators of a crises ridden Pakistan are pointing towards a possible collapse of Pakistan and many seasoned political commentators are predicting a disastrous scenario for the country, it is quite interesting that Akbar Zaidi has come up with a somewhat different interpretation of this phenomenon and has challenged this conventional line of thought. He argues that what we are witnessing in fact is the collapse of a political settlement that has existed for decades in favour of the Military Establishment. The contradictions between different institutions of State have sharpened and there is a unique opportunity for the democratic forces to end military’s domination of Pakistan.
It is no doubt true that despite their inner rivalries and conflicts, the forces representing civilians in the form of Parliament, Political Parties, Judiciary and Media have gained enormous space in the last few years and have considerably restricted the maneuverings of the Military Establishment. Even more important is the fact that the US and its allies, who have traditionally supported Military Dictatorships in Pakistan against the wishes of the people of Pakistan, are no more ready to trust the military establishment and are more inclined to support a civilian setup.
However, this is not a fight, in which we can see a clear and decisive defeat for the Military. It has made three major attempts at toppling the democratic government in the last three years by cleverly exploiting the conflicting interests and ambitions of the civilians, who are vying to get a larger slice of the cake and trying to exert control over important state institutions. At times it appeared imminent that an intrusive judiciary, a self righteous media, rootless religious parties and certain elements within the democratic movement are all bent to destroy the historic alliance of people, which booted a hated military dictator out only recently, and that the civil rule is on the brink of another regime change. Fortunately, saner elements among the civilians prevailed to confine their differences within certain limits.
The sequence of recent events in which Military Establishment is being pushed into a tighter spot both internationally and domestically, suggest that the chances of a definite and firm democratic transition are ripe. One can hope that finally Pakistan can also go along the way of democratic transition witnessed in Latin American Military Dictatorships in the 80’s and 90’s. But we also cannot overlook the fact that years of unrepresentative military rule have weakened the democratic institutions to such a degree, alienated the people of Pakistan especially those in the smaller provinces in such a way and has weakened the economy to such an extent that the reverse is also possible and Pakistan can drift into a prolonged civil war with the possible dismemberment of the country. Military Establishment in all probability will again use the forces of religious extremism and ethnicity to its advantage to deflect the democratic onslaught. Though its chances may be slim, but the chaos in the political and social life can be a fertile ground for the emergence of a fascist rightwing nationalistic military dictatorship as well.
The civilians are still unsure of their power and many of them still hope to use the military establishment to gain an upper hand over its political opponents. A lot will depend on the maturity of our political forces to keep themselves united on a single point agenda i-e- permanent establishment of civil democratic order. The masses cannot be won over in this fight without an improved economy, good governance and a lawful society. 18th amendment is an important step to keep Pakistan intact and it must be enforced wholeheartedly. Military must be put under more pressure to gradually hand over its corporate empire back to the private sector, where it rightfully belongs and subject this institution to accountability, which it has always lacked. This is a long and hard struggle and given the tentacles of Military in the establishment, society and economy of Pakistan, this is going to be an uphill task. Civilians have earlier squandered such a chance in the 70’s when the top brass of a defeated and demoralized army was let off the hook and no action was taken on the findings of Hamood Ur Rehman commission report. Military returned this favour by hanging their benefactor. Let us hope that this time civilians act in a more responsible way.
By Nadeem Khalid