Ambassador Alam Brohi touches The bane of strong-arm politics
The bane of strong-arm politics democracy is a state of mind believing in the rule of law, public service, human rights and values, honesty, accountability, and nonviolence. What we have in our dear land – particularly since the advent of the third popular political party to challenge the political and electoral status quo -is a sort of autocracy. The ever persisting political polarisation has alarmingly crept in every organ of the state and left a deep impact on the constitutional institutions. None of them would be able to emerge unscathed out of this political confrontation. The biggest loser in this ever rising political tension has been the powerful establishment.
The establishment has been micromanaging the political process including electoral contests and formation of political administrations at the federal and provincial levels since the debacle of 1970. Its role in the political, foreign and security affairs of the state has been an open secret since 1980. The elected civilian governments from 1988 to 1999 were managed and controlled through covert and overt interference. The restoration of democracy in 2008 after a long spell of controlled and powerless civilian administrations under a President in uniform also heralded in hybrid political administrations with the establishment breathing over their necks.
The power imbalance between the establishment and the political and judicial institutions of the state has been the main factor for political instability in the country. Since the birth of the country, the bureaucratic- military axis did not allow political institutions or any strong and able leadership to grow and claim the independent stewardship of the country. The stalwart Muslim Leaguers were brought into power and shown the door within a few months. Abdur Rab Nishtar, Chaudhry Khaliquzamman, Muhammad Ayub Khuhro, I.I. Chundrigar, Huseyn Suharwardy, A.K. Fazalul Haq, Feroz Khan Noon – just name a few – all had their share of humiliation and disgrace at the hands of this powerful axis. These personages had been in the forefront of the freedom struggle and were considered iconic figures towards whom people of the new country looked up to and by removing them from the scene by declaring them as undesirable elements became the foundation stone for viewing and assessing the credibility of public life and its relevance to Pakistan.
The controlled process of democracy from 1958 to 1968 almost obviated the possibility of the emergence of a nationally organised popular political party keeping the field open for the King’s Convention Muslim League, religious-cum political parties or a few splinter groups of leftist and nationalist parties including National Awami Party of Maulana Abdul Hamid Bhashani, Khan Abdul Wali Khan and Awami League or factions of Muslim League presided over by Mian Mumtaz Daultana and Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan. All the big political names from both wings of the country were clustered in the King’s party. Political suffocation and economic distress prevailed in the country.
The pent-up public anger against the authoritarian rule was well reflected by the agitational movement from 1966-69 by the ragtag Democratic Action Committee. The overwhelming public support to Z.A. Bhutto and Shaikh Mujeeb sealed the fate of the strong man – Field Martial Muhammad Ayub Khan. The strong arm tactics of arrest and jailing of these two popular leaders further fueled the public anger. The roundtable conference and the promises for the dissolution of One-Unit; the holding of general elections and the restoration of parliamentary form of governance could not buy time for the Field Martial. He was forced by his Commander in Chief to abdicate the throne in March 1969.
The controlled political process and unwise administrative and economic policies from 1958-1970 intensified the disillusionment of the Bengali populace and the smaller provinces in the western wing. The political tumult let loose by the announcement of general elections was too strong, complex and delicate to be handled by the ruling junta. They failed to gauge the intensity of the public anger, popularity of the contesting political parties, and committed blunders in handling the post- election situation. They wholly depended on the state’s raw coercive power to subdue the main political stakeholder – the Awami League which had won the elections with a thumping majority. This resulted in the humiliation, disgrace and disintegration of the country.
The frivolous cases, arrests and jailing of leaders have always backfired with the ruling party losing credibility and grace in the populace. We have had resorted to this baneful practice umpteen times without a pause for introspection. Late Bhutto jailed his opponents and banned political outfits on anti-state charges hurting in the end his own public standing. Dictator Zia used the state’s coercive power to undo the Pakistan People’s Party jailing and lashing its workers including Benazir Bhutto; encouraging and patronising factional groups within the party including National People’s Party of Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi and the Progressive People’s Party of Maulana Kausar Niazi. The historic welcome of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto by a massive crowd in Lahore in April 1986 showed the rebounding strength of the PPP. General Musharraf failed to dent the standing of the PMLN in Punjab.
The PDM is clustered with prominent and experienced leaders. Do they really believe that the proper way of facing the massive political popularity of their political foe – Imran Khan – is the registration of frivolous cases against him under the Terrorist Act or jailing and disqualifying him for contempt of court or in any other case like Tosha Khana gifts? His arrest would surely send his popularity soaring to new heights. We can well imagine throngs of his charged workers surrounding the precincts of the superior courts during his hearings. Will this enhance the image and democratic credentials of the country or bring the desired political stability?
One fights one’s political foe in the political arena – and not in courts. The electoral defeat or victory is the beauty of democratic politics. The current political logjam could only be broken by recourse to electoral mandate. The delay in elections would further damage the public standing of the PDM. Dubbing political foes as anti-state, anti-Islam or foreign agents are weather-beaten legacy of the past, and no more carry any credibility with the people of Pakistan. Given the galloping inflation and the crippling utility and fuel costs, the people are bitter, angry and agitated. This is a serious situation and needs to be carefully viewed and assessed. Even a small mistake or miscalculation can plunge the country into an irredeemable situation. TW