Politics is a game of possibilities. Wise politicians leave some points of compromise. Heading into a dead end is antithesis to political sagacity and reflects a mindset of do or die. We have experienced this plenty of times in our short history. The result has always been painful with a long spell of unconstitutional rule. Our struggle for the restoration of democracy or tolerant and transparent civilian rule has always overlooked certain essential democratic and constitutional norms and invariably ushered us in a cul-de-sac with distressing results. Nations have progressively developed into democratic societies learning from their trials and tribulations. We never learnt from our mistakes.
No democracy is conceived without the legitimate role of the opposition; supremacy of the Parliament; independence of judiciary; a transparent process of accountability; freedom of media; respect for the constitutional mandate of the state institutions; devolution of powers up to the third tier of government and above all, development of a democratic culture within the political parties. For good governance, the rule by cabinet is mandatory. There is no room for arbitrary, whimsical and authoritarian exercise of executive power. Measured by this yardstick, all our political parties who have been power will cut a sorry figure given their dismal record.
All our political leaders have a poor record in giving due importance to the opposition, parliament, judiciary, accountability, devolution of powers and respecting the constitutional mandate of the state institutions. None of the current leaders can claim any credit on this count. Au contraire, some of them who now cry themselves hoarse for democracy and the civilian supremacy, have disgusting records in mistreating the opposition, judiciary and state institutions. This nation has been very generous in overlooking their past misdeeds and ever willing to suffer again at their hands. This circle has gone too far in the country. These leaders have achieved perfection in the art of hoodwinking the people redressing themselves in the scented robes of saviors or feigning as persecuted and hounded out of power.
The people, while putting up with a corrupt and oligarchic rule over a protracted period of time, feel some kind of slavish bond with the architects of the system or develop a fear to go against it. It becomes a daunting challenge to break this slavish bond with –or the fear of – the system. Alena Ledeneva, a political analyst and writer has identified this self-perpetuating system of rule by a riddle-like term ‘Sistema’ – which she elaborates as a practice that relies heavily on unwritten codes and practical norms. Elaborating further, she says, Sistema enjoys unlimited access to all natural resources – public or private – with a kind of permanent state of emergency in which every level of society – business, social and ethnic groups, powerful clans, even criminal gangs and mafias – is drafted into solving what rulers label as urgent state problems.
This Sistema is already well entrenched in many countries including Russia, the former Soviet Republics in Europe, Central and Caucasian regions, Africa and Arab countries during the former or in the current authoritarian regimes. We have also been through it having our Abid Boxers, Anwaars, Rehman Dakaits, Uzair Baluchs, Charyas and Kaan Katas. In such a system, the coffers of the rulers keep inflating and the poverty and powerlessness among the ruled leapfrogging. This is all done as a service to democracy, public safety and security of the state. They think they are holy cows; democracy to them is only the count of votes; state institutions are their courtesans or tools for self-perpetuation. They are bound by no law. The law is for lowly creatures.
For the first time, we have a new lot of rulers who assumed power through elections supervised by international monitors. They have daunting difficulties in breaking the resignation to – and slavish bond with – the Sistema which has taken deep roots since 1970 in both civilian and military regimes. All the leaders, having ruled the country during the past four decades, have now come out to forge an alliance to dislodge the current regime which has been in power for barely two years. They see the democracy, economy, rule of law, civilian supremacy and state institutions in peril. They have realized the miseries of the rules caused by inflation and poverty. They have upped the ante against the PTI government without a pause for introspection or keeping open some points for political compromise.
This alliance needs to be examined somewhat in detail. The driving force behind the alliance is the leader of Pakistan Muslim League (N), Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif. The Sharifs, with the exception of Musharraf period, off and on, have been in power since 1982. The senior Sharif was elected thrice as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. The younger sibling has been ruling the roost in Punjab since the day Nawaz Sharif moved up as Prime Minister. He lost his government every time by picking up fights with the Presidents, his Chiefs of Army and Chief Justice of Pakistan.
This time, he was brought down by the international disclosure of Panama scandals in which he topped the list of the corrupt leaders in the world. He was disqualified for life to hold any public office by the Supreme Court of Pakistan and sentenced in two corruption cases by the trial court. His party narrowly lost the general elections of 2018 nationally, and in Punjab too. The extended family of the Sharifs has already fled to London including the senior Sharif leaving behind Maryam Nawaz, Shahbaz Sharif and Hamza Shahbaz. The heir apparent is on bail, and Shahbaz and Hamza are behind bars on corruption charges.
For some time, Sharif tried a two-track political strategy – putting up a defiant face in the public – and seeking reprieve in corruption cases from behind-the- scene talks with the establishment. This did not work out well leaving no other option for the Sharifs other than a desperate political brinkmanship of ‘do or die’. They have lost everything –power, dignity, honour and home. They have nothing more to lose. It is doubtful the party MNAs and MPAs would resign on their bidding. They would like everyone to drown with them.
For the first time, the JUI leader Moulana Fazal Rehman is out of power, and feels threatened in his political citadel – KPK by a formidable adversary. His stake in the system is confined to a few seats in the provincial Assemblies of KPK and Balochistan and National Assembly. He had become politically irrelevant. The bleak chances he has had to regain his political influence in his home province were disturbing him. The leadership of PDM has re-established his political relevance. However, it would not be an easy bargain for him to sacrifice his handful seats in the KPK and Balochistan Assemblies.
The PPP has greater stakes in the system. It is ruling in the province of Sindh enjoying all the concomitant dividends. The PPP leadership knows their political dividends in Punjab, KPK and Balochistan will be peripheral even if the PTI regime is dislodged in the center and Punjab. To them, Sharifs have been politically more lethal than Prime Minister Imran Khan. Most of the cases against Asif Ali Zardari were instituted during the PML (N) rule. They have no hope of reviving PPP in Punjab in the presence of Sharifs. Therefore, the PPP would not be willing for the political suicide of resigning from the Assemblies.
The smaller nationalist parties have remained on the political periphery in the past and so are they today. Their following is also peripheral and limited to certain ethnic and territorial pockets. They have never been national political parties with a national outlook on the issues and problems the country is beset with. The Sharifs have never been sympathetic to their nationalist agendas. They could play no significant role in making the PDM a success other than increasing the headcount of the leaders converging on the stage against PTI.
Most significantly, the alliance has no alternative roadmap for establishing civilian supremacy and resolving the economic woes of the country, bringing down inflation, strengthening the Election Commission and ensuring law and order during elections without any role for the Army. The supervision of elections by the Army was basically the demand of all the parties which are now within the alliance. The point to ponder is how they would serve democracy by stopping Senate elections by resigning en mass from the Assemblies.