Half the work in creating a sustainable democracy is getting major key players and parties to agree that democracy is the only option. Given Pakistan’s ill-fated relationships with martial law and military dictators, conventional wisdom expects that is where the country might return as it struggles with a plethora of terrifying challenges. Yet as they deal with a conspiracy theory driven punditry, a dark battle with extremists, and the worst natural disaster in Pakistani history, President Zardari and the PPP have accomplished a Herculean task. They have created an environment that respects and learns from Pakistan’s political history, and in doing so, rejects anything other than democracy as an option for our nation.
For example, the leader of the main opposition party, PML-N, Nawaz Sharif, has set a tremendous example by repeatedly declaring his support for democracy. He has been blunt and sincere in his statements, saying, “We should stress on reforming the government and if it cannot be reformed then we should talk of a change but through constitutional means instead of calling for a martial law (to get rid of a failed government).” That statement came in the face of another political party’s leader, Altaf Hussain of the MQM, calling for “patriotic generals” to take over the country.
Nawaz Sharif has been criticized by the right-wing fire-starters in the media, but the fact is the public can no longer respect such illogical claims. Pakistani people are coming to expect and demand more of their governments, provincial and federal, and democracy is the only way to meet their needs. It can then come as no surprise that the right wing has roundly slammed Nawaz and the PML-N, calling them “traitors.” Excessive hyperbole is their war chest; sadly, reason is nowhere to be found.
Over the past year and half, there have been more voices calling for a fair and free Pakistan. The Daily Times’ editorial board published a sharp piece titled “Support for Democracy” in which it profusely agreed with Prime Minister Gilani’s assertion that any change in administration through undemocratic means would be “dangerous.”
The movement for strong democracy in Pakistan received another boost, as our most recent military ruler (a man who once felt the judiciary was unnecessary and sacked judges he disliked, placed burdens on the press when not banning channels outright, and suspended the Constitution!), Gen. Pervez Musharraf, stated the democratic process was key to Pakistan’s success. He has announced his return to Pakistan, not as a military man, but as a civilian creating his own political party, the APML (the All Pakistan Muslim League).
Let’s take a moment to absorb this reality: the man who deposed an elected prime minister (the above-mentioned Nawaz Sharif) now casts himself as the defender of democracy as he said in a BBC interview:
“A time has come in Pakistan when we need to introduce a new political culture, a culture which can take Pakistan forward on a democratic path, on a correct democratic path, not on an artificial, make-believe democratic path.”
President Zardari has said that Musharraf has the right to participate in the political process. Affirming the wisdom of the people and trust in the political process the President declared that Pakistanis “know what is good and what is bad.” Of course how Musharraf will be received in Pakistan will be seen soon enough.
Many in Pakistan are waiting for an apology from Gen. Musharraf, for all the unconstitutional actions he and his administration carried out. This writer is skeptical about him ever eating a slice of humble pie, but glad he at least realizes a dictatorship has no chance in Pakistan.
We are at a new chapter in our history. It seems our leaders all across the political spectrum (liberal, conservative, err, former dictators) acknowledge that democracy is the only way to improve the overall quality of life for Pakistanis.
In the midst of the challenges, this is the glimmer of hope that keeps the civic-minded motivated to participate. After all, no other form of government would allow them that right.