Senator Afrasiab Khattak: PDM’s First Rally Sets Stage for Challenge to Military Dominance’

Activists of the newly-formed Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an opposition alliance of 11 parties, gather during the first public rally in the eastern city of Gujranwala on October 16, 2020. (Photo by Arif ALI / AFP)

Pakistanis, like their neighbors in India and Bangladesh, have always favored democratic rule and every time there are free and fair elections, they have shown their desire for civilian political rule. For half of Pakistan’s seven decades, however, the military has ruled directly and even when democracy is restored, the military has remained the ‘state within a state.’

On Friday October 16, the combined opposition – including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Jamiat e Ulema -Fazl (JUI-F) and others held the first rally in Gujranwala, Punjab. The top leadership of these parties, including Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Maryam Nawaz Sharif, and Maulana Fazlur Rahman were present and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif addressed the gathering from London.

In a twitter thread, former Senator and Pashtun leader, Afrasiab Khattak expressed these thoughts:

“On the mammoth opposition Gujranwala jalsa, even after sleeping over it for some hours, the discussion is mainly confined to the hard hitting speech by the three time former PM Nawaz Sharif. But mostly political activists and a few journalists are taking part. Many others, still in disbelief, are waiting for the response of the “ other side” for taking a “ sustainable “ position. Opposition to and resistance against the army’s meddling in politics has been a taboo subject in Pakistan without much much substantive debate on it in public space. For example factors such as the youth bulge, growing urbanisation, expansion in middle classes, the social media revolution, contraction of civil liberties under hybrid system, and anger at the enforced disappearances at thousands of the country’s citizens at the hands of intel agencies haven’t been discussed in the context of growing opposition to the hegemonic control of the state power by the generals in total violation of the Constitution. Even before the recent speeches by MNS, the harsh words in the conviction order of the Special Tribunal against Gen Pervez Musharraf in High Treason Case also represent the pent up feelings against Bonapartist arrogance of the ruling juntas. Similarly any possibility of the power struggle within the de facto power centre hasn’t been part of public political analysis for obvious reasons, although private conversations on the subject have been full of long and juicy stories. In past, political leaders from the population wise smaller ethnic groups have attracted allegations of treason even for hinting at the army’s interference in politics. The courage of the young leaders of the PTM needs to be recognised in breaking silence on this subject in recent time and for paying the price for it. It’s for the first time that an established and experienced Punjabi political leader has stated the problem in clear terms. It sounds dramatic because the problem has remained a taboo subject for too long. It won’t be easy to discuss the subject rationally and dispassionately for two reasons. One, there are lots of pent up feelings among the general public and political parties against the prolonged and brutal repression of all kinds. Two, it’s not possible to know the thinking and debate among the top echelon of khakis on the democratic stand taken by all important pol parties of the country. It’s the duty of political parties to chart a course for struggle against Bonapartist dictatorship and study internal and international experience of transition from martial law to a strong democratic system. But entrenched vested interest aren’t expected to give up power without resistance. MRD’s charter and Charter of Democracy provide models for studying successes and failures of the experience. Turkey, Indonesia, South Korea and many other countries can be studied for exploring ways and means of a successful transition to democracy.”