Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Give Democracy a Real Chance in Pakistan

Give democracy a chance By Manzoor Chandio, Dawn, February 13, 2008

“TIN-POT dictators have ravaged Asia, Latin America and Africa. They are the worst tyrants of the post-colonial period. They have destroyed time-honoured institutions and treated their people like animals.

They have caused internal divisions and external confusion. The dictator is the one animal who needs to be caged. He betrays his profession and his constitution. He betrays the people and destroys human values. He destroys culture. He binds the youth. He makes the structure collapse. He rules by fluke and freak. He is the scourge and the ogre. He is a leper. Anyone who touches him also becomes a leper. He is the upstart who is devoid of ideals and ideology. Not a single one of them has made a moment’s contribution to history.”

This is an excerpt from one of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s letters to Benazir Bhutto written from his prison cell and published in a book titled My Dearest Daughter.

Bhutto’s views are as relevant and appealing today as they were 30 years ago. These are not the most inspiring of times for democracy and human rights and the battle for democracy continues to be fought in several countries of Asia, Latin America and Africa even today.

We have recently seen the overthrow of democratic governments in Thailand and Bangladesh, the crushing of monks in Myanmar and the stealing of elections in Kenya. There is disorder in Iraq and Afghanistan.

History teaches us that tin-pot dictators neither learn from history nor contribute to it. They don’t want democracy and always go against the will of the people.

They find it easy to work with coteries of self-seeking politicians to legitimise their regimes and their policies. They demonise political leaders to depoliticise society and import people without a constituency of their own to run the government. We have seen a couple of elections rigged in Pakistan and President Musharraf arguing that his people are not ready for democracy.

The brutal killing of Benazir Bhutto, suicide bomb blasts during election rallies and the suppression of democratic forces, civil society and the lawyers show that anti-democracy forces will not allow the people of Pakistan to take the best course for bringing democracy, federalism and constitutionalism to the country.

Ms Bhutto, who had the backing of millions of people, returned home from exile to join the battle the people of this country were waging against the rule of the praetorians. The charismatic leader could have galvanised the nation at a time when militancy seemed set to destroy the country. A civil war-like situation has already gripped the NWFP and most parts of the region are now split by violence.

The Feb 18 election will be a battle between those who have a gargantuan appetite for power and those who want the people’s dream of democracy to be realised to build a new Pakistan and a new federation.

The country is in the spotlight and elections are being seen as an opportunity for a transition to democracy and constitutionalism. It is time for a change, and proposals and suggestions are pouring in from abroad for the restoration of democracy.

Conspiracies and coups have usually been preludes to Washington’s interventions in the banana republics of Latin America and the Caribbean. One hopes the same is not the case in Pakistan.

The country faces a multitude of problems, including extremism. But why should we take orders from others to put our own house in order? In essence, the country needs to undergo a transition from military rule to a political system and this can be made possible through transparent elections that can help map out the future of democracy. This is ultimately the responsibility of the people of Pakistan, not external forces.

Over the years, questions have been asked about whether the integrity of the federation of Pakistan is in jeopardy on account of the growing disparity between the federating units. The people of the smaller provinces are blaming their bigger partners for their woes. They complain about the appalling inequalities between the provinces. It is time to remove this sense of alienation that has caused a sense of powerlessness and hopelessness to prevail and led to marginalised communities being rendered voiceless.

The people’s faith in Pakistan will never be restored unless the state institutions are opened to all groups of people to guarantee a hierarchal equilibrium. Seen against the backdrop of the Dec 27 reaction, the government should take sensible measures to prevent the volcano of anger from exploding. With the murder of Benazir Bhutto they have derailed the democratic process, but not the people’s appetite for democracy.

A myth has been created that Pakistan is a strong state held together solidly by the Pakistan army and the nuclear arsenal it possesses. If that logic is correct, why did the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia disintegrate? Why did East Pakistan separate?

Any attempt to manipulate elections or reject election results by the guardians of the old system can plunge the country into a crisis of a worse kind. So it is time to give democracy a chance before the country slides into anarchy.

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