A natural disaster, largely unavoidable, has provided a glorious opportunity to all those who have been hankering to reverse Pakistan’s fragile transition from an authoritarian to quasi-democratic rule. There is hardly a new script for the much-touted change and its proponents are using the same old tricks out of their worn out hats to prepare for a rollback of the democratic process. Therefore, the intense rumour-mongering, which has gripped Pakistani psyche over the last fortnight, is a tried and tested success formula: create the perception of change and then turn it into reality.
Even though Pakistan’s military remains unwilling to intervene, regime-change seems to be the flavour of the month. Ironically, this time large sections of the electronic media are hyperactive participants in the process, which is most likely going to push the country towards another man-made disaster. It is appalling to note that TV talk shows are focusing on extra-constitutional remedies. For instance, a Mr-Know-It-All anchor, whose acrobatics are well-known, posed a question to his (utterly uninspiring) guests to discuss the merits and demerits of the Bangladesh model and the so-called ‘General Kakar formula’. While the responses of the guests were entirely predictable, the most shocking response came from none other than former minister and Senator Iqbal Haider who has been a dyed-in-wool democrat. He confidently and at times vociferously advocated the ‘General Kakar formula’ which essentially relates to the intervention by the army chief in a situation where a political deadlock emerges. One had always sympathised with this reputed lawyer’s position on the problems with the way his former political party – the PPP – was led and managed but to hear pleas for an extra-constitutional intervention was shocking to say the least.
Senator Haider has also been the co-chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan – an organisation that has always resisted any role of the military in politics. If an experienced politician, a civil society activist, on an independent media channel, is calling for the military to intervene then it can be sadly concluded that whether the government survives or not, democratisation of Pakistan will remain a fanciful notion.
Pakistan’s electronic media is an arena for the talented middle-class; upwardly mobile personnel who directly cater to conservative sections of urban Pakistan. The latter have historically proved their anti-democratic credentials, showing a clear preference for authoritarianism. Whether it was Musharraf’s coup of 1999 or the judicial hegemony of recent times, this is a conglomerate that clamours for a messiah with a magic wand to fix ‘corrupt’ and ‘dirty’ politicians holding fake degrees.
It is still unclear how regime-change will be affected by the ardent, messiah-lovers on the idiot box. But it is amply clear that the political, economic and security issues of Pakistan are only going to get worse in the short to medium term if democracy is derailed. If the consensus on the 18th amendment is disrupted then the inherent cleavages of Pakistan’s federalism will re-emerge to haunt us all. It would be yet another irony of history that those who are discrediting democracy will suffer the most once the present constitutional freedoms and guarantees are lost. The media of course will be a major loser in this dangerous game.
Perhaps the adjudicators may also be humbly advised to read Pakistan’s history especially on what happens to ‘rule of law’ under dictatorships. Erosion of public institutions under authoritarian regimes is an undeniable lesson of our history. At a time when al Qaeda and its cohorts are eyeing Pakistan’s state power, what could be more suicidal than the current power-game cooking up in Islamabad?
This piece was published in The Express Tribune, under the title How to commit hara-kiri