Genuine democracy alone can save Pakistan

Unless Pakistan becomes a democracy accountable not to the military but to the people, the country has no future, writes Prof. Madhav Das Nalapat


It is difficult if not impossible for a citizen of India to feel any sympathy for the plight former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi find themselves in. While in office, Khan was a willing, indeed an eager, accomplice of GHQ Rawalpindi in the depredations that the military establishment in Pakistan committed on India, while Qureshi was an unrepentant apologist for that very military.

Unsurprising behaviour, as all Pakistani policy towards India is tightly controlled by GHQ Rawalpindi, with no leeway permitted for the captive civilian government. The generals pretend as though the civilian leaders are the arbiters of the destiny of a state that was created out of the vivisection of India in 1947.

However, very often the mask slips and the fact of military control becomes patent. Notwithstanding his past, it is clear that remnants of self-respect exist within Imran Khan, who as a consequence rebelled against his role as a puppet of the Chief of Army Staff.

Whenever a politician appointed to high office by those in uniform starts to become more popular than the military establishment in the public mind, or worse, begins to behave in the manner that elected governments do in functional democracies, out they go.

Benazir Bhutto paid the price of dismissal as a consequence of her rising popularity and global prominence, while Nawaz Sharif dared to presume that he as the Prime Minister and not the Corps Commanders of the Pakistan army had the right to choose the next Chief of Army Staff.

Or in other words, the right to reverse the undemocratic power imbalance prevailing between Chiefs of Army Staff (COAS) and Prime Ministers in Pakistan since the 1950s. Earlier, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto chose the most fawning of the generals around him as the next COAS. It did not take long for the subservient Zia-ul-Haq to turn vindictive towards his civilian benefactor and to send Z.A.

Bhutto to prison for harbouring delusions of superiority over the men in khaki uniform, and to later execute him on the charge of murder. Imran Khan, who has become by far the most popular politician ever in the tortuous history of Pakistan, forgot that it was not the population at large that counted in the councils of the country, but the Army.

To his credit, Imran seems unbowed in the face of the persecution that he has faced since that day in 2022, when at a rally he brandished a telex from a Pakistani diplomat based in Washington that warned that the Biden administration wanted Imran Khan out of office as Prime Minister or else severe consequences would follow.

By that time, Imran had become expert in grovelling before the PRC, and in demonstrating his loyalty not to GHQ Rawalpindi but to the General Secretary of the CCP, Xi Jinping. None of such obeisance by Imran Khan moved Xi Jinping to do anything to protect Imran from the fate that awaited him, an extreme lack of gratitude for past favours that has become a standard feature of the Xi dispensation in Beijing.

Where the CCP is concerned, Prime Ministers are dispensable in a way that Chiefs of Army Staff are not in Pakistan. In a court proceeding where the former Prime Minister’s own lawyers were excluded, and where the lawyers representing him were in effect chosen by the prosecution, it was no surprise that Imran Khan was found guilty of revealing to the public the very same “state secrets” that were dismissed as fabrications by the Pakistan military in 2022.

This was when Imran first disclosed that a US administration official had warned a Pakistani diplomat based in Washington to tell the “establishment” (GHQ Rawalpindi) to dismiss Imran Khan or face severe consequences. The removal of Imran Khan followed shortly thereafter, and a few days ago, he and Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the then Foreign Minister who handed over the diplomat’s telex to then Prime Minister Imran Khan, were sentenced to a prison term of ten years each.

Subsequently, Imran and his wife Bushra to a further period of fourteen years’ rigorous imprisonment each in jail, allegedly for having purloined a wristwatch that had been given to him as a gift. Nowhere other than in Pakistan or North Korea does a former Head of Government face such a long prison term for allegedly keeping a watch that was given to him as a gift rather than handing it over to the state treasury.

Incidentally, it has been common practice in Pakistan for such gifts to get replicated by cheap copies, with the latter being handed over rather than the actual gift. If a standard similar to that used for Imran Khan were to be enforced across Pakistan, almost every serving politician, civilian official and military officer would be in jail together with Imran.

As for his wife Bushra, she never held an official position in the Pakistan government, thereby making her incarceration an even greater miscarriage of justice than what was meted out to Imran Khan and his one-time Foreign Minister. Self-described human rights warriors, who waste little time in routinely characterising India as a dictatorship, have kept silent throughout the many decades since the 1950s, when Pakistan first became a uniformed dictatorship.

It morphed into an often camouflaged autocracy ever willing to do any number and type of dirty tricks for its foreign paymasters, especially against India. It is a measure of their hypocrisy that presumed human rights warriors, who in actuality function as part of the armoury of the Sino-Wahabi alliance, have not deigned to notice such examples of indoctrination of hate as school textbooks in Pakistan that demonise the Hindu faith and the community in general.

Such abuse is used together with texts instilling an outlook based on religious exclusivism and supremacy. The misdeeds auxiliaries of the Sino-Wahhabi alliance claim are happening in India are applicable not to the world’s most populous democracy but to the military-ruled state next door.

Corps Commanders and their nominee, the COAS at GHQ Rawalpindi, expect Imran Khan to follow the example set by Nawaz Sharif and fall at their feet, begging forgiveness for the effrontery of believing that a civilian Prime Minister has authority over the military and the state machinery. Should such a genuflection not happen, the odds are that the populace in Pakistan, especially the Pashtuns and the Baloch, will grow ever more restive.

The treatment given by the GHQ-run establishment to Imran has lost for the military any shred of respect that the population was having for that parasitical, authoritarian force. A state that was founded on the false claim that Hindus and Muslims are two nations rather than the same people is foundering as a consequence of military dictatorship.

Unless Pakistan becomes a democracy accountable not to the military but to the people, that too a democracy where followers of all faiths are treated equally, the country has no future. It will implode, no matter how many pieces of silver get flung at the generals from those outside powers that have for decades used the country to carry out their dirty work on others, whether these be against Afghanistan, India, Iran, Bangladesh, Nepal Sri Lanka or elsewhere.

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