THE STATE OF DEMOCRACY IN PAKISTAN: THE DEATH OF POLITICS IN PAKISTAN

It may be, instead of , delineating a chronological sequence of Pakistan’s political convolutions dating from Pakistan’s inception be more germane and apposite to lay out the salient political developments of the past decade or so. This may help us put into perspective the potential for democracy in Pakistan and also assess its prospects. Alan Konstradt’s assessment of the nature and drift of Pakistan has a contemporary resonance. He posits ‘Pakistan’s political setting remains fluid, with ongoing power struggles between the executive and the judiciary which could lead to renewed military intervention in the political system’ (Konstradt, 2010:2). Even though a degree of peace prevails between various institutions of the Pakistani state at this point in time, the fact remains that there is an underlying tension and clash between these with the judiciary and the executive at loggerheads with each other. The genesis of this institutional clash may be traced to the moment when former president Pervez Musharaf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999. It may not be inaccurate to say that Musharaf essentially choked and killed in Pakistan ‘From 1999 to 2008, Army General Pervez Musharaf ran the government after leading a bloodless coup unseating the elected government of Nawaz Sharif (Konstradt, 2010:57).

‘Musharaf assumed the presidency and later oversaw the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution greatly increasing the power of that office’ (Konstradt, 2010:57). ‘The proximate cause of Musharaf’s action appears to have been Nawaz Sharif s attempt to remove him from army ;leadership and prevent his return from abroad, but widespread dissatisfaction with Sharif’s authoritarian and allegedly corrupt regime are believed to have been important broader factors’(Konstradt, 2005:16). ‘Under a ‘Provisional Constitution Order (PCO)’, Musharaf declared a state of emergency, suspended the Constitution, and by special decree ensured that his actions could not be challenged in any court’ (Konstradt, 2005:16). ‘In August 2002, Musharaf took unilateral action in announcing a ‘Legal Framework Order(LFO)’ of constitutional changes. The most important of these provided greatly enhanced powers to the Pakistani presidency’ (Konstradt, 2005:17). The major constitutional change was a provision that allwedr the president to dismiss the National Assembly. Other controversial clauses meantr presidential appointments of military chiefs, and the formation of a military dominated National Security Council (NSC) authorized to oversee the country’s security policies as well as monitor the process of governance and democracy in the country(Konstradt, 2005).

‘Following the 1999 coup, the Pakistani Supreme Court ordered that elections be held in a period of no more than three years and the president set and held a poll date of October 10, 2002’ Opposition parties and many independent observers called the elections deeply flawed: widely asserted was that the military regimes machinations substantively weakened the main secular parties’(Konstradt, 2005:18). ‘Musharaf continued to remain concurrently as both president and chief of the army staff(Konstradt, 2005:23).’ Under Musharaf, Pakistan was converted from a Parliamentary democracy into a dictatorship where decision making was confined to a single person’ (Fruman, 2011:7). Musharaf co-opted a range of parties that included the Islamists and given the United States preoccupation with the ‘war on terror, his reign enjoyed the tacit blessings of the sole superpower. Undercurrents of disaffection and alienation with Musharaf’s rule were however building up. ‘ The first signs of organized opposition to Musharaf’s government emerged in 2005 with the formation of the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy which united fifteen political parties including the Pakistan People’s Party(PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim Leage(Nawaz),the two largest. A critical turning point came when the two former prime ministers and leaders of the PPP and the PML(N), Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif signed the Charter of Democracy(CoD)’(Fruman, 2011:12). ‘The opening for the two parties to launch their anti Musharaf campaign came on March 9, 2007, when Musharaf demanded that Iftikhar Choudhary , chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, resign. Choudhary’s refusal unleashed a wave of opposition that had steadily been growing and then found a cause that transcended partisan differences: the independence of the judiciary’(Fruman, 2011:13).’ From March 2007 to February 2008, an opposition movement of tens of thousands of Pakistani’s undermined Musharaf’s authority and eroded his support. The political partie were soon in the mix and led the quest for the return of democracy with the cause of institutional supremacy’ (Fruman, 2011:13).’ On November 28, in what was seen as a victory for the forces of democracy, Musharaf was forced to relinquish his role as the chief of the army and General Ashfaq Kayani took over as chief of the army staff’ (Fruman, 2011:13). In this melee, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. However elections took place regardless and political parties widely accepted the results (Fruman, 2011). ‘The PPP secured enough votes to form a coalition government at the centre and be part of coalitions in all provinces.

The PML(N) won the most seats in Punjab, the countries largest and most powerful province. Musharaf tried to cling to the presidency even after the elections but, ultimately, rather than wait for a vote on impeachment, he reigned as president on August 18, 2008. On September 6, PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari was elected president of Pakistan by the elected assemblies and the Senate’(Fruman, 2011:13). ‘In the fractious political climate that prevailed after Musharaf’s 2008 departure, the primary institutions of the state-the government, the opposition, the judiciary, and the military -battled each other for supremacy’(Matthews, 2011:2). The Zardari government operated in a ‘siege environment’ with vigorous opposition coming from the military, the opposition, the media and the judiciary(Konstradt,2010). ‘The Lawyers Movement, as it came to be known, was the first time that a mass movement succeeding in ousting both a dictator and electing a democratic government’ (Fruman, 2011:14).