Historically, Pakistan’s military has been blamed for impeding democratic progress in the country through continuous intervention and imposition of martial law on different occasions. However, the contribution of our democratic leaders towards the dismantling of democracy is always ignored. Owing to their immaturity and lust for power, these leaders have a record of hatching conspiracies against one another; creating a smooth path for military intervention.
In the aftermath of General Elections of 1977, Pakistan National Alliance (PNA), comprised of all religious parties and hit the roads to protest against election results. Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP), under the leadership of Zulifqar Ali Bhutto, won around 158 seats, while PNA succeeded in getting only 36 seats. To keep the wheels of democracy moving, Bhutto offered to hold re-elections against 30 to 40 seats, but the offer was declined. The PNA later demanded to impose Sharia Law.
In response to their wills, Bhutto banned alcohol, nightclubs and gambling. Still, they continued their protest. As a result, it gave an ample opportunity to the military ruler, Zia-ul-Haq, to impose direct military rule and damage the very fabric of democracy in Pakistan. Had PNA not created problems, it would have been difficult for the military to overthrow a democratic government. Afterwards, it took years to establish proper democratic rule again in the country.
The next General Elections were held in 1988 after the death of Zia-ul-Haq in a plane crash. This time, Benazir Bhutto led the PPP, and the coalition of around nine parties was formed against her, known as Islami Jamhoori Ittihad (IJI). The result of elections was in her favour. She won 92 seats out of 215, and IJI secured 54 seats. The most important leader of IJI was Nawaz Sharif, who served as Punjab Chief Minister during the Zia era.
Benazir Bhutto became Prime Minister, but the IJP formed the government in the most influential province of Pakistan, Punjab, with Nawaz Sharif as the Chief Minister.
Being a democratic leader, Mr Sharif created problems for Benazir Bhutto and employed each tactic to dissolve her government. It was due to the non-compliance of Punjab province that Benazir Bhutto failed to govern the country effectively, which led to the dissolution of democratic government. If Sharif or IJP had supported Benazir, democracy would have never been derailed.
Benazir Bhutto did the same blunder. She did not cooperate with Nawaz Sharif, the then the Prime Minister of Pakistan, and played a part in his removal in 1993. Both democratic leaders celebrated the ouster of each other from the government and distributed sweets among their supporters without knowing the fact that they were damaging the democratic progress in the country.
If Sharif or IJP had supported Benazir, democracy would have never been derailed
In 2006, both leaders realised their mistakes and signed the “Charter of Democracy.”Under this agreement, they agreed to not become a part of any strategy, which could derail the democracy in the country. The PPP and the PML-N remained stuck to this agreement throughout their tenure from 2008 to 2018. For instance, during the PPP government in 2008, although Nawaz Sharif had many reservations with Asif Ali Zardari, he did not stage a protest to remove him. He preferred to engage in a verbal war instead. Zardari followed the same line of action during the PML-N government that came to power in 2013 through democratic transitions. It was the only reason that democracy survived and blocked the way for undemocratic forces from grabbing the power.
Very recently, the PML-N and the PPP seem to be repeating the same mistake by extending their support to Moulana’s so-called “Azadi March” against the elected government of Imran Khan. They are diverting from their ideology to let the democratic governments move smoothly and remove any stumbling rock that stands on its way. Their support extended to Moulana does not augur well for the future of democracy in Pakistan. Any measure that obstructs the democratic progress must be avoided. Otherwise, it will create room for undemocratic forces.
Being the PPP chairman after the assassination of his mother, Bilawal Bhutto, must realise before extending his support for Moulana that his maternal grandfather and his mother were once the victims of similar tactics inflicted upon them from leaders of opposition parties. Instead of trying to remove Imran Khan, he must support him and recall atrocities being launched against the elected government of PPP in the past.
The PPP and the PML-N, being the two largest democratic parties, must ensure that the interest of democracy is put above the personal interest while taking any measure hinted against Imran Khan and his party.