Imran Khan has been accused of bowing to religious extremists in Pakistan. Photo: AFP/Aamir Qureshi
Imran Khan could well return to power in Pakistan, and the US must be prepared to deal with him. Photo: AFP / Aamir Qureshi

The accountability court in Pakistan has reserved the verdict against the ex-premier Nawaz Sharif in the two references and it will be announced on December 24. While Sharif awaits his fate, the noose around Asif Ali Zardari, former president and Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) co-chairman, is also being tightened – he and his aides have been accused of money laundering and corruption by the joint investigation team.

The year 2018 saw many ups and downs in the political discourse of Pakistan. The cricket star turned politician Imran Khan was sworn in as the 23rd prime minister of Pakistan in August. However, his electoral victory was tainted by allegations of pre-poll rigging and the mass manipulation of political proceedings by the establishment that backed him.

Why democracy is getting weaker

Wajahat Masood, a senior journalist and intellectual, told this correspondent, “This year was terrible; we saw victimization of political opponents in the name of accountability and the manipulation and engineering of the electoral process, which resulted in the demise of the already fragile and weak democratic system.”

He also was of the opinion that the establishment asserted more control and that Pakistan has reverted to the era of General Pervez Musharaf. Wajaht does not hold Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) responsible for the demise of democracy and blamed the forces who control the proceedings from behind the curtains. Wajahat maintains that Pakistani society was polarized on March 12, 1949, when the Objectives Resoultuion was passed, and it will remain polarized until we pave the way for the will of people to prevail over the will of selected institutions.

This correspondent asked Wajahat to explain the political polarization and intolerance in Pakistani society. He said, “As far as the intolerance is concerned, both society and the state are intolerant. We have seen that on many occasions. The state does not tolerate dissent. Look at the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement ( PTM) … they are termed traitors. What is their fault? Are their demands not constitutional? The PTM’s demand to bring encounter specialist Rao Anwar to justice is unjust?  The military-mullah nexus, which is 60 years old, has spoiled the political and social fabric of the society.”

Asked whether he was optimistic about the future of our country, Wajahat replied, “ I am not optimistic about the immediate future because the current paradigm is not capable of delivering on the economic front. Every institution has to draw the line about their role as per the constitution and sanity must prevail that the national interest can only be defined by the votes of the masses, not by the authority or the institutions.”

Senator Mushaidullah Khan, a close aide of Sharif and a senior leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, however, said he was optimistic about the future of the country’s democracy, despite his party being targeted and marginalized for not taking orders from the invisible forces. He said, “For me, the hope is that the masses are gradually becoming aware of the fact that the political proceedings are controlled and engineered by the invisible forces.

“There are members of civil society and journalists who are raising their voices and presenting the other side of the story by resisting the prevailing narrative. This means a lot and had Asif Zardari not toppled our provincial government in January at the behest of invisible forces, the outcomes of the Senate and general elections could have been entirely different despite the pre- and post-poll rigging.”

The current political paradigm is tailored to suit the establishment in order to serve its own interests

However, he is critical of the role of media. “I never expected the major part of media to accept the curbs imposed recently and I expected them to show resilience,” he said. “Probably the owners of media groups are more interested in profit-making. Though there are a number of journalists who still are raising their voices and losing their jobs, the larger part of media still remains hostage to the curbs.”

In a question regarding whether he sees any patch-up between his party and the establishment, he replied, “Nawaz Sharif never fought with the establishment, he only refused to take dictation and he had the courage to say no to the invisible forces in the process of decision-making. Every single ‘No’ of Sharif tilted the balance of power in favor of democratic forces and, as per the constitution, he was the chief executive of the country, so he did not initiate any rift or fight and he will stick to his principles of not taking dictation from anyone.”

He knows that the path his party has chosen is very difficult. He said, “Look, we know we have to pay the price for the path we have chosen, but this is the only way forward for Pakistan and democracy. The way Nawaz Sharif stood and remained firm in his stance against the invisible forces is unprecedented and in spite of being victimized, he is standing against all the odds. We know that you have to give greater sacrifice for the greater cause.”

Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, does not seem optimistic about the current political discourse. He told this correspondent, “The elections that brought PTI into power were tainted by pre-poll manipulation. The current government is behaving in an authoritarian manner. It seems we have gone back to the era of the 90s where corruption cases were used against rivals to help the political party in power and the establishment. The divisiveness off that era appears to be returning with a vengeance and is unlikely to benefit the country.”

The senior journalist and analyst Adnan Rehmat thinks that both the PML-N and the PPP are equally responsible for the weakening of democracy. Rehmat said, “Both the PML-N and PPP failed to help each other in strengthening the democracy and, ironically, they strengthened PTI and the security establishment. In the end, the judiciary and establishment became overtly politicized and politics became more militarized.”

Keeping in view the opinions of these journalists, intellectuals, and politicians, one thing is certain and that is that the current political paradigm is tailored to suit the establishment in order to serve its own interests. Democracy has been mocked and the large chunk of the population has, through the establishment and mullah nexus, been made to believe that democracy and political leaders are corrupt and responsible for every ill and problem of the country.

For the world, it has been a century of advancement in the social and political domains where nations are learning the fact that the less the state intervenes in the manipulation of the political discourse the more it is beneficial for the economic and democratic progress of the country. However, Pakistan is not yet ready to get out of the self-created paradox that only serves the purposes of the establishment and keeps the masses in a state of delusion by feeding them self-created glories and hatred towards adopting the modern concepts of state and democracy with the help of propaganda propagated through a large section of the media, textbooks and the religious wing.

Imad Zafar is a journalist and columnist/commentator for newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, and political, policy and media related think-tanks.

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