The Greek philosopher Plato said, “The heaviest penalty for declining to rule is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself.” This quote perfectly applies to today’s Pakistan, where the masses are ruled by a visionless political elite and establishment.
On Tuesday the National Assembly nearly unanimously passed three amendments to the Army Act allowing an extension to General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s tenure as Chief of Army Staff. Though it was no surprise to see traditional power-hungry political parties like the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) voting in favor of the amendments, the way they did so actually surprised many. It was presented in the house hurriedly and got approved within a minute.
The only two members of the National Assembly who categorically rejected the bill were Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), who were not even allowed the right to raise objections to the bill. Meanwhile, the mainstream opposition parties PPP and PML-N succumbed to the pressure of the mighty military establishment, abandoning their vote banks.
However, the way both of those parties compromised was unexpected. After all, in a parliament where not even a single bill in favor of the relief of the masses’ suffering has been passed since the PTI government assumed power, the Army Act bill getting passed within a minute is a testimony that in Pakistan the parliament is a rubber stamp used for the benefits of the establishment while the parliamentarians are the puppets who are always available for sale just to remain in the power game.
The Army Act amendment bill passed by the National Assembly was passed by the Senate as well. This means the end of the romance the PML-N and PPP once had with the idea of anti-establishment politics. In fact, the PPP long ago strayed from the path of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto when Asif Zardari came to its helm of affairs. However, the PML-N was supposed to carry on the flag of civilian supremacy, as it was this party that created a narrative against the mighty establishment in Punjab, the very province that is considered the stronghold of the establishment.
Both Nawaz Sharif and his party were humiliated and even denied a level playing field in the last elections. Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz’ fierce speeches and her temporary defiance against the establishment were all in vain as the PML-N shamelessly surrendered and betrayed the masses by bowing down to the establishment. It needs to be remembered that the PML-N fought the elections on an anti-establishment narrative and emerged as the second-largest party in terms of seats and votes.
However, both Sharif and Maryam Nawaz again have proved that their politics is all about protecting the family business empire and their vested political interests. With the PPP, already a party of landlords, and PTI, a bunch of opportunist politicians gathered by the establishment, the question arises of what is the future of democracy – in fact, the future of Pakistan itself.
Three generations have been brainwashed and wasted by dictators like General Ayub Khan, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq and General Pervez Musharraf, and now perhaps the current hybrid martial law will swallow another generation. This means Pakistan will continue to live a hundred years behind the modern world, a country where democracy and media both will be controlled and with their help more captive minds will be produced.
The irony is that even the opposition is artificial and controlled; no single mainstream party has the ability to pose any genuine threat to the hegemony of the establishment. So the treason charges and singling out of dissenting journalists and intellectuals will not end, and this eventually will create a collective slave mindset.
This is why perhaps the U-turns by the PPP and PML-N will always be written as the blackest chapter in the political history of the country. Perhaps more than anyone else, Sharif and his daughter Maryam will always be held responsible for using the masses in the name of anti-establishment politics and revolution while they actually were protecting their own vested interests.
The worst part is that from now on Punjab, the country’s main political battlefield, will never trust any mainstream party’s slogan of revolution and anti-establishment politics, and this will only create more deprivation among that segment of the masses who actually have the ability to think and who trusted the PML-N to defeat the establishment on the power chessboard.
It actually is not political defeat that can suppress an ideology, but it is the end of a dream through betrayal that is lethal for a particular set of ideologies. However, the problem remains that the military elite, whether ruling directly or indirectly, have never been able to steer the country out of economic turmoil nor devise an independent foreign policy. Right now Pakistan is only playing the role of proxy for Riyadh and Washington, and with US-Iran tension rising after the killing of General Qasem Soleimani, perhaps a new proxy war is knocking on Islamabad’s doors.
Though so far the Pakistani military has maintained that it will stay neutral in the conflict between Washington and Tehran, we recently saw how Pakistan ditched Malaysia and Turkey at the last moment by not participating in the Kuala Lumpur summit on the instructions of Riyadh. So the problem remains that neither the current political leadership nor the military establishment has any solution for getting Pakistan out of the influence of the US and the Gulf monarchies by making its economy stable, or at least functional.
A country that spends most of its budget on defense and never shows any interest in human development of its own citizens can never get free of the grasp of global powers and maintain its sovereignty. Likewise, a political leadership that exploits the masses for its own vested interests can never bring democracy or pose a threat to the hegemony of the establishment.
For now, it is all over for the democratic forces as the dream of a progressive state with genuine democracy has been buried by the political leadership in the National Assembly. Perhaps someday a future generation may again find the courage to dream of a democratic and progressive country, but this generation will again bear the weight of broken dreams and promises.