Monthly Archives: November 2009

Beware of dictators!

Bahawalpur has known disliking for dictators: Ayub Khan had sold its lifeline, Sutlej River to India, through Indus Basin Treaty of 1960; General Yahya Khan did not mention Bahawalpur province when he restored the federal units that had been clubbed into One Unit in 1955; Zia had allotted vast tracts in Cholistan to his favorites. Bahawalpur has attached high hopes with democracy: it should not only get firm roots but also be able to undo the doings of the dictators.

By Riaz Missen

Ayub Khan visited Bahawalpur on his election campaign. When he reached Chowk Fawara to make an address, city plunged into darkness. What he said was this: “Brothers and sisters, I have come to power through the stick I am holding in my hand not through ballot box. I have visited your city to tell you that it does not matter whether you cast your vote for me or my opponent (Fatima Jinnah)”.

Field Marshall Ayub Khan did win elections and became president of Pakistan. The landed aristocracy supported him. He allotted lands to members of Pukhtoon and Tareen tribe in Punjab and Sindh in an effort to promote national solidarity. He was the most powerful president of the country and, by this account, the most corrupt ruler Pakistan have had so far. Zia-ul-Haq went a step ahead — he hanged the first elected prime minister and never bothered to hold elections. Both are now the story of the past but the legacy they have left behind is still intact.

Anti-democracy forces have prevailed on Pakistan for most part of its history. Two decades passed without holding parliamentary elections. The civil-military bureaucracy developed a system that made the commoners to pay but receive nothing in return. “Why to count those who survive on the lowest ladder of social life?” the intelligentsia from the other side of the divide, often raises the question.  In a country where feudal, spiritual and tribal leaders rule the roost, democracy only helps them to assert their privileged position in the society. Each and every election has brought these souls to the legislative assemblies. While they have the power to decide, the only thing they do is to reserve every luxury for themselves and their clans.

The fact of the matter is that the division between dictatorial and democratic forces has been clear and visible since the times of country’s birth. The situation would have been different if anti-democratic forces would not have been supported from without. Had Ayub Khan not imposed martial law, the NAP would have swept elections. Had democracy stayed, it is problematic whether Pakistan would have joined the Western Bloc. Had Zia-ul-Haq not intervened in politics, the country would not have been used as a base camp to launch jihad into Afghanistan. Actually, Pakistan would not have been in a precarious situation as it is today, had military stayed away from politics.

It is actually welcoming that Hillary Clinton, during her much celebrated visit to Pakistan recently, given a pledge that the US would never support dictators and would rather, help the civilian regime to do away threats to democracy. Additionally, the political parties have made it clear that they would never be part of any exercise to derail the political system in vogue. Civil society, too, is not fragile today as it once used to be. Media is free and independent and is religiously guarding its freedom. The Left, which had gone to hibernation since Zia period, is coming to life again.

Still, democracy is not on the sound footings. Addressing the recently held meeting of party’s Central Executive Committee, Asif Ali Zardari, the co-chairman, said the PPP had always faced crisis whenever it was voted to power. He said the establishment’s hidden hands had become active again due to which rumors and propaganda regarding differences within various constitutional and state components were being deliberately spread under a well-organized plan.

Needless to say, political parties still have to organize themselves on the grassroots level and hold free and fair elections to elect their leadership; power has to be devolved not only to the provinces but also to the divisions and districts; and, above all, the revenue and justice systems have to be made transparent and fair to wear a pro-people look.

Though there seems no urge, from any mainstream political party, to revive land reforms scheme, the peasantry’s problem has to be resolved — its size has increased but not its possessions. The new lands have only been allotted to the retired civil-military bureaucrats. Unjust distribution of canal water and increase in the price of input has made them mortgage their lands with the ZTBL — there lands should not be auctioned, any more.

The most dangerous fall out of the consistent martial laws in Pakistan has been the absence of any policy for sustainable economic growth. Livestock and fisheries have been paid least attention so far. Deforestation has assumed alarming trend, which needs not only to be stopped but also reversed. Desertification of deserts like Cholistan is also a problem that needs to be tackled effectively by stopping further encroachments on them by farming communities.

Needless to say, many doings of the dictators need to be undone, once for all. The constitutional reforms should provide enough proof of that. The identity of the state needs to be adjusted with the requirements of the global age. When democracy has returned the ‘ideological burdens’ should be laid off. While doing so, the democratic forces should have clear understanding that if they want to keep military in barracks, the mullas also need to be confined to their traditional tasks.

According to Dr. Rasul Bakhsh Rais, the eminent political scientist, “Until the quality of democratic governance improves, the political and social conditions of the feudal age would continue to determine class and caste relations in our society. But once democracy and rule of law become consistent functional political patterns, a new political culture of equal rights would emerge that would provide for political space and institutional remedies to lower caste groups against discrimination and exploitation.”

Postscript

Bahawalpur has known disliking for dictators: Ayub Khan had sold its lifeline, Sutlej River, through Indus Basin Treaty  of 1960 to India; General Yahya Khan did not mention Bahawalpur province when he restored the federal units that had been clubbed into One Unit in 1955; Zia had allotted vast tracts in Cholistan to his favorites. Bahawalpur has attached high hopes with democracy: it should not only get firm roots but also be able to undo the doings of the dictators.

-Weekly Pulse

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