The highs and lows of the last year have politicised hitherto indifferent sections of society and created a new impetus for democratisation. This is a welcome development. But a democratic polity is built neither by dictator’s decree nor Supreme Court rulings. Of course, the ouster of the dictator and the restoration of the Supreme Court judges that defied him are both symbolically important, but neither should be confused with democracy and the creation of a rights-respecting society.
Today’s inauguration of the new National Assembly is being heralded by many as a new dawn in Pakistan’s political history. A grand coalition of the country’s major political forces will assume government shortly and its stated agenda, as enunciated by Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif on March 9, has won national acclaim.
For now, the army appears to have opted for a strategic retreat from the political arena. Its former leader, President Pervez Musharraf, though characteristically unrepentant and unashamed, nevertheless stands humiliated and diminished. It is a rare moment of vindication for the country’s political class, its democrats and its highly mobilised civil society.
But history teaches us that this moment is as fleeting as it is special.
It would be naïve to assume that one general election that threw up a politically credible result despite a massively flawed process has transformed power relations in the country. Pakistan remains a praetorian state structured and geared to service, above all, the needs of a military that remains every bit as convinced as ever that Pakistan’s national interest is synonymous with its institutional priorities and the preservation of its position as the final arbiter of political power and patronage. Continue reading