Among the South Asian countries, Pakistan has the second largest population after India. Both the countries got independence from the British Raj with a difference of one day in August 1947. While India has earned the distinction of becoming a secular state and one of the largest democracies of the world, Pakistan has spent most of its time under autocratic rule, both military and civilian. Despite being a frontline partner in the war against terrorism, it has been the worst victim of extremism as well as terrorism itself and this has ruined the social fabric and kept economic development at the lowest ebb.
The younger generation often wants to know the reasons for the continuity of democratic rule in India and Pakistan staying under military rule for a very long time. They also wish to understand the logic behind the ‘Charter of Democracy’ that was signed between two of Pakistan’s largest political parties, PPP and PML-N. There exist two opposite opinions about the CoD: one, it is an understanding reached between two political parties to avoid yet another military rule and, two, under the prevailing geo-political situation, the superpowers wish to keep the reins in the hands of elected representatives rather than supporting any military rule.
Some cynics say that political parties have learnt a lesson assassination of three elected Prime Ministers i.e. Liaquat Ali Khan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (his followers prefer to call it a murder) and Benazir Bhutto. They also believe that PPP and PML-N now regret lack of understanding among themselves which led to dismissal of the governments of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto twice. Nawaz Sharif has earned the distinction of being elected prime minister for the third time after the assassination of the charismatic leader, Benazir Bhutto.
Analysts watching geopolitics of the region closely believe that superpowers install and topple regimes around the world to pursue their foreign policy agenda and Pakistan is no exception. The most talked about personalities are Anwar Sadat of Egypt, Benigno Aquino of the Philippines, Saddam Hussain of Iraq and General Zia ul Haq of Pakistan. All these political leaders were assassinated once the missions assigned to them were accomplished. To this list, names of Indra Gandhi, prime minister of India and two Prime Ministers of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujeeb ur Rehman and Zia ur Rehman could also be added. Sri Lanka has also been a victim of this tyranny.
While it is almost impossible to analyze Pakistan’s history spread over six and a half decades here, one point is very clear – that the three military rulers were installed by the superpowers to maintain their hegemony in the region. The rule of General Mohammad Ayub Khan (1958 to 1969) was facilitated because of the cold war. At that time Pakistan was made part of the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) and the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), US-led defense pacts against communism. After the fall of Dacca, Pakistan had no option but to pull itself out of SEATO during the regime of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and CENTO died its natural death in 1979. At one time, the USSR was highly annoyed and wanted to attack Pakistan because US spy planes were using an airbase located near Peshawar to snoop over the Soviet Union.
The second military regime of Zia ul Haq (1977 to 1988) was support by the US in the name of averting a Soviet attack on Afghanistan, termed an attempt by the USSR to get access to warm waters. The Afghan war, spread over nearly a decade, was fought from Pakistan’s GHQ and religious parties were given money to prepare the breed of Mujahedeen, now often referred to as the Taliban.
Once the decision was made to pull out the US-led troops in the belief that the USSR had been defeated, the entire military junta of the time became redundant. Zia ul Haq and his close generals died when their plane was blown up. The killers were so desperate that one of the youngest and most outstanding ambassadors of the US and a Brigadier General also died as they were travelling with Zia ul Haq and other generals on the plane.
It is often said that General Pervez Musharraf took over after a failed attempt of the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif to get rid of him by not allowing his plane to land in Pakistan. But some cynics say Nawaz Sharif provided an opportunity to the military to topple his government. The superpowers may not have liked Pervez Musharraf initially but he became their darling after he decided to become a partner in the US war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Pervez Musharraf got ‘red carpet’ receptions in the US and other western capitals for being their frontline partner in ‘war against terrorism’. He was kept in power till the decision was made to withdraw the majority of NATO troops from Afghanistan by 2014. To give legitimacy to his rule, general elections were held in Pakistan. His exit from power looked a little strange to those who are not familiar with ‘conspiracy theories’. Some critics say he had also become redundant like Zia ul Haq.
The formation of an elected government under Pervez Musharraf was a replica of the elected government led by Mohammad Khan Junejo, which was termed a ‘legitimization of the Zia regime’ but an unceremonious dismissal of the Junejo government opened the Pandora’s Box.
Pakistan’s joining hands with the US during the Zia era to repel the USSR and fighting a proxy war in Afghanistan gave various ‘gifts’ to the country. These included – religious extremism, drugs and arms. The presently prevailing precarious law and order situation in Pakistan can be termed as a combination of these stated elements. The democracy as prevalent today is also a hostage of these elements.
Some political analysts say that during the latter part of his regime and prior to the general elections, Pervez Musharraf was advised by the superpowers to join hands with Benazir Bhutto to ensure continuity of democratic rule in the country as this would also prolong his rule. Prior to her landing in Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto was told to join hands with Pervez Musharraf.
But there were serious differences between Benazir Bhutto and Pervez Musharraf. She was later assassinated and her widower Asif Ali Zardari replaced Pervez Musharraf as the President of Pakistan. It looked like a reenactment of the assassination of Benigno Aquino in the Philippines and his widow Cory Aquino becoming president of the country.
Though, the inference is highly sordid but the fact is that politicians in Pakistan know it very well that if they wish to come to power, they have to pursue the agenda of superpowers and their local supporters. It is often an elected or autocratic government but it remains in power due to the external support that includes financial assistance from multilateral donors like IMF, World Bank and Asian Development Bank or arms supplied in the name of ‘maintaining minimum deterrence level’ against Pakistan’s enemies.
Pakistan has survived many odds but the recent phenomenon of growing extremism, sectarian killing, elimination of political opponents and even the killing of doctors and academicians seems part of the grand agenda to plunge the country deep into anarchy. If the road to democracy leads from here, then it is quite a rough trail.
The Article was originally published in South Asia