We don’t get it, do we?

Ayaz Amir

India goes to the polls and the world notices. Pakistan plunges into another exercise in authoritarian management and the world notices but through jaundiced eyes. Are we so dumb that the comparison escapes us? Riding the slogan “India is Shining”, and convinced that favourable winds were blowing his way, Atal Behari Vajpayee called elections five months before time. After tendering his resignation he will have all the time in the world to figure out how he got it so wrong. Pundits will also have enough time to wipe egg from their faces. No one had predicted this outcome. Such is the beauty and vibrancy of democracy, especially sub-continental democracy.

Both of our countries began from the same point and with the same trappings. Yet what a distance separates us now. Indian democracy is an established thing while we are still at the stage of defining what kind of democracy suits us. In India, if Pakistanis haven’t noticed, the Chief Election Commissioner is who he is and no one dare meddle in his affairs. In Pakistan the Election Commission gyrates to orders from above. It’s not a question of personality. Pakistan’s current problems are rooted in the collective genius of the military and its reluctance to conduct an orderly withdrawal from the political arena. In fact we are witnessing something new, not so much the military dominating other institutions as the line between the military and civilian spheres blurring altogether. The regime wants to be impregnable and in power forever.

The Generalissimo wants to keep wearing his uniform although he knows he’s promised to take it off. He’s unhappy with the prime minister and would gladly see the last of him but has no idea who to replace him with. The presidential camp wants nothing to do with the PML-N or the PPP. It’s also unhappy with the Mullahs of the MMA. It is not even happy with its own creation — the Q League. What these conflicting desires have produced is a unique creature neither animal nor bird. A dispensation half-military, half-democratic, half-presidential, half-parliamentary, which when it cannot walk or fly elicits the muttered remark, “...damned politicians”. What have politicians got to do with this mess? Whenever a military strongman puts the Constitution in an icebox and blows his whistle, there is no shortage of politicians, led invariably by figures from Punjab, in a mad scramble to take service under military rule.

But politicians aren’t the only collaborators. According to the unvarying script of military rule, the first collaborators are judges, lawyers and journalists. Politicians come afterwards when military rule matures to the point of wanting a political façade.

The chain of collaboration, however, doesn’t just go down. It also reaches up. If all of them collaborate with the military, the military has always seen its deliverance in collaborating with the US. It’s no different this time. The military expects and gets docility from the people. It shows an extreme form of docility to the US, all in the name of the national interest.

I suspect the great drama of democracy next door leaves many Pakistanis with a sense of sadness because it’s a reminder of what their country is missing out on and where it has gone wrong. But bad times are not irreversible. We can still pick up the pieces. But on one condition: only if the army does its own thing and leaves government and politics alone.

Ayaz, a columnist for Dawn, writes for THT from Islamabad