Towards a stronger democracy

Published: November 30, 2012
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The fact that civil-military issues can be discussed is a welcome omen; it opens up more space for civilians and for views that were long considered taboo in a largely closed society. PHOTO: NNI/FILE

The fact that civil-military issues can be discussed is a welcome omen; it opens up more space for civilians and for views that were long considered taboo in a largely closed society. PHOTO: NNI/FILE

Given the troubles our country has faced in the past, with much of our history dominated by military rule, we worry constantly about the state of democracy. However, there are occasional, encouraging signs that it might, at last, be beginning to grow just a little stronger and a little more firmly entrenched in our soil. One such sign came on November 28 with the public hearing by the Defence Committee of the Senate on civil-military relations. The three-hour long discussion was a detailed one, with reports stating that problems inherent in the delicate relationship were brought up, rather than just being brushed over. It seems then that the Committee has carried out an exercise that went beyond cosmetics. The fact that such issues can be discussed is a welcome omen; it opens up more space for civilians and for views that were long considered taboo in a largely closed society, dominated by the military and the constant fear of intervention by it.

The Fact

Though that fear has not vanished completely, the mere fact that the issue is being discussed with calls made at the hearing for more ‘direct dialogue’ marks an important step forward. The Senate discussion was attended by 26 people, including seven parliamentarians. Former defence secretary Salim Abbas Jilani, former corps commander of Rawalpindi Lt Gen (retd) Salim Haider and analyst Hassan Askari Rizvi all spoke as a variety of ideas came forward. Persons who had held key positions in the past spoke of how military leaders were consulted on matters that went far beyond defence.

Rizvi, an experienced academic, warned that things would not change immediately; that military action disrupting civilian control could take place even now. This is something all of us would have to agree with but just the fact that the matter has been openly spoken about at Senate level marks a change in itself. It may represent a key step along a road that can finally lead to greater transparency and stability in our system of governance, allowing all institutions to work together while remaining within the spheres defined for them by the Constitution.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 30th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (7)

  • wonderer
    Nov 30, 2012 - 6:58AM

    Pakistan should amend its Constitution to specifically make army intervention in politics a crime. Once this is done there will be much less to worry about.

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  • Mirza
    Nov 30, 2012 - 9:41AM

    It is a good omen but still too little too late. That is why the rightwing military supporters hate democracy and civilian rule. Like all democratic countries the army should be totally under the elected govt and stay away from politics and populism. The armies are to obey the laws not abrogate the constitution and commit treason at the first opportunity.

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  • Nadia
    Nov 30, 2012 - 9:00PM

    Democracy is, of course, about much more than holding regular elections. It is about ensuring that all citizens get a fair chance when it comes to civil liberties and economic opportunities; it is also about freedom of speech, a right to due process, and the accessibility of democratic choice to all. But at this moment, in the context of Pakistan, it is about compromise and restraint, more than anything else. In time, we should demand and expect all those things that a democracy promises, but for now, we must let a civilian government finish its first full term followed by free and fair elections. The situation demands that we let the country take this first step on the long and winding path to maturation of democracy. Yet, the Supreme Court may not be in a mood to relent and let the political process mature unencumbered. It already seems inclined to disqualify another prime minister in a possible contempt of court case. Furthermore, the court’s recent remarks on the workings of democracy are alarming. Remarkably, the Chief Justice of Pakistan asserted that the supremacy of parliament is ‘out of place in the modern era’. Given the backdrop of the disqualification of an elected premier, these are troubling comments that the country could do without.

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  • gp65
    Nov 30, 2012 - 9:18PM

    @wonderer: “Pakistan should amend its Constitution to specifically make army intervention in politics a crime. Once this is done there will be much less to worry about”.
    How so? SOmeone has to enforce the constitution. Musharraf said constitution was a piece of paper. While other military dictators may not have said as much tey certainly treated the constitution the same way. Which IG of police would have dared to arrest Musharraf and prosecute him? Which judge would have been willing to try and sentence him? Did the present judiciary lumiraries not take the oath under PCO which was against the constitution?
    What about Malik Ishaq? Who dares sentence him? Do we not know why Qadri’s judge had to leave the country?

    The letter of the law does not protect anyone. It is the will of the people that does so. When people arose in the pro judiciary movement in 2007, things changed.

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  • wonderer
    Nov 30, 2012 - 10:36PM

    @gp65:

    Yes Madam, you are right.

    What I had in mind was the actions of judiciary. If that provision is there in the constitution, the judiciary will not be able to do what they have done in the past; justifying army take overs as a necessity to save the nation.

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  • gp65
    Dec 1, 2012 - 12:03AM

    @wonderer: “@gp65:

    Yes Madam, you are right.

    What I had in mind was the actions of judiciary. If that provision is there in the constitution, the judiciary will not be able to do what they have done in the past; justifying army take overs as a necessity to save the nation”.

    In that case no change is needed. The Supreme court has already ruled that Doctrine of Necessity is not valid. The judiciary can rely on that precedent. The question is that if such a situation presents itself in the future, will the judges who areon the bench at that time have the courage to resist? They may or they may not. It would all depend on thewil of the people. If they see people distributing sweets as happened in 1999, they would expect no support from common man and likely fall in line. This is why it is upto the people of Pakistan to ensure that democracy is not derailed.

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  • Manoj Joshi India
    Dec 1, 2012 - 5:09PM

    There is a strong, sincere and qualitative effort in progress within The Islamic Republic of Pakistan towards strengthening their democracy that is still at a relatively nascent stage. The growing understanding between the Civil and Military establishment is a sign of improvement that indicates that changes within Pakistan are not simply cosmetic but on a much deeper front. This development is not a single days job but a long drawn affair which should take yet another ten to fifteen years or even twenty years to reach the level of maturity. The present government after having completed their term in 2013 will be succeeded by the next government for the next five years which can be of the same party Pakistan People’s Party or the Pakistan Muslim League however efforts towards deepening the roots of democracy will have to continue within Pakistan and insurgency as well as terrorism will have to be crushed. The need to make the society more progressive is equally essential as this is the basic factor that is needed in the growth of any democracy and special care with regard to the interests of the minorities will have to be taken. A step by step approach is the answer wherein the economy of Pakistan too needs to be improved for the stability of the nation. Hence as The Islamic Republic of Pakistan ushers towards a stronger democracy care is needed to be taken on social issues and the economy and society within Pakistan needs a metamorphosis.

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