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No room yet for democracy - The Indian Express

Kuldip Nayar ()
11 November 1996

Title : No room yet for democracy
Author : Kuldip Nayar
Publication : The Indian Express
Date : November 11, 1996

It is an open secret that Pakistan is run by a troika:
Chief of the Army Staff, Prime Minister and President in
that order. But whenever the Army Chief or the Presi-
dent, particularly, the former, has felt that the country
was not being governed according to his light, he has
taken the initiative to oust the Prime Minister. This
happened when Benazir Bhutto was dismissed during her
first stint. Nawaz Sharif met the same fate when he was
Prime Minister. The axe has again fallen on Benazir.

First the facts: Both Army Chief Jehangir Karamat and
President Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari were distancing
themselves from Benazir Bhutto. They did not like her
functioning and that of her husband, Zardari. The break-
ing point appears to have come at a meeting of the three
at Islamabad on October 21, a fortnight before the Bena-
zir Government's dismissal. The Army Chief felt chaffed
over Benazir Bhutto's "serious consideration" of the 30
per cent cut in the defence budget that the IMF had
proposed. Leghari was cut up because of the "orchestrat-
ed campaign of rumours" by some close associates of
Benazir Bhutto against him. His name had also been
dragged into the controversy over the murder of Murtaza

Benazir Bhutto is reported to have told the Army Chief at
that meeting that she was conscious of defence needs but
would have to go with the IMF part of the way in face of
economic difficulties. To Leghari, her reply was polite
but vague. She rejected outright the charge of her
husband's interference in government and in fiscal mat-
ters. But she did not take the hint the two tried to
convey. They wanted her to quit on her own. Leghari
sent her a letter containing the minutes of the meeting
for the record. While the Army Chief and Leghari awaited
her response, she went to town to warn the public against
the "conspiracy to derail democracy" in Pakistan. On
October 30, only four days before her dismissal, she said
at Larkana, where her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. was
buried, that a political coup was being attempted to the
country's detriment.

"Nobody can force me to resign," she said. This was the
first time when the people came to know about the pres-
sure being exerted on her to leave the government. At
Islamabad, she said that the press had reported that "the
President, General Headquarters, IMF and unseen foreign
powers were not happy with her". Things seem to have
moved quickly thereafter. She could have evaded dismis-
sal by submitting the resignation. But she preferred to
fight. Her proposal to approach the judiciary, which she
ran down earlier, indicates her intention to challenge
the dismissal order. It is ironical that Leghari, who
was her faithful follower three years earlier, should
have signed the order. Similarly, the military, which
banked on her to get US weapons, dumped her once an
exception to the Pressler amendment was made to release
arms for Pakistan.

The opposition is delirious. Indeed Benazir Bhutto had
rubbed it on the wrong side. Not many can forget or

forgive the treatment meted out to Nawaz Sharif's
80-year-old father. The arrogance of power, more than
the misuse of official machinery, alienated the best of
her supporters. When she arrived in Lahore from London
nearly a decade ago, hundreds of thousands throunged the
streets. Not even five persons gathered in the same
Lahore to protest against her dismissal. Her reputation
is sullied and her image looks shattered beyond repair.
How has the 'daughter of East', as she describes herself,
come to be consigned to history? She must ask this
question to herself.

A liberal, when he or she tries to placate the reaction-
ary, loses any appeal where the people are concerned.
This is what has happened in the case of Benazir Bhutto.
She compromised too often and too much and ceased to
represent the bold, the modern, the underdog - the atti-
tude which once made her popular. A fractured society,
as Pakistan is, tried to find refuge in a person who
looked like a meeting point. But she created more divi-
sions, some because of her mercurial temperament and some
because of political considerations.

It would be too simplistic to conclude, however, that the
exit of Benazir Bhutto would bring equanimity to Pakis-
tan. Some basic changes are necessary. The President,
elected indirectly like ours, has too much power con-
centrated in his hands. Gen Zia-ul-Haq had provided for
all the eventualities that the elected representation
might create for him. But he wore achkan over khaki. A
civilian president should not have emulated him. Still
Leghari and his predecessor, Ghulam Ishaq, followed the
example of a military dictator to throw out elected

The eighth amendment, which empowers the President to
dismiss an elected government, makes a mockery of democ-
racy. No government since the birth of Pakistan has been
allowed to run its full term. None has been defeated on
the floor of the House, as is the practice in democra-
cies. Benazir Bhutto is quite right when she says that
the President has no power to dismiss a house of elected
representatives. This was also the grievance of Nawaz
Sharif. At one time, both were willing to join hands to
annul the eighth amendment. They should do it now. The
President is a figure-head in a system where the Prime
Minister is elected directly.

Still the problem of the Army Chief calling the shots
will continue to stare Pakistan in the face. It is sad
but true that the army in the Third World, even when it
returns to the barracks, does not renounce its hold over
the government. Zia-ul-Haq even wanted a provision in
the Constitution to allow the armed forces to take the
reins of government whenever they felt that the country
was not ruled 'properly'. So long as the armed forces do
riot adopt an apolitical attitude, Pakistan will not
learn how to live with civilian representatives.

Even otherwise, the spirit and essence of democracy in
Pakistan is lacking. The country, as one Pakistani
intellectual puts it, "sustains and maintains a fully
operational feudalistic system which permeates through
the social, political and economic structure of the
nation". Neither Benazir Bhutto, who belongs to the
landed aristocracy, nor Nawaz Sharif, who is a rich

industrialist, realises that authoritarian feudal system
of governance gives way to despotism and dictatorship.
They must find ways whereby the sever-eighty stays with
the people.

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