P N Haksar, principal secretary and advisor to then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, had cautioned her from displaying excessive arbitrariness during confabulations in Shimla between her and then Pakistani President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in the summer of 1972, in an effort to bring durable peace to the subcontinent, in the aftermath of the Bangladesh liberation war the year before. For, if in the course of dialogues, India was excessively uncompromising, then Mr Bhutto’s newly-formed civilian government could have run into rough political weather in Pakistan. Fruitful discussions were thought to be better possible with a democratic regime, than with a martial law administration in Pakistan. More than four decades after that historic event, India’s bona fide hopes for the nature of Pakistan’s polity have not wavered. In between, much water has flown down the Indus.                                                 

Pakistan has evolved through military dispensation and fleeting democratic governance. In the complex, and conflict-ridden relationship between the two neighbours, it has been believed, and with enough reason, in India, that a stable democratic dispensation in Pakistan, would better respond to dialogues, because its nature of governance is more consensual, accountable, and better-oriented towards its subjects’ welfare than one under the jackboot of military rule. Today, there is a faint glow beyond the subcontinental divide; Pakistan seems to be gradually moving towards a democratic paradigm of governance, for the benefit of the region, and more important, its own stability and prosperity, and Indo-Pakistani relations.

However, the weakening of democracy in Pakistan has not been solely determined by its armed forces. Its political leaders have also had their share of culpability. Needless recrimination, political violence, greed for the loaves and fishes of power, and character assassination have marked the political firmament of Pakistan, almost from the time of its creation in 1947. What stands out in the Pakistani context is the nature and intensity of such acrimony. Unlike its eastern neighbor, India, Pakistan had no nationwide parliamentary democratic organisation to start spreading the tentacles of democracy after the end of the British Raj. Additionally, an alliance of senior bureaucracy, army, and entrenched landlords, created a perfect model for non-democratic administration. After Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan, no other leader of comparable stature or capability could cut through the authoritarian culture to usher in verves of democracy.

Today, there is a welcome unravelling of events in Pakistan, where, notwithstanding acute and grim challenges, its polity, at large, seems reconciled to the imperative of strengthening the roots of democracy. After creating history in making way for one democratic government to succeed another in the aftermath of the general elections, Pakistan seems poised to permeate the attributes of democracy and its attendant constituents of inclusiveness and consensus. Noticeable is the current Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s recasting himself in the role of a defender of democracy and a critic of military interference in civilian affairs. As if to prove himself as a harbinger of democracy, Sharif has spent the past five years in opposition, without trying to dislodge the previous PPP government of Asif Ali Zardari; furthermore, he had stood by it against similar challenges to it, which had earned his side the sobriquet of ‘the friendly opposition.’ In Pakistan’s scheme of things, it is a political anodyne, which has begun to heal its aggrieved socio-political framework, and evoking qualified expectations from India.

But, it is only part of the contemporary South Asian narrative. The enduring rivalry between India and Pakistan has entered its seventh decade; it rumbles, flares up, recedes, and rumbles on, year in and year out. The addition of non-state actors, that is armed terrorists, trained by Pakistan, is an ongoing deterrent to the peace and security of the region. Initially used as pernicious buffets against India, the terrorists have now gone somewhat beyond the control of the Pakistan government. Notwithstanding Pakistani benefactors, they have developed an awareness of their own importance and operate to the commands of independent leadership, and carrying out an indigenous agenda of rectifying perceived wrongs. Other than venting their spleen against India, acts of extremism have found an expression in Pakistan’s internal ordeals. The internecine violence between the Sunni-Shia sects, assassination of polio vaccination volunteers, alleged to be agents of international espionage, and fury against drone strikes by the American military in Pakistani territory, are all acts within the welter of extremism and hatred in Pakistan.

While democracy in Pakistan is in an incipient stage, the challenges it faces are replete with gloom and foreboding. One is tempted to term this potential beginning of the democratic era as the second liberation of Pakistan. But, for this contemplation to be credible, a genuine social, economic, and political liberation within Pakistan is an imperative. The entrenched feudalism which is deep-rooted in Pakistan needs reforms from within. Enlightened political leaders, even with a background of feudal ancestry, would do well to provide enlightened leadership and guide the impoverished and dissatisfied masses towards ameliorative socio-political environs.

A pointer to the expected changes is the declaration of the former Chief of Pakistani Army, General Kayani, of the importance for the military to continue to play a role in strengthening the democratic system of the country. Perhaps General Kayani alluded that it would be preferable for the country’s armed forces to gradually evolve to being more apolitical, and finally restrict their sphere of operations to the protection of and strengthening Pakistan’s defence. The enforced judicial summons of the former chief of Pakistani Army and the country’s erstwhile president, Pervez Musharraf, for alleged charges of treason, under a civil dispensation, with the Pakistani army as onlookers, is a testimony of the changing roles of the civil-military relations.

However, about 149 violations of the India-Pakistan ceasefire by Pakistan in the past year-more than the preceded eight years together – indicates that a perceptible control of and harmony in the working of all branches of the Pakistani government may be still some years away. But, the silver lining lies in achieving a diplomatic watershed where the DGMOs (Director General of Military Operations) of the two countries would meet each other and chalk out the parameters for continued peace on the entire Indo-Pakistan border. Notwithstanding the fluid situation in the subcontinental border, some relative calm is also discernible. The Karachi Stock Exchange’s rise by about 45 per cent and the betterment of Pakistan’s economic performance should give Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif greater political flexibility and credibility. It also provides opportunities for India to expand its business with Pakistan, albeit cautiously.

The prevailing political situation in Pakistan is encouraging; initiating mutual dialogues is expedient. Humiliating Pakistan has never been India’s motive. It is the creation of trust and confidence between the two nations.

Ranajoy Sen

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