There is still confusion at the official level as to who will be the next leader of Pakistan. On the one hand the army is at war with militants, but on the other hand politicians are busy in a power game. Now there is apprehension that Pakistan may face the same fate as Lebanon and Bangladesh. The power hungry politicians have not been playing the role as required from them. The country is heading towards complete anarchy. If this happens it will be dangerous for the whole world.
According to a newspaper comment: Lebanon has decided to accept the country’s army chief, General Michel Suleiman, as a candidate for the presidency. In Lebanon, an army chief has to spend two years away from politics before he can be elected president. Therefore, the Lebanese parliament, deadlocked for months and oblivious of the constitutionally ordained deadlines, has made a compromise and may now amend the Constitution to let the army chief be president. The man who vacated the presidential post in October was also a general, but General Lahoud violated the Constitution when he refused to hand over to the prime minister after his term expired.
Many in Pakistan will disapprove of this state of affairs. Lebanon is a democracy based on a complex system of representation. But with the decline of Arab nationalism and the rise of religion in the region, the confessional balance between the Christian-Shia-Sunni Arabs living in the country has given way to violence. The Shia majority in the country was backward at the inception of the state and was not given its true representation in parliament. And the Muslims were divided into Shia and Sunni by the “formula” of power-sharing handed down by the colonial powers. The president has to be chosen from among the Christian community, the Sunnis get the premiership and the Shias get the post of speaker of parliament.
General Suleiman became army chief in 1998, a year earlier than our General Musharraf and is now about to begin his presidential term in the same year as our own general is going to start his second. General Suleiman will retire before becoming president; General Musharraf kept his uniform on while functioning as president after a referendum. In both cases, a functioning “democracy” came under pressure for various reasons not identical in the two countries. In Lebanon, communities are in conflict with a lot of interference from outside. Because of the rise of militancy, society there has seen a lot of violence that reduced the country to civil war-like conditions, complete with assassinations of one another’s leaders.
Without going too much into the detail of how Lebanon is divided and is completely at the mercy of influences coming in from the neighbourhood, and how the 1975-90 civil war allowed Syria to occupy a part of it, one can simply state that the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, a Sunni, is backed by the US and Saudi Arabia, while the Shia community and its organisation Hezbollah is supported by Syria and Iran. After the civil war, an invasion of the country by Israel last year has further queered the pitch for any social contract among the communities living in Lebanon on the nature of democracy itself. A pluralist community needed a secular system, which the country had so far, but now it risks becoming non-secular.
In Bangladesh, a democratic system was working until now, although there were difficulties experienced at the hands of two personality-dominated parties which just couldn’t tolerate each other in power. So the world had to accept a military coup in Dhaka after decades of political instability and corruption that comes in when everyone becomes convinced that nothing will finally work. Bangladesh’s Constitution was better suited to democracy than Pakistan’s and there was even a provision in it of a neutral government on the eve of each new election. Unlike Pakistan, Bangladesh had no centre-province tensions, and there was no provincial sub-nationalism because there are no provinces in unicameral Bangladesh. Yet, there was unceasing violence. Like Lebanon, the parties tried to kill each other’s leaders. There was religious violence too which had gone to Bangladesh from Pakistan through the jihadi militias.
Pakistan shared some of the features of Lebanon and Bangladesh. Its two mainstream political parties misbehaved with each other and didn’t mind when their opponents were dismissed from government. In fact, there is evidence that they appealed to the army to topple the opponent’s government. In addition to this polarisation, which also exists in both Lebanon and Bangladesh, there was religious violence too. The sectarian side of it unfolded in Pakistan thanks to the relocated sectarian conflict in the Gulf region, Pakistan secretly fighting on the side of Saudi Arabia. Political Islam’s most lethal rift came out into the open in 1989 at the end of the jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan but erupted in full force after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the end of the Pakistan army’s pursuit of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan.
Now comes the point from where Pakistan is different. A new kind of conflict in Lebanon and Bangladesh seems to have just begun. In Pakistan, a general has retired and made way for elections. All the political parties are intact and the two mainstream parties which alternated in power in the decade of the 1990s are disenchanted with their past wrangling and willing to cooperate to prevent the army from interfering again. Civil society wants democracy and is willing to fight for it. Therefore it is time to come together and recreate the system that may allow us to fight extremism and address our deep-seated regional issues.