The war on terrorism has badly shattered the women, particularly those living in tribal areas situated on Pak-Afghan border. We have been denied all basic human rights. Now the tribeswomen are happy that democracy is being introduced in Pakistan, but we still have concern as to whether the role of women will be recognised or not. Presently, the terrorists have been ruling our areas. We want liberation from them as now living under their rule is almost impossible for us.
A woman writer of Pakistan discussed the situation in Pakistan. According to her, the year 2007 has come to a bloody and traumatic close in Pakistan. Its last days saw the incredible cost borne by those who chose to fight for democracy even amid dark fears and chilling threats. While Benazir Bhutto may have sacrificed her life in the valiant quest for democracy, the question Pakistanis must confront in 2008 is whether our country can truly bear the burden of a democratic system of governance?
In questioning this possibility, I am not asserting that democracy is not a valuable goal or that Pakistanis are in some way ill-suited or unworthy of a government that recognises and reflects the popular will. Far from it. Democracy is undoubtedly a venerable system of governance which could well flourish in Pakistan, if it is not routinely overturned by the military. My concern is based on the circumstantial challenges faced by Pakistan today. Consider.
In the year 2007, nearly a thousand Pakistanis died in suicide bombings. Several hundreds more were injured. Scores of shops were burned by religious extremists and young women and girls leaving their homes were increasingly subjected to acts of religious vigilantism.
In July of this year, two itinerant religious leaders held hundreds of students and a traumatised nation hostage to their particular breed of religious obscurantism while military forces laid siege to their mosque complex in the country’s capital. As I write this, military forces continue their operations in the Waziristan agency of the North West Frontier Province and the Taliban have given them two days to leave their territory. As any Pakistani knows, terror justified in the name of religion has imposed a deep and exacting cost on Pakistanis regardless of their ethnicity or economic status. .
In his book “How Democracies Lose Small Wars?” Gil Merom unravels the logic of democratic governance during wartime. Merom’s thesis is a simple one: strong democracies, where power is divided into sub-branches of government and governance is carried out through consensus and compromise, are often unable to make quick decisions required to win small wars. In other words, the basics of democratic governance such as debate over legislation, the requirement of several branches of government to supervise military spending as well as other safeguards built into the system to prevent unilateral decisions all become obstacles when it comes to quick and effective decision-making during wartime.
Merom’s intent is avowedly not to advocate recourse to military dictatorship in times of war, but rather to emphasise the weaknesses of a democratic system of governance when it is required to achieve limited objectives such as victory against terrorist groups.
Appraising the realities of Pakistan, and the grim conclusions of Merom’s thesis with regard to the capacities of democracy places a unique burden on Pakistanis fighting for democracy.
First, it forces us to consider whether democracy in its quest for consensus can truly be sustained in an environment devoid not simply of institutions that would nurture it, but also beset with an enemy which cannot be defeated roundly during the quest for democratic consensus.
Second, democratic politics with its attendant contestation, opposition and unavoidable chaos cannot be carried out in an environment where participating in any form of public political activity amounts to risking one’s life.
Finally, when the life of one of the most prominent political leaders in the country is unceremoniously extinguished in a blatant act of violence by an unabashed perpetrator, little hope exists for a meaningful expansion of political space that would truly result in representatives of the people being afforded the chance of governing the country.
Given this set of circumstances, and without falling prey to the normative prescriptions such as an independent judiciary, a venerated Constitution etc that we all agree “should” exist but are not in reality found in Pakistan, the time has come to reconsider the ubiquitous quest for democracy as the perfect solution to all our problems. Such an assessment, while it should not in turn justify dictatorship or provide a case for the imposition of martial law, would allow for the achievement of several other immediate goals.
First, it would allow a necessary and smooth transition of power from the current beleaguered executive to a national consensus government that while not democratically elected could achieve the crucial task of developing a strategy that could secure the environment of the country. This suggestion, also proffered in the latest report issued by the International Crisis Group on the current situation in Pakistan would prevent further deterioration of the political situation in Pakistan and allow resources and energies to be focused on dealing with the security threats emerging from military operations being carried out in NWFP and the tribal areas.
Second, it would permit the development of political space in Pakistan such that when elections are held following a stabilisation of the situation, the consequent contenders are not handpicked or “permitted” by executive order but rather truly representative of the population.
Finally, it would deflect national attention from its singular focus on elections and the pro-democracy movement to acknowledging and taking seriously the threat posed to the Pakistani federation by terrorism.
Pakistan in 2008 is a nation maimed; its institutions destroyed, its leaders assassinated and its people dejected and ruled by fear. To restore the nation to a whole that can enable democratic governance the cruel and unthinking enemy that has unleashed its wrath must first be tamed.