Winter 2005
Democracy's 9/11 in Pakistan
by Abbas Zaidi
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In Pakistan the media has been greeting Shuakat Aziz’s graduation from finance minister to prime minister with unrestrained euphoria. Newspapers and magazines have published editorials and opinions wishing him all the best. It was President-General Musharraf who wanted Shaukat Aziz to be prime minister. To comply with his desire the Pakistan Muslim League—General Musharraf’s political face and the ruling party—worked frantically to make Aziz prime minister. Both General Musharraf and the Pakistan Muslim League have been claiming that, since taking over in 1999 as finance minister, Shaukat Aziz has turned around Pakistan’s economy and that as prime minister his performance will be nonpareil. 

At this time perhaps it is worth asking: how many finance ministers have become prime ministers purely on account of their good performance? In Pakistan’s history no government’s claim of having worked economic miracles was ever disproved until it was replaced by another one. It is only by virtue of hindsight that Pakistanis have been able to find out that all previous governments’ economic growth figures were but hot-air bags full of statistical sophistries. 

Shaukat Aziz’s real or otherwise high economic performance can be put aside for a while because 28 August 2004 will be remembered as a sad day in the history of democracy in Pakistan, a day as sad as the one in 1979 when General Zia, General Musharraf’s dictatorial predecessor, hanged an elected prime minister. 28 August will also be remembered as the day of the death of the “power troika” that Pakistan’s journalists still write about: the president, the politician-prime minister, and the chief of the army. 28 August, a day when an imported bureaucrat—i.e., Shaukat Aziz of Citibank—joined hands with a general and some compliant politicians, symbolising the dismantling of whatever fragmented political structure Pakistan still had. Now the president and the army chief are the same person, the politician is out, and the prime minister is a bureaucrat. 

In Pakistan democracy has always been a weak institution. The role politicians have played in its poor maintenance is certainly blameworthy, but it is the army, in collusion with the bureaucracy, that has always ultimately undermined democratic rule. No prime minister in Pakistan’s history was allowed to complete his or her mandated term. The only exception is ZA Bhutto whom General Zia—Pakistan’s President, Army Chief and Chief Martial Law Administrator, all at the same time—overthrew and subsequently hanged. 

Nor is this the first time that an army-bureaucracy alliance has taken place. In the mid-1950s the army and the bureaucracy joined hands to create and strengthen the Generals Ayub-Yahya martial law regimes that began in 1958 and ended only in 1971 when Pakistan was dismembered by the secession of Bangladesh. In 1972 Pakistan did enjoy a democracy, but years of martial law had rendered the politicians ignorant of political wheeling and dealing. 

Then, in 1977 General Zia devastated Pakistan’s polity by staging a coup, suspending parliament and the constitution. His death in 1988 led to a temporary restoration of democratic government. But by then a highly politicised army and a Zia-groomed bureaucrat-president did not allow political institutions to flourish. From 1988 to 1999 Pakistanis were entertained by seven prime ministerial appearances, twice by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, and by three caretakers. 

Thanks to General Zia’s anti-democratic policies, a politicised army, an obsequious bureaucracy, a partisan judiciary, and any number of half-baked politicians (many of them retired army and air force generals), Pakistan has  not yet been able to recover from the damage that repeated army-led coups and governments have wreaked on it. Today Pakistan is one of the most violent, intolerant, and dangerous countries in the world. It was widely described as a failed state until the United States came to its rescue following 9/11. 

Although Shaukat Aziz’s own political capital and contribution to Pakistan’s politics and civil society are non-existent, his prime ministership is a message to the people that politicians are incompetent and unreliable, and that it is only the bureaucracy and the army—two intrinsically anti-democratic institutions-- that are capable of running the government. General Musharraf has time and again himself ridiculed politicians, and justified all the martial law regimes in Pakistan’s history on the grounds of national security. 

Meanwhile, the role of the nation's politicians has been less than useless. The majority of them are known principally for their cupidity and larceny. To them, staying ingratiated with the all-powerful army—AKA “Pakistan’s permanent government”—is more important than upholding the ideals of democracy and civil society. Currying the army's favor also happens to be a good way of dealing with their political rivals. No politician is allowed to take up an important office if he or she does not first get a green signal from the army. 

For example, in 1988 Benazir Bhutto had to hold repeated meetings with the army chief of staff before becoming prime minister. She was allowed to take office only after she agreed that she would have no control over Pakistan’s foreign affairs and the nuclear programme. Hence, in her cabinet the foreign minister was a retired general who had served General Zia in the same capacity.  She would typically draw a blank when asked about Pakistan’s nuclear status.

Nawaz Sharif, the last democratically elected head of state, was chosen and groomed by the army, then kicked out when he tried to assert his authority over the head of General Musharraf, the army chief at that time, now much more. Keeping an eye on the army’s stable of politicians-in-waiting can be an interesting spectator sport. Chaudhry Shujat, president of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League and a politician to the core, has been instrumental in Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali’s ouster so as to make way for Shaukat Aziz. Reportedly, General Musharraf had become sick of Shaukat Jamali's not behaving as he was told. Chaudhry Shujat’s was the loudest voice proclaiming that Shaukat Aziz would make a great prime minister. 

With Chaudhry Shujat's declaration, history repeated itself: in April, 1979 when the world was protesting ZA Bhutto’s hanging, Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi—a ZA Bhutto hater and popularly known as the army’s best politician- friend—implored General Zia to gift him the pen he used to sign off on ZA Bhutto’s execution order. Chaudhry Shujat is Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi’s son. He is also known as the army’s best friend among the professional politicians. His personal dislike of Benazir Bhutto—daughter of ZA Bhutto—is no secret. 

(Abbas Zaidi <manoo_95@yahoo.com> was editor of The Ravi (1985), Pakistan's premier and oldest academic magazine published by Government College, Lahore. He also edited Interface (1990-91) for the Program in Literary Linguistics, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. Zaidi has taught English Literature in Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan, and worked as assistant editor for The Nation, Lahore.)