The missing democrats
On Saturday, the Pakistan National Assembly was dissolved after completing five years. This is an unprecedented achievement. Even under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, no democratically elected legislature had lasted for a full term. And the work accomplished by this legislature is in many ways truly remarkable. Not only have Pakistan's MPs restored the parliamentary character of the 1973 Constitution, but a whole series of constitutional amendments — starting with the 18th — have promoted federalism at the expense of Punjabi domination, significantly upgraded the independence of the judiciary, created a powerful Election Commission and introduced a procedure for conducting elections the democratic way, a procedure that implies the designation of a caretaker prime minister during the time of the campaign.
These amendments, which required qualified majorities, have been made possible by the collaboration of different political parties, including the ruling PPP and its old rival, the PML(N). This is probably one of the most interesting developments of the past five years. In the past, these parties' leaders had been so intensely at loggerheads that they did not hesitate to cooperate with the army to beat their enemies. Nawaz Sharif, a creature of the Zia regime, entered into a civilian-military pact with the army to prevail over Benazir Bhutto in 1990 and Benazir, 17 years later, had probably been convinced by the US to strike a deal with Musharraf to stage a comeback in 2007. Political leaders, apparently, have realised that this tactic was self-defeating and they have tended to join hands against the GHQ.
However, these achievements need to be qualified. First, the government has not been able to regain the upper hand over the military the way Z.A. Bhutto had, as is evident from the fact that the Chief Of Army Staff (COAS) Ashfaq Parvez Kayani vetoed all attempts by Prime Minister Gilani and President Zardari to establish their authority over the ISI. Second, the civilians have probably lasted five years because they have quickly resigned themselves to continuing to devote a huge percentage of the nation's budget to the military, and to let them retain the upper hand on policies regarding Afghanistan and the nuclear programme. The civilian government has also let them develop their own businesses.
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