Is Pakistan heading toward a Civilian Dictatorship?

Since the ousting of the government led by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) last year, Pakistan has kept declining economically and politically. While economically, the country is gripped by arguably the worst crisis in history, politically, the country has come down to a level where, at times, personal interests seem evident. Recent years have seen polarisation prevalent in every facet of the state. The surge of divergence among the political parties has led to uncertainty in attaining smooth political decision-making and difficulty in maintaining the rule of law. The country is witnessing a time when the interpretation of the Constitution is becoming more and more contentious. The current situation has evolved to the point where two essential pillars of democracy—the legislature and the courts—face each other over the elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). One of the surprisingly important aspects of this crisis is that it has been rather facilitated by parliamentarians, those who are meant to be the custodians of the masses’ confidence. The Constitution and its scope have come under debate in this entire political saga.

When it comes to thriving and progressive democracies and their institutions, elections are universally recommended. However, Pakistan is witnessing a scenario where the sitting government is apparently attempting to avert the possibility of an election in two major provinces. This situation points toward two critical reflections for a political observer. Firstly, avoiding polls may indicate the negation of “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. Secondly, it can be interpreted as the abrogation of constitutional supremacy. These reflections, as mentioned above, point to the idea that Pakistan might be gradually sinking into a civilian dictatorship where the notion of respect for the people’s aspirations and constitutional democracy would be a lost cause.

The current political dissonance has created a sense of alienation among the general public when, administratively, the country is facing food shortages, a rise in daily crime rates in big cities, and rampant unemployment.

The analysis of the present scenario reveals that the emergence of the third political force in the form of the PTI in the recent past has diversified the options for the people of Pakistan. In addition to it, the unprecedented stance of the PTI against corruption and the probable involvement of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in alleged corruption during their respective tenures have pushed them to create common ground against Imran Khan. Therefore, it seems as if the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) is trying to keep PTI out of power, even by avoiding the legal process of elections. On the other hand, since PTI has remained on the roads and among the people since last years, the political party may likely sweep elections if they are held as devised. It is important to note here that since last year, PTI has been the only political party whose popularity graph has gone up among the masses. It has been reported in several opinion polls in the country.

The heightened political crisis can be gauged from the fact that the parliament passed a unanimous bill to curtail the powers of the Chief Justice of Pakistan. Some segments assume the act is a likely pressure tactic from the executive to raise questions regarding the Supreme Court. However, the reversal of the election commission’s decision by the Supreme Court has concluded the debate by giving clarity and reinforcing the text of the Constitution, declaring 14 May as the election date. The wrangling among the two important pillars of government has brought the essence of democracy under much scrutiny. Considering Pakistan’s political history, it is not advisable to let this approach continue. Otherwise, non-democratic forces can take motivation from the overall situation where civilian forces seem unable to carry out the system of the country.

It can be said that the political affairs in Pakistan have morphed into the survival of constitutional supremacy following the Supreme Court’s decision regarding elections in 90 days. So far, the government has called it an unjust decision without entertaining the idea of hearing this case under full court. This unending war of clashing narratives has led the country to a point where the systemic collapse of each institution seems to be imminent. The current political dissonance has created a sense of alienation among the general public when, administratively, the country is facing food shortages, a rise in daily crime rates in big cities, and rampant unemployment.

In order to save Pakistan from further disruption, it is critical to bring normalcy through the conduct of elections nationwide. Only a new government can bring the circumstances under control, be it crime rates in cosmopolitan cities or job opportunities for the people. In addition, the full implementation of constitutional democracy will ensure progress and the continuation of the rule of law. No country in the world can stand in the realm of the community if its judiciary is barred from the deliverance of the true spirit of the Constitution.

Dr. Tauseef Javed

Tauseef Javed works at the Center for Strategic and Contemporary Research (CSCR) as a Senior Research Associate. He has completed his Ph.D. from Fujian Normal University in Fuzhou, China. His research focuses on US economic aid policy toward Pakistan, international relations, history, and area studies from an interdisciplinary perspective. He can be reached at tjsatti2018@gmail.com

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