Pakistan's troubled history has been dominated by power-hungry generals and mostly corrupt and incompetent politicians supported by a cast of cunning bureaucrats, pliant judges, invisible spooks, political fixers and middlemen, and biddable media persons. These well known 'pantheon of villains' thrived in an arbitrarily divided country where unrelated areas and peoples were just illogically and hurriedly joined together. They were helped by the framework of colonial laws and institutions which the country inherited which had been designed to exploit local divisions, not overcome them. The indigenously framed constitutions of 1956 and 1973 were either held in abeyance or run roughshod over, as too often state-building and nation-building took a backseat to personal ambition and enrichment.
While greed, avarice and the pursuit of power continue to drive the power brokers of today, there are signs of a balancing of interests among the main players in support of constitutional governance. If allowed to continue, this could result in a maturing of the political process and for self-cleansing mechanisms to develop over time. This is creditable for a country without a rich history or a culture steeped in a pluralistic tradition, a state and a society under threat from obscurantism and terrorism, struggling to define its identity and its place in the world after decades of poor governance, oppression and violence.The liberalization of the media in the last decade, the restoration of the chief justice, an orderly transition from dictatorship to democracy and the reluctance of the armed forces to step in when a democratic government is challenged have improved the political environment. Without doubt, a lot of work still needs to be done to institutionalize a balanced system of governance which is not dependent on having a 'democracy supporting COAS' and an "independent minded judge" like General Kayani and Chief Justice Chaudhry in pivotal positions.
As has frequently been the case in the past, any gains towards achieving a fragile constitutional balance may be reversed if the power brokers revert to a 'winner-takes-all' attitude. Take the case of Prime Minister Gilani who has been convicted and punished by the Supreme Court for contempt for his refusal to write a letter to the Swiss authorities asking them to restore corruption cases against President Zardari. Following the SC decision, surely it should be up to Parliament or the ruling party to censure or remove PM Gilani deeming him morally unfit to continue in office and also up to electorate in the next general elections to vote out the PPP from power if the party has plundered the wealth of the country during its tenure as is being alleged. It seems that the political opposition is showing immaturity and impatience by threatening extra-parliamentary means such as long marches and other forms of civil disobedience to have PM Gilani removed, thereby putting pressure on an elected government, which could lead to a possible derailment of democracy itself.
There are some in the media that have taken to characterizing General Kayani 'non-interventionist' posture as vacillation which goes against the simmering discontent in the uniformed rank and file of the armed forces against the widespread civilian loot and plunder. These elements under the guise of 'constitutional adherence' are even advocating the invocation of the infamous and much vilified 'doctrine of necessity' which should gladden the hearts of aspiring Bonapartists and their civilian fellow travelers who may want to ride the military's fatigues to power once again. In a country, where there is insufficient accountability of leaders, lack of transparency in government, inadequate checks and balances, non-adherence to the rule of law, absence of peaceful means to change or replace leadership and a lack of respect for human rights, political control by any means fair or foul becomes excessively important, and the stakes become dangerously high.
While good governance, fighting corruption and strict adherence to the rule of law are necessary goals they should be pursued through democratic means. Democratic governments help to guarantee political rights, protect economic freedoms and foster an environment where peace and development can flourish. Today, as never before, countries around the world are seeking to establish pluralistic systems of government in which political leaders are elected by the will of the majority to fixed terms of office, and exercise their authority within legal limits. This is a very hopeful trend which also bodes well for Pakistan's democratic future, because in the absence of genuinely democratic institutions contending interests are likely to seek to settle their differences through conflict rather than through accommodation.