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National

August 14, 2018

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Happier tidings on 71st birthday

Pakistan’s 71st birthday -- August 14, 2018 -- shall remain a landmark event in the chequered history of the country as the beginning of a second decade of democracy against heaviest external and internal challenges. Notwithstanding its roller-coaster journey onwards, doomsayers predicting otherwise, we as a nation can take pride that whatever the shortcomings of the system, we are moving on the track chosen for us by our founding father Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. We may not have fully accomplished his vision of a social welfare state based on the sure foundation of secularism and Islamic social justice with equality for all -- irrespective of caste, creed, colour or gender -- we can stand reassured that we are moving on the target. Evolutionary process as it is, our wheels though grinding slowly, are going forward.

We have had elections third in a row. We shall be witness to transfer of power on the basis of vote and not through extra-constitutional intervention -- a third time. The country that came into existence through vote, shall be democratically addressing national issues, political, security and its socio-economic problems with substantive support from across the political spectrums. Though many participants in the polls were not happy over what they call questionable conduct of the Election Commission marred by allegations of pre-poll rigging and engineering, favouring what critics call the party of puppets on chain yet they all agreed to honour the sanctity of the new Parliament by participating in it and not boycotting it as was suggested by some of the parties unhappy with the results. The PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari took the lead by announcing that no more politics of dharna, let political issues be settled on the floor of the Parliament so that space is not given to other institutions to act extra-constitutionally as an excuse to topsy-turvy democratic applecart. It is good to know that even PTI that emerged as victorious as single largest party has conceded to the idea of a parliamentary commission to probe into allegations of gross malpractices during the conduct of elections.

The run up to July 25 elections was not easy. It was a path strewn with thorns. We had waddled through extremely stressful times. One elected prime minister had been shown the door by the apex judiciary on charges of mega-corruption igniting a sort of war of words between institutions and individuals. Often it seemed that the situation had reached a point of no return, hanging at the edge of precipice. It appeared that things would go out of hand, Bonapartists would intervene and the long struggle for the restoration of democracy waged by martyred leader Benazir Bhutto, who gave her life along with sacrifices of hundreds and thousands, would be rendered into an exercise in futility and we shall be back to square one up fighting yet another battle to save the ‘langri-loli’ democracy that we had managed through trial and error, blood, toil and tears.

In the first five years we managed to survive all kinds of hiccups, impediments, high oil prices, domestic terrorism helped by external forces and a megalomaniac chief justice on the rampage with anti-democratic, PPP-centric judicial activism aided by intrigues such as Memogate and external violation of our territorial sovereignty when the Americans came in hordes, invaded garrison town of Abbottabad, killed Osama bin Laden, hijacked his body and precious documents. It was the democratic government in power backed by a sovereign parliament that took a stand on Salala mayhem by the Americans by stopping Nato supplies to Afghanistan without a proper apology and compensation for the martyred.

Second five years with new elected government and a strong prime minister saw the beginning of a confrontationist politics --an imminent clash between institutions that finally ended up in a legal battle that culminated in removal of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on charges of mega corruption. Not only that, the most apprehensive aspect of the game that got unfolded was aimed at undermining the Constitution especially the 18th Amendment that empowered the provinces. However, moving from one crisis to another, more serious than the previous, daunted by gerrymandering and political engineering of powers that be -- finally elections were held and power is in the process of being transferred to PTI and Imran Khan as the prime minister of the country.

It is satisfying to note that despite orderly disorder, the reconciliatory spirit of the Charter of Democracy -- a legacy of martyred Benazir Bhutto lingers on. Her political heir PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has even suggested all-party talks to revise the CoD so that its fault lines are removed to usher in a genuine consensus-based polity encapsulating participatory democracy at the grass root level. Frequent interventions by Bonapartist elements have left behind huge debris that needs to be mopped up by democratic dispensation.

The main objective of Benazir Bhutto's Charter of Democracy was -- to foster, nurture and nourish a democratic culture of tolerance, peaceful co-existence irrespective of caste, creed, colour or gender, with equal opportunities for all sans interference of religion and bigotry, ensuring rule of law, consensus-based polity and transparent and across the board accountability to strike at the roots of corruption and mal-administration that have been gnawing the moral fibre of our society over decades. In order to move in the right direction, we shall have to as a first measure democratise our political parties since it is only after that our call for democracy will have "the requisite moral strength that it needs” to thwart the illicit machinations of vested interests and anti-democratic forces. It is heartening to note that we are gradually adapting a democratic culture with an independent judiciary and a vibrant media though currently under stress. As poet philosopher Allama Iqbal said -- ‘Manzil e Ma Dore Naist, Teez Tar Gaamzan’ (Our goal post is not far, lets sped up our steps).

The author is the former high commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.

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