The News on Sunday speaks to senators to understand political freedoms in Pakistan
Senator, Pakistan Peoples Party
Political parties in Pakistan are not enjoying the freedoms guaranteed in the constitution. The state started demonising them since day one – soon after the death of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. In the current situation, the role of political parties is being further curtailed. The space the parliament held within the democratic process has been systematically taken away. The parliament is tottering – it is on the verge of being dysfunctional. Actions are being taken to threaten political parties and their leadership through different means, for instance using the National Accountability Bureau. I do not condone corruption. But the institution is being used for selective accountability, which appear to be no different from political victimisation.
There are efforts to turn Pakistan into an Egypt-like state. Political parties are fearful because their workers and leaders are being nabbed, and there is no progress in their cases for weeks and months. The element of fear, as used by the state, already exists if we see the history of the country. Party workers go missing or are called traitors for raising voices. Moreover, political parties have also moved away from their ideological positions. Given this background, their workers are no longer ideologically motivated. A culture of corporatisation is being seen in political parties, which is further widening the gulf between the leaders and the workers. The political process is almost frozen under these circumstances, further weakening political parties.
Senator, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz
Article 19 of the constitution guarantees freedoms of expression, speech and the press. But today there is a yawning chasm between what is professed legally and what is practised actually. I remember my days as Editor of The Muslim, which was a voice of resistance to General Zia’s military regime in the 1980s. I coined the term ‘officially-certified truth’ to denote regime propaganda as opposed to facts. I also coined the term ‘establishment’, to refer to the military regime, as a code word for the khakis. I would say the political class, particularly the parliamentarians, has had much more freedom to say and do what they want, although many politicians and the press now resort to self-censorship out of fear. The culture of resistance has been replaced by a culture of retreat and acquiescence, reflecting the corporatisation of politics and the press. Big money sadly trumps big ideals. Another unfortunate off-shoot of this fear factor is the resurgence of what I call ‘political tribalism’. Instead of the commonweal, we end up retreating to our respective clans: lawyers, doctors, khakis versus muftis – each defending their respective clans with a near tribal outlook. Yes, political actors are more fearful of demanding political freedoms, unless it’s their person, family or clan. It wasn’t like this even during the darkest days of martial law.