How Military Nurseries Produced Pakistan’s ‘Democratic Warriors’

Posted by Ahmed Quraishi on Apr 23rd, 2010

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Read how a veteran of a military government in Pakistan [1977-1988] explains the democratic credentials of Pakistan’s democratic warriors.

Sunday, 18 April 2010.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—Military-led governments in Pakistan have failed in creating long term stability and fostering national identity, like the ruling party did in China.  This failure is well known. But Pakistan’s destructive politics can’t end without understanding another major failure: How Pakistan’s democratic elite is really not democratic at all.

Forget about building a great country and a healthy and prosperous people, Pakistan’s political elite divides Pakistanis by language, sect and violent politics because it has nothing else to offer in exchange for getting elected.  And with the new amendments to the Pakistani constitution, which strengthen family-run dictatorships within parties, there is hardly any chance that the able and the willing among 170 million Pakistanis will ever get a chance to lead their homeland.

In 2008, these politicians got themselves elected in the name of democracy. But even that credential is questionable.

Retired Lieutenant General Faiz Ali Chishti, who played a major role during the military-led government of former President Gen. Zia-ul-Haq between 1977 and 1988, gave an interesting insight earlier this week in Lahore into the relationship between failed politicians and military coups.

His remarks are important because he said several things that are new and must be noted.


Mr. Chishti said that “Several (democratic) champions became leaders while sitting in the laps of army generals.”   He listed them as follows:

  1. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan [Benefactor: Field Marshal Ayub Khan].
  2. Nawaz Sharif, former Prime Minister of Pakistan [Benefactor: Gen. Zia-ul-Haq]
  3. Altaf Hussain, the exiled British-Pakistani leader of MQM [Benefactors: Gen. Zia-ul-Haq and Gen. Pervez Musharraf]
  4. Jamaat Islami [Benefactors: Gen. Zia-ul-Haq and Gen. Pervez Musharraf]

The irony is that all of them claim that Pakistan’s military should not be involved in major internal decisions when necessary but they never explained why they accepted military help in ascending to power in the first place.  Interestingly, despite being discredited as failed and inept, these politicians keep getting second and third chances thanks to the military’s failure to introduce real reforms after every coup. [Also thanks to frequent US and British meddling in our politics for their own objectives. Unfortunately, the Pakistani military has so far been unable to prevent it and, under Musharraf, even took it to new heights!]

Moreover, Pakistani military has maintained an unwritten alliance with this failed political elite, always handing power back to it after every intervention without any attempt to open doors to middle and lower-class Pakistanis to participate in running their country, especially when they have proven to be more creative in taking Pakistan forward in many areas.

One example is Gen. Musharraf, who came to power with a promise to inject new faces into a stagnant system. Eight years later, he not only failed to do that but ended up restoring some of the worst failed politicians back to power as his replacement.  The only credible new political face from the late Musharraf period is Member of National Assembly Marvi Memon.  To be fair to her, she was a late entrant who proved her mettle on her own in the two and half years since Musharraf’s departure. With her patriotic and inclusive views, a large segment of Pakistan’s younger generation identify with her. But she stands no chance of moving up in a system designed to keep people like her from exercising real power.

Mr. Chishti pointed out another irony that exposes the duplicity of the present political elite in Pakistan.  An independent Election Commission is what stops military interventionists from legitimizing their rule.  So if someone wants to stop future military interventions being endorsed by the country’s courts and parliaments, creating such an independent election commission is the first step. But strangely, despite all the noise over the recent constitutional amendments, called the 18th Amendment, none of the political parties pushed for an independent election commission.  The reason is that an independent election commission would also enforce democracy within the parties, challenging lifetime party presidents and ‘chairpersons’.


He said the decision to impose military rule, or Martial Law, is never a personal decision of one man but a collective one of the Army High Command and is a result of full spectrum assessment of the state of the nation.


Since a military coup is not a one-man-show and hence there is no question of personal ambition, then the right question to ask, says Mr. Chishti, is ‘Why the military intervenes?’ He suggests that tackling the reasons would reduce the possibility of such interventions.

Wise words. But they are falling on deaf ears. The mother of all ironies is that when Pakistan Army has a chief who has gone out of his way to support democracy, and even rescued it on a couple of recent occasions, Pakistan’s democratic warriors are leading the country to a grand national failure of epic proportions with their failure to perform.

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