Can the Charter of Democracy Save Pakistan’s Imperiled Democracy?
- Author Fahad Afzal Mughal
- Published July 20, 2023
- Word count 981
Pakistan, a nation known for its tumultuous political history, stands at a critical juncture in its democratic journey. As the challenges to democracy persist, a pressing question weighs heavily on the minds of many: Can the Charter of Democracy (CoD) Save Pakistan’s Imperiled Democracy? However, before we embark on exploring this crucial inquiry, it is imperative to shed light on the period following April 9th, 2022, which marked a turning point, witnessing the erosion of democratic norms and the consolidation of power within undemocratic forces. Pakistan’s democratic foundations have been undermined, leaving the nation grappling with crises in various spheres. The economy is in shambles, with skyrocketing inflation, unemployment, and dwindling foreign reserves. The justice system is plagued by allegations of interference, compromising its impartiality and undermining the rule of law. Moreover, Pakistan’s foreign policy appears uncertain and lacking direction, further exacerbating the country’s challenges on the international level. These prevailing circumstances have raised concerns about a possible shadow of a military coup, casting an uncertain shadow over the future of democracy in the country.
In a surprising turn of events, instead of focusing on the charter of democracy, a worrying trend has emerged within the political landscape of Pakistan. All political parties, including the military establishment, seem to be pursuing a “minus one” formula, with the aim of eliminating former Prime Minister and Chairman Imran Khan from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party and from the political arena altogether.
On the 9th of May, 2023, a flagrant incident unfolded as Imran Khan was reportedly apprehended unlawfully from the premises of a court. This operation, characterized by questionable circumstances, set off a chain of events that intensified the already volatile situation. Subsequently, individuals purportedly affiliated with influential forces orchestrated protests within military cantonments, leading to the destruction of military equipment. These actions are being used to target and crack down on the PTI and its supporters, resulting in the arrest of over 10,000 party workers, including senior leaders, women, and even toddlers. This coercive approach is aimed at either forcing PTI members to defect or pressuring Imran Khan to abandon his political career and leave the country.
The aftermath of these developments witnessed a wave of defections from the PTI camp, with more than 50 ticket holders opting to leave the party. A significant number of them have since joined a recently made new (Military establishment-backed) political party called Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party (IPP). This political realignment has given rise to concerns regarding the erosion of democratic principles and the manipulation of the political landscape for vested interests.
“Suffrage is the pivotal right.”
Susan B. Anthony
The continued marginalization of renowned and passionate political figures in Pakistan, exemplified by the tragic assassination of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, has failed to address the deep-rooted challenges plaguing the nation. It is disheartening to witness the repetition of history without learning from its bitter lessons. The echoes of a potential return to a Zia-ul-Haq-like regime reverberate, raising concerns about the direction in which Pakistan is headed. In stark contrast, our neighboring country is steadily marching towards becoming the world’s fifth-largest economy, boasting impressive foreign exchange reserves of $700 billion. Meanwhile, we find ourselves grappling with a meager $5 billion, compelled to surrender our assets as a means of begging for support. Astonishingly, after half a century, nothing has changed. We remain stuck in the same quagmire, with our constitutional machinery paralyzed and the aspirations of our people unrealized.
Ironically, it’s a paradoxical situation that the very parties that once joined hands to sign the historic “Charter of Democracy” on May 14, 2006, find themselves in power today while witnessing the perpetration of acts of brutality under their rule. This charter was meant to be a symbol of resistance against military rule, a commitment to upholding the rule of law, and the restoration of Pakistan’s constitution in 1973. However, it is disheartening to observe that these same parties now appear to support the establishment of military courts and the implementation of undeclared martial law. This stark deviation from the principles they once championed raises questions about their commitment to the spirit of democracy and the values they vowed to protect.
The Charter of Democracy, which seeks to promote democratic values, protect individual rights, and ensure a level playing field for all political parties, is all the more relevant in these tumultuous times. It provides a roadmap for cultivating a democratic culture, upholding institutional independence, and fostering an environment conducive to free and fair elections. The adherence to the principles enshrined in the charter is essential to restoring trust among political stakeholders and preserving the democratic foundation of Pakistan.
Should the CoD be reaffirmed and implemented with unwavering commitment, it could serve as a unifying force for political parties to reclaim the democratic spirit of the nation. By upholding the principles enshrined in the CoD, political parties can demonstrate their steadfast dedication to democratic values, institutional integrity, and the safeguarding of fundamental rights. The CoD’s provisions can illuminate the path ahead, emphasizing the significance of free and fair elections, an independent judiciary, and a vibrant civil society.
Last but not least, the prevailing shift of focus away from the charter of democracy and towards the pursuit of a “minus one” formula raises serious concerns about the future of democracy in Pakistan. The alleged crackdown on the PTI and the subsequent formation of a new political party backed by elements within the military establishment undermine the democratic ideals that are crucial for the progress and stability of the nation. It is imperative for all stakeholders to reflect on the importance of democratic principles, the protection of individual rights, and the preservation of the rule of law. By reaffirming its commitment to these principles and upholding the values enshrined in the Charter of Democracy, Pakistan can strive towards a stronger, more inclusive, and resilient democracy that truly represents the aspirations of its people.
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