Threats to democracy


Mahmood Achakzai, leader of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP), made some ominous prognostications in a speech before the National Assembly (NA) on Thursday, cryptically warning parliament that “clouds” were massing on the horizon that threaten the democratic system. His enigmatic statements seem to refer to reports of friction between the military and the government that have so far turned out to be more hype than reality. While some politicians were worried by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri’s insipid calls for ‘revolution’, very few believe they pose a real threat to the system. The only possible usurpation of democracy in Pakistan is by military intervention, but the army is too stretched by fighting to run the country too and after the Musharraf years does not seem to have the stomach for the task either. Former COAS General Ashfaq Kiyani proactively tried to keep the military away from politics, as far as such a thing is possible, while current COAS General Raheel Sharif does not seem to have ambitions of that nature. Public opinion is vehemently against military intervention, and international opinion is arrayed against coups. Why then did Achakzai make his obscure remarks that were so well received in the NA, and what threats does he see to democracy? There are several possibilities. 
The first is that he is privy to information that we are not, in which case, in the spirit of democracy, he should let the public know precisely what he is talking about. Democracy requires full disclosure and it begins in parliament. Further, if he does believe the military, or any other group, poses a threat to democracy, then why not just come out and say it? One can hardly stand up for democracy if one is too afraid to name the forces threatening it. What is a political alliance against “anti-democratic forces” going to be arrayed against if no one knows what the threat is? The other possibility is that he was not referring to any state organ, but to the actual threat against democracy posed by extremist and terrorist groups in Pakistan. However, as a supporter of the current government he stood behind negotiating with those forces, while the government’s acceptance of sectarian outfits in its political heartland is a badly kept secret. It appears unwilling to move against these or tribal area militants that want to turn Pakistan into a theocracy. The defence of democracy is nowhere less evident than in the murder of Shias and Ahmedis who are citizens of this country. The only other possibility is that like many other ‘democrats’, Achakzai is living in the past and unable to see the political contours that define Pakistan today. This is a distraction from the threat to democratic government that the ineptitude and short-sightedness of the political class represents. Karachi is under siege, the country’s survival is in doubt, hence instead of chasing ghosts, Achakzai and company would do better to become competent and leave worrying about democracy to the people.  *

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