Something to cheer

Pakistan has reached a historic milestone. For the first time ever, a democratically elected government has completed its full term in office.

Over the past 65 years, governments have met a premature end often at the hands of the military, which intervened in the name of ending corruption or instability. However, political parties too aborted the term of elected governments. During the 1990s, for instance, both the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), as and when in opposition, conspired with the president and the military to oust the government. Thus, both the Pakistan military and the so-called democratic forces proved to be murderers of democracy.

Few would have expected the PPP-led coalition to last out an entire term. The circumstances under which it took charge were hardly propitious. Its charismatic leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in the run-up to the general election. On several occasions over the past five years, the government seemed to be on the brink of collapse. Not a month went by without the threat of military intervention seeming possible. The survival of the PPP-led government is therefore no small achievement. Credit for this must go in part to the political agility of president Asif Ali Zardari. Despite his unpopularity among the masses Zardari was able to hold the government together thanks to his skill in reaching out to politicians. Importantly, the military, chastened by the inglorious exit of president Parvez Musharraf from the presidency,  seemed to prefer sitting on the sidelines this time around. However, this should not be interpreted as a change in the military’s heart and mindset. Rather, the generals seem to have preferred pulling the strings from behind the curtain instead of coming out in the open and facing public flak. With real power still in their hands, the generals preferred being puppet masters over the past five years. From the sidelines, they decided and directed Pakistan’s policy towards India, the United States and Afghanistan.

An interim government is now in place with Pakistan going to the polls in a couple of months. Later this week, Musharraf will return to Pakistan from self-imposed exile. It is likely that with his return, the military will feel energized to take on a more robust role in the general elections.

 

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