Why Punjab needs democracy?

 

Sometimes it is important to look back and see where we had been a while ago, where we wanted to go a while ago and where we were wrong? Following is an Op-Ed column from the Dawn archives of 2007. Have a look on how were the apprehensions despite the hang over of a “successful movement by the people”. 
(Dawn encounter, Oct 20, 2007)
By Abdul Khalique Junejo
PAKISTAN is undergoing a change, without any doubt, unprecedented in its 60 year existence. A change that is substantial, visible and irreversible. This change is affecting, and will continue to affect, the patterns of politics, the working and behaviour of the state and the overall development and conduct of Pakistani society. Symptoms of the change can be seen in the hard-earned freedom of press, new-found independence of judiciary and above all rejuvenated masses and their rekindled passion for politics and their enhanced awareness of and interest in state affairs.
Many would look for the causes of this change in the role of some individuals and credit different persons for this –– Nawaz Sharif, Pervez Musharaf or Iftikhar Muhammad Choudhry. Without denying the importance of the role of personalities in impacting the shape of things, the forces behind this profound change have also undergone a change in the recent past.
The past political movements didn’t bring about any significant change in the state apparatus or society as a whole because they were neither aimed at doing so, nor were they able to do so due to the composition and character of the people at the helm. All the earlier movements, barring one, were initiated and led by feudals and/or mullahs who are both intrinsically anti-progress and anti-change.
The anti-Ayub movement was an exception. The most important party in the lead of this movement was the Awami League, a well-organised political party, having its power base in East Bengal and dominated by middle class. Owing to its class character, it was bound to succeed in securing; dissolution of One Unit, one man-one vote and, above all, Pakistan’s only free and fair elections of 1970. Though the results of these elections, giving clear majority to Awami League, were not accepted by the rulers belonging to West Pakistan in the guise of military-mullah-feudal troika, but the resulting effects this ‘mass movement’ was bound to leave were beyond their control. If the people’s mandate had been allowed to prevail, the character of Pakistani state would have changed for ever in favour of democratic forces and for the overall good of society of the whole Pakistan. The troika’s refusal to accept the vote result resulted, however, in the independence of the people of East Bengal. The remaining ‘New Pakistan’ was handed over to the second major party (the PPP) which was heavily dominated by feudals and the opposition mainly comprised religious parties. Both felt quite satisfied with the status-quo.The PNA movement of 1977 against Z.A. Bhutto was dominated by one component of the troika; the mullah, while the MRD struggle of 1980s was led by another; the feudals. With due respect to the people who sacrificed or lost their lives, both these efforts were aimed at not changing the system but becoming active partners/collaborators. And the movements (rather their leaders) achieved what was desired; the moulvis became ministers in Zia-led martial law government and PPP of Benazir Bhutto cut a deal with the army to become junior partner. It may be said that there was only a change of face at the front. The system remained unchallenged and the organs of state representing this system remained unaffected and rather became stronger.

 

This time the situation is different. In the last quarter of the past century some changes of basic nature took place in the international arena as well as within Pakistani society which includes the information revolution and an emerging and asserting middle class. Changes in the socio-economic conditions gave birth to new forces that have, in turn, taken ahead the progress of society. That is what we are witnessing in Pakistan.
During the last eight years, most of the political parties—particularly those calling themselves ‘federal parties’—having vested interest in the prevalent dispensation cooperate with, even desire to be co-opted by, the incumbent regime. Amongst them, the PML-N has been less eager, reasons of which we shall examine later. The vacuum thus created was filled by the lawyer community.
The issue of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhri was a symptom rather than the cause of the change brewing in society and immediately became the rallying point. Civil society groups like teachers, doctors, trade unions, NGOs and journalists joined the movement which met an exemplary success. The political parties who ought to be agents of change failed, before and during this movement, to mobilize the masses. The reason is simple: people have started realising that these political parties dominated mostly by feudals and clerics only serve the status-quo.
Another factor distinguishing the earlier movements from the current one is the role of Punjab and its capital Lahore. Punjab is considered as the ‘power base’ of Pakistani state and the city of Lahore as its heart. During the last 60 years, it was always the establishment (Civil and Military bureaucracy) vs. the ‘others’ –– Bengalis, Balochs, Sindhis or Pakhtuns. Punjab stood firmly with the backing of the establishment, so much so that Punjab and establishment became synonymous. The nationalists always alleged that the government of Pakistan was there to serve the interests of Punjab in the name of ‘national interest’.
This time it is different. The movement of 2007 marks the beginning of a change in the roles of different actors, corresponding to the change in ground realities. Punjab, by virtue of its domination of the state, has acquired abundance of wealth and has reached a certain stage of development where it needs democracy.
Democracy can grow with the growth of capitalism. In 17th and 18th centuries, Europe, by virtue of its domination of the rest of the world, was able to collect, by any means, a huge amount of resources and wealth which paved the way for the development of capitalism and emergence of bourgeoisie /middle class. And the democracy was a natural corollary.
There is no gainsaying the fact that during 60 years of Pakistan’s life, it is Punjab alone that has progressed at a rate much faster than other provinces. In the last 30 years, it has taken big leaps to create new ground realities which gave birth to a sizable bourgeoisie/middle class. This class now desires more rapid progress and dreams to rub shoulders with its counterparts in the developing countries. To achieve this, it needs an open society, free trade with healthy competition, even licensing and other government facilities and a free media not only within the country but in neighbouring countries also.

 

To have all this, it needs democracy, though limited in some senses. On the other hand, the military has, over the time, developed its own vested interest in trade, industry and financial institutions so aptly described as ‘Mil-Bus’ by Aisha Siddiqua. To maintain its monopolist status, the military needs to sustain its domination of the state and prolong its sway over society. Hence, the current clash between the ruling military and the emerging bourgeoisie/middle class of Punjab. Since the PML-N is primarily a Punjab-based party and mainly represents this rising class, therefore its role in the current movement is a little bit different from the parties of feudals and clerics (as mentioned earlier) and since Lahore is the ‘heart’ of Punjab, so this time it is the ‘epicentre’.

 

One must keep two things in mind. First, the ongoing struggle and the class leading it are in the early stage of their existence. It will take some before they mature and, in the meantime, may suffer set-backs as was evidenced during Nawaz Sharif’s high-profile return. Second, since Pakistan is a multi-national country with different nationalities having different history, culture and development stage of their societies.
So, here the struggle for democracy would be long and complex. Even, there is a view that national question is the biggest and foremost question of democracy.

 

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