The ‘Charter of Democracy‘ signed by former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif is already old news. This is unfortunate.
Even if it is just ‘talk’, talking about democracy can only be good for Pakistan.
I have been surprised at how few people I know who have even bothered to read the Charter. Indeed, one can excuse them. Ms. Bhutto and Mr. Sharif are not very credible when they claim to:
[Reaffirm] our commitment to undiluted democracy and universally recognised fundamental rights, the rights of a vibrant opposition, internal party democracy, ideological/political tolerance, bipartisan working of the parliament through powerful committee system, a cooperative federation with no discrimination against federating units, the decentralisation and devolution of power, maximum provincial autonomy, the empowerment of the people at the grassroots level, the emancipation of our people from poverty, ignorance, want and disease, the uplift of women and minorities, the elimination of klashnikov culture, a free and independent media, an independent judiciary, a neutral civil service, rule of law and merit, the settlement of disputes with the neighbours through peaceful means, honouring international contracts, laws/covenants and sovereign guarantees, so as to achieve a responsible and civilised status in the comity of nations through a foreign policy that suits our national interests.
But even if they happen to be the wrong people to proclaim these sentiments, the sentiments are correct and fully worthy. So, if you have not yet read the charter and want to, you can read it here.
As for my own views on the subject, they remain what they were in 2004 when I wrote the following in an op-ed in The News:
Of all the travesties that are now the staple of what goes as ‘political commentary’ on Pakistan, there is none as venomous or as dangerous to the future of Pakistan than the claim that Pakistan and democracy are somehow incompatible. It is venomous because it is patently wrong as well as deeply insulting. It is dangerous because once accepted it can (and nearly has) become a self-fulfilling prophecy. What is most hurtful is that we make this claim, most often, Pakistanis ourselves…
…there is the much-maligned argument that Pakistan’s history proves that democracy has not worked in Pakistan. This is total nonsense. If one looks at Pakistan’s history, all one finds is vast periods of non-democracy – mostly under non-elected rule, but often also under elected rule. Empirically, the only thing that one can say on the basis of this history is that non-democracy does not work in Pakistan. As one surveys the socio-political landscape one finds the country in the grips of poverty, disease, despair, sectarianism, extremism, violence, and much more. But none of these can be blamed on democracy, simply because we have never really allowed meaningful democracy for any meaningful period of time. There are many things that don’t work in Pakistan, but all evidence suggests that democracy is not one of them. At least, not yet.
The entire article can be read here.