Addressing the Pakistan military parade today, Gen. Pervez Musharraf proclaimed that “you are seeing that a real democratic era has begun in Pakistan.” I say “Amen” to that. I remain confident as ever that Pakistan remains a democratic society trapped inside of an undemocratic state. I repeat and stand by what I had written a year ago today:
On this March 23rd, I am more confident than ever that not only can democracy work in Pakistan, it is the only thing that can. Whether our elites recognize it or not, the democratic spirit of the people can neither be tamed nor contained. Not any more.
If one were to go into details, my quibble would be that Pakistani society has always been democratic. It is the state that has been captured, again and again, by undemocratic forces – with or without elections. Elections, as so many have argued, are a necessary but not a sufficient condition for democracy. Elections, in themselves, do not give you democracy; but it is impossible to have democracy without them. Democracy, ultimately, is the simple proposition that people have a right to and the ability to impact the decisions that will impact them. All else is the mechanics of how a society chooses to make this happen. The best way to safeguard democracy is to make democracy work.
The new government – under Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani, at least in the short term – have (yet another) historic opportunity to make get the mechanics right. After years and years of undemocratic interferences and spurts and starts, we need – more than anything – to demonstrate not only that democracy will work in Pakistan, but that it will work for all Pakistanis. Once people truly see democracy working for them, they will themselves stand in the way of anyone trying to circumvent the process. Here, if anywhere, it is indeed true – as the Kevin Costner character said in the move Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.” Indeed, they will!
As those in politics are wont to, Gen. Musharraf also takes far too much credit for himself – indeed, he takes credit even for that which has happened despite him. For example, when he says “during the past eight years, not only we laid the foundation of a real democracy, but we also put Pakistan on the path of progress and prosperity.” But the least one can do is to give him the benefit to believe so, if so he wishes to believe. As long as he actually believes – and will make believable – his next claim: i.e., “whichever new government is formed, it will have my full support.”
The test of his mettle will be whether he can, will or really wants to give his “full support” to the next government. The test of the mettle of the next government will be whether they will want, need or accept his “full support.”