Democracy will not go back into the bottle

Beena Sarwar in Himal Southasian:

Bol_sticker …political darkness is nothing new for Pakistan and Pakistanis. For most of the country’s 60-year history, it is the men in uniform and jackboots who have governed. For most of the country’s history, the executive and judiciary have been ranged against the ordinary people. Pakistanis won independence from the British colonists in 1947, but the rulers never stopped colonising their own people. Pakistan’s ‘smaller’ nationalities, bitter at the promise of a federation, are alienated from the Centre. Ordinary Pakistanis had to continuously resist the tyranny and attempted hegemony of religion and nationalism that the state, and the rightwing non-state actors, have sought to impose. Crucially, amidst the sea of disenchantment, over the last three decades a small but vocal civil-rights community has developed.

Pakistanis have long seen the promise of democracy being dangled before them, though usually far out of reach, precluded by the military’s stranglehold. (As someone once famously said, “Most countries have an army, but in Pakistan the army has a country.) But over the last year, this promise finally seemed to be coming within grasp, particularly with the country’s judiciary finally standing with the people rather than with the establishment. But now the dream of democracy seems set to remain just out of reach. The caretaker government installed to oversee the upcoming elections is comprised of Musharraf loyalists, and has no credibility. The general has manoeuvred in such a way that he is back firmly in the saddle: mandated not by the people of Pakistan but by hand-picked judges.

Nevertheless, the struggle will continue. Lawyers are refusing to accept the ‘PCO judges’. Ordinary citizens are honouring the ‘real’ judges, visiting their homes and presenting them with flowers and notes of appreciation. Journalists have vowed to continue their struggle for media freedom. The political parties, some discredited less than others, are getting back into the fray. One way or another, Gen Musharraf is certainly going to have a tough time stuffing the democratic genie back into the bottle.

More here.