On August 11, when cricketer Imran Khan will be sworn in as Prime Minister of Pakistan, it will be only the second time the nation will be witnessing a changeover from a civilian to civilian government. In a history full of twists and turns during the last 70 years since its creation, Pakistan has suffered four bouts of Army rule and three suspensions of the Constitution. A graffiti seen after Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto’s swearing in as prime minister on a Karachi wall in the early 1970s had summed up the reality well. It said: “Sorry for the brief democratic interruption! Military rule will be restored soon.”

Pakistan had not been fortunate to have visionary leaders like we in India had in Nehru, Gandhi, Ambedkar, Patel and Azad. Nor did the nation emerge out of any sustained struggle which could have enabled its leaders to forge unity around a cogent ideology.  Its founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah barely lived for a year to lend it a sound footing and durable institutions. Army being the only organized force, thus found itself in a position to replace inept and corrupt civilian rulers frequently.

Islam did not prove an effective glue for the two wings flung hundreds of miles apart across Indian territory. A Punjabi-dominant Army and imposition of Urdu widened the gulf further and led to the loss of its eastern wing in 1971.  Young nation’s history makes it evident that Pak rulers were gravely mistaken in conceiving India as ‘a polyglot, riven with mysterious and frightening contradictions’,* and that the ‘cowardly, ill-organised Indian army will offer no effective response to any push from Pakistani Army’**.  This doctrine dominated the Pakistani psyche in its formative phase and has now melted considerably. But the concern for coming up with sound Institutions to provide a bulwark for the nascent democracy on par with India has not been adequately realized.

Pakistan thrived on a false sense of superiority engendered by its Army rulers. Wishful thinking and empty boasts dominated political narrative and analysis in Rawalpindi for several decades. It was only after the loss of the eastern wing that Pakistani intellectuals, media and academia began to look for reasons for its dismemberment and an earnest search was launched for a national credo.

Even while it oscillated between military rule and civilian autocracy, the nation has failed to address the basic malady, the feudal system which stifles democracy at its roots and nurtures ills such as bonded and child labour, illiteracy, gender inequality, honour killings and extreme economic inequalities. These were overlaid with fundamentalism, religious extremism, and militancy by those who envisioned Jihad in Afghanistan and Kashmir as rallying points for a nation that sorely lacking a positive national agenda. The rich and the haves who had the luxury of reaching the corridors of power in the moribund nation added sectarian fault lines through laws like blasphemy and declaration of Ahmadis as non-Muslims.

When it came to playing with religious dogmas, there was no difference between leaders elected by the people and usurpers of power. Ahmadis were excommunicated by a legislation during the reign of Bhutto and Blasphemy laws were brought under Gen. Ziaul Haq.

Pakistan has betrayed a strange alchemy with democratically elected leaders behaving as autocrats and military rulers trying to civilianize their rule through convenient handmaidens. Bhutto and Benazir both were arrogant to the core and tried to turn the nation into a personal fiefdom. Amassment of personal wealth was the core concern for Nawaz and Shahbaz duo, and Asif Zardari. Judiciary received a raw deal at the hands of Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Zia conducted the first general elections on a partyless basis and put an unknown Muhammad Khan Junejo on the power pedestal. The system thus bred a battery of sycophants or bloodthirsty enemies. When in power most time is spent on either lavishing favours on acolytes or fending off attacks from foes. Development and policy initiatives are relegated to the backseat. Once out of power, they head for Dubai, England or Saudi Arabia, by now well-known destinations for self-exiled politicians.   

Army’s influence is all-pervasive. Defence Colonies across cities of Pakistan are studded with lush gardens and meadows, posh villas and well-maintained golf grounds. Nearly a third of the national budget is devoted to the Defence. Civilian leaders can think of trimming their entitlements only at their own peril. The past decade of civilian rule suggests that elected leaders have learnt to remain on the right side of the starched generals.

Probity in public life is a distant dream in Pakistan. Impunity is built into the system. Institutions holding the politicians accountable have been systematically sabotaged over the years. Justice Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report on loss of East Pakistan was never made public. What caused crash of plane carrying President Gen. Ziaul Haq is not known? The latest example is that of National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) which seeks to whitewash the corruption and crimes of all past politicians. Imran Khan has made a note of it in his book Pakistan: A Personal History (Transworld Publishers, London):  ‘More than 8,000 bureaucrats, govt officials, bankers and politicians charged with corruption offences between 1986 and 1999 were given an amnesty, including Benazir and Zardari.’

Imran Khan inherits a nation deep into a mess. His own words will urge action from him. Indeed, a fearsome ordeal stretches ahead of him. Will he be upto the challenge, is the big question.  


*Words by Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto in Washington Post after the death of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

**This is how President Gen. Ayub Khan visualized India.  

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Cooch Behar (WB), May 13: West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankhar was on Thursday shown black flags at Sitalkuchi, where four villagers died after firing by central forces during the elections, while "go back" slogans were raised at Dinhata during his visit to Cooch Behar district to meet people allegedly affected in post poll violence.

Earlier in the day, Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar who is on a controversial visit to assess post-poll violence in the district said he was shocked by incidents of attacks following the West Bengal assembly elections.

"The country is facing a COVID crisis, and West Bengal is facing twin challenges of the pandemic and unprecedented post-poll violence only (as) some people decided to vote as per their own choice," he said.

The run up to the visit was marked by a war of words between the Governor and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with the chief minister writing a letter on Wednesday claiming the visit violated established norms as it was being undertaken unilaterally without consultations with the state government.

She also claimed the Governor was by-passing the state council of ministers and dictating directly to state officials, which was violative of the constitution.

An agitated Dhankhar came out of his car at Dinhata and reprimanded police officials for allegedly not acting to prevent slogan-shouting protesters, who numbered around 15 and had assembled with posters saying "BJP's governor go back".

"I am shocked, this is total collapse of rule of law, I could never imagine such a thing could happen," he told reporters.

Police officials chased the protesters away from the spot.

"I have seen fear in the eyes of people and they are afraid to go to the police station to file complaints," Dhankhar said about his interaction with people in post-poll hit villages.

The Governor visited Mathabhanga, Sitalkuchi, Sitai and Dinhata and talked to people who claimed to have suffered attacks at the hands of ruling Trinamool Congress supporters after election results were announced on May 2.

Dhankhar, who visited several households at the four places, said "homes have been looted and even ornaments kept for girl's marriage, utensils and other items for 'shradh' were taken away."

The governor was also shown black flags by some persons at Golokganj when his convoy travelled from Mathabhanga to Sitalkuchi, as a posse of policemen put up human walls to prevent protesters from coming down on to the road.

Posters and placards criticising the visit of the governor were also seen at Jorpatki in Sitalkuchi, the scene of firing by central armed police force personnel that killed four persons on April 10 during the fourth phase of polling in the West Bengal assembly elections.

"History will judge Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister. History will also judge Jagdeep Dhankhar, the governor, and it will judge the bureaucracy and the media," Dhankar said, interacting with the media.

Claiming that he did not get any response from the state government despite efforts being made to get information about the post-poll violence, Dhankhar said the state government must provide him with required information under Article 167 of the Constitution.

The Governor pointed out that "during elections, she (the chief minister) had publicly said the central armed police force will not be there always and she will see after that.

"This kind of challenge and behaviour is not acceptable under the constitution," he added.

BJP MP Nisith Pramanik accompanied the governor during his visit to the areas, where the saffron party has alleged loot and attack on its workers.

Some women wailed and fell to the feet of the governor claiming that all their belongings were looted and that the men of their families had fled their homes to escape attacks.

Reacting to the visit, veteran TMC MP and party spokesperson Sougata Ray said "He (Dhankhar) did not listen to the state government and went to Cooch Behar. He went there in the company of a BJP leader. His conduct is unconstitutional".

"Previously we had written a letter to the president against this governor. If the CM says, we will send another letter against him to the president," Ray said.

The TMC in December last year had written to President Ram Nath Kovind seeking to remove Jagdeep Dhankhar from the post of governor, accusing him of "transgressing constitutional limits" by regularly commenting against the state administration in public.

Terming the Governors conduct as unbecoming, senior TMC leader and minister Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay added "the governor is doing politics over stray post-poll incidents, (to contain) which the state government has taken all necessary steps. He is doing politics when the state is busy fighting the pandemic. We wish that the governor and the state government work together to fight the Covid situation.

The governor said he will on Friday visit camps in Assam where BJP workers, who reportedly fled from West Bengal owing to the post-poll violence, have been staying.