Yearning for the DMS
Directly Moulded Sole (DMS) boots are heavy and rugged shoes that are designed for use by soldiers. Since independence, the offices of our elected leaders have reverberated regularly with the thumping of these boots. Each time when we are under these heavy soles, we are told that as Pakistanis we are not evolved enough to deserve the freedom of deciding our own destiny. Back in 1958, our first elected President; Mr. Iskander Mirza, after inviting our first Martial Law, legitimized it by saying that the prerequisite for electing good leadership is some sort of a “breeding”, he further added that most Pakistanis are devoid of this breeding. Ironically, a few days after this statement, Mr. Mirza’s own breeding was also declared deficient by his colleagues in Khaki, as he was removed from his position.
As the main beneficiaries of military takeovers, one would expect those associated with the military to justify martial laws. However, it is confusing to see similar elation from civilians, because by cheering a military takeover, a civilian is basically celebrating an open declaration of his own irrelevance in the decision making of his country. The overwhelming approval for Musharaf, as recently as 1999, came from all sorts of civilian quarters; and the underlying assumptions to this approval echoed the views of Mr. Mirza.
However, by the end of Musharaf’s rule, one thing that was agreed upon almost unanimously, was that a “langri looli jamhuriat” (dysfunctional democracy) was much better than the best of dictatorships. Remorse was shown for acquiescing to dictatorships in the past and vows were made to never go down that lane again.
Yet, three years later, that yearning for the DMS is making a comeback. Disappointment with the present Government is so pronounced that the only solution proposed by many is an abrupt end to its tenure. It is asserted that if the Military takes over this time, it would actually be the fault of the present Government. Well, if we agree that Nawaz Sharif wasn’t actually responsible for the coup by Musharaf, then this present Government must have done much worse than the Nawaz Sharif Government to earn this verdict.
The main source of this resentment emanates from a supposedly stellar rise in corruption. SMS messages, forwarded emails and drawing room discussions, speak of unprecedented levels of corruption, which according to many, legitimize a military takeover. But frankly speaking mere anecdotes should not be enough to form an opinion about the overall situation in the country, especially when there are other more sophisticated options available. The most suitable measure for this purpose is the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) calculated annually by Transparency International. However, comparing ranks of the index over different time periods would not serve our purpose because each year the total number of countries ranked is different, therefore comparing scores would be more useful. Pakistan, for the year 2008, scored 2.5 out of a total of 10 points. This is a pretty low score, implying a relatively high level of corruption. But, is that a major reduction compared to the score of the deposed Nawaz Sharif Government? Well actually no, the score for 1997 was only 0.03 points higher at 2.53. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that during Musharaf’s dictatorship this score stooped to 2.1 for both 2004 as well as 2005.
While these two elected governments might be considered equivalent in the corruption perceptions about them, but when it comes to the checks on the power of the executive, the present state of democracy in Pakistan comes out to be much better. Consider the position of the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Sajjad Ali Shah who not only had his court attacked by a mob but also had to quit his position because of his confrontation with the Prime Minister. This is a far cry from the independence enjoyed presently by CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry, whose stance can hardly be termed as pro Government. The media today is also operating in a much freer environment compared to 1997-98, when criticism of the Government resulted in consequences such as; overt raids by FIA, harassment by income tax officials, freezing of bank accounts, and even a ban on the paper used for printing.
The forced exit of Mian Nawaz Sharif in 1998 was by and large responded with either glee or indifference by Pakistanis, this was largely because of the dismal performance of his Government. But the same Mian Nawaz Sharif was welcomed by a crowd of thousands when he returned in 2007. The probable explanation for this paradox would be that, his victimization during the Musharaf regime more than made up for his incompetence during his own rule.
If we keep making martyrs out of our corrupt politicians then we can’t complain about democracy not working in this country. The only punishment for flying off to France while Pakistan was drowning, has to come through the ballot, any other way will simply wash away the sin itself.