Pakistan is at a Crossroads Between Democracy and Full-blown Autocracy

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan has been through a lot in its 76-year history, but one consistent thing is the role of its military in the country’s fate. The military has controlled Pakistani politics and democracy for its own benefit. But it seems that finally, things are about to change as the people of Pakistan have finally been made aware that true democracy cannot allow for the military to keep controlling things from the economy to the parliament. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by its founder Imran Khan has proven to be a foe that might be too difficult to handle for the military chief Asim Munir. Khan is clashing with the entire state of Pakistan, with the military, intelligence agency ISI, police, and 13 opposition parties united to keep him out of power. Without a question of a doubt, Khan is the most popular leader in the country and is widely expected to sweep elections if they are held as expected later this year.

The current crisis is not without precedence, as the military tried to eliminate the previous most popular leader in the country whose name was Sheikh Mujib-Ur-Rehman. Rehman won Pakistani’s first-ever democratically held election in 1971 and secured an absolute majority. He was based in East Pakistan, won almost all the seats there, and had the right to form the government. Mujib had promised to return the military to the barracks, but the military dictator Yahya Khan refused to transfer power. Instead of giving way to democracy, he decided to imprison Mujib and launch a crackdown on the ethnic Bengalis of East Pakistan to eliminate Mujibs’ party, the Awami League. The resulting civil war resulted in the deaths of millions of Bengali and hundreds of thousands of women raped. The Pakistani military committed war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and genocide against its citizens, which triggered an Indian invasion and the breaking apart of the country with the birth of Bangladesh. 

This incident is significant as the military is capable of and has no issue with committing crimes and torturing its people. The events since May 9, which many claim were an inside job to crush Imran Khan and his party, have resulted in the deaths of over 70 protestors, sexual violence against women, the attempted murder of Khan himself, and the locking up of up to 10,000 people. The Internet has been shut down nationwide, and social media has also been restricted. These decisions have further damaged the bankrupt economy and made the average Pakistani hate the military and the ISI. If Khan is killed or imprisoned again, it could be that civil war could break out in the nuclear-armed country, and the government could completely break apart and become the next Syria or Yugoslavia. 

It is crucial, then, that the international democratic community call for the end of the reign of terror that has been unleashed and force the army chief to call for elections, as things cannot continue like this, as thousands could die. Pakistan cannot become a police state like Egypt as the country is double the size in terms of population and ethnically diverse. In the age of the internet, it is also impossible for the military and intelligence agencies to control the country as they could before when they killed popular leaders. The US and the West have always supported the military in its rule over Pakistan, thereby not allowing democracy to take root. Pakistan cannot be allowed to stay a security and garrison state to suit Western desires of having a major regional pawn. This cannot continue as popular sentiment amongst the Pakistani youth is for democracy, and hatred for the military is now rife amongst this section of the populace.

It is time for Pakistan to enter the world of responsible democracies with good relations with all of its neighbors and end its dispute with India over the territory of Kashmir. This can only be accomplished with a government with a popular mandate and the rule of law. With its crackdown on the Pakistani people who have long suffered under its authority, the military has now reached a point of no return as the economy is in tatters, with them having no way of fixing it. Listening to the people will bring the country back from the brink of civil war and catastrophe. The United States, EU, the UK, China, and the Gulf States must use their influence to make an unhinged and fascist army chief from destroying a country of 250 million people who only wish to have the freedom to choose their leaders.

[Photo by Voice of America, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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