When Democracy returned by Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani

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The International Day of Democracy is being marked today throughout the globe. I have expressed on a number of occasions that the Pakistan Movement was a purely peaceful struggle and Quaid-e-Azam wanted to transform the newly-independent state into a model democratic country. He provided a clear roadmap in this regard during his address to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947.

Unfortunately, the sad demise of Quaid-e-Azam after Pakistan’s first anniversary empowered anti-democratic powers to exploit the political turmoil. The democratic institutions were not so strong at that time to perform independently. As a result, martial laws were imposed by suspending the democratic rights of the citizens. Owing to this, East Pakistan was separated from the country. Contrary to the democratic governments, a dictator always tries to strengthen his undemocratic rule by weakening the national institutions.

Today, the UN actively supports a number of activities in support of democracy. The International Day of Democracy is one of the initiatives to raise public awareness about the role of democracy. The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) organises a ceremony every year at the UN headquarters in New York. This year, the IPU is also celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Democracy, which was passed on September 1997.

According to the IPU, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will only be achieved if there is more democracy throughout the world. In the today’s modern world, people are realising that democracy is the only type of governance to safeguard freedom and civil rights at every level. The Soviet Union, with its one-party governance, was once a superpower of the previous century. However, once it was disbanded, the states that came under it adopted a democratic system of governance.

The view that there is no single model of democracy and the idea that the system does not belong to any specific country or region appear to be valid. It is in the best interest of Pakistan to strengthen democratic institutions. In the past, we have faced the worst forms of international pressure in the absence of democracy.

After the 1965 war, the then Indian prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri sought favours from Ayub Khan after signing the Tashkent Declaration. Similarly, our past foreign policies, including our involvement in the Afghan war, were also adopted without taking national institutions on board. It is unfortunate how a single phone call from the US resulted in a policy u-turn that continues to have a negative impact.

The PML-N and the PPP are the two major national political parties who have sacrificed a great deal for democracy. During the Musharraf era, both parties learned a lesson from their past mistakes: that the unwanted politics of the 1990s should be avoided so as to transform Pakistan into a democratic country. As a result, their leaders signed the Charter of Democracy, which emphasised the struggle for the restoration of democracy in the country.

The world has witnessed how dictatorial rule ended in Pakistan without any bloodshed. Owing to the fear of impeachment in the hands of democracy, a strong dictator had to tender his resignation and face the courts. The long march played a pivotal role in the restoration of the judiciary. During the PPP tenure, when the prime minister was asked to step down by the Supreme Court, another elected representative became his successor to look after state affairs. In 2013, the transition of power from one civilian government to another took place in a democratic and peaceful manner for the first time in our national history.

When attempts were made to lock down Islamabad, the democratic parties came together to defend parliament and national institutions. The people’s confidence in the democratic system also resulted in the success of operations Zarb-e-Azb and Raddul Fasaad and Karachi operations. Today, the law and order situation in Pakistan is far better than what it was 10 years ago when the country was under a dictatorship.

More recently, parliament has chosen a new leader of the house after the Supreme Court suspended the previous prime minister. That the former PM appeared before the JIT reflects that Pakistan has strong institutions that value democracy and accountability. On the international level, the US is also facing tough time from Pakistan in response to its familiar refrain that the country should “do more”. On this International Day of Democracy, we must promote a culture of democratic values.

Everyone should perform his or her duties according to rules and regulations. If there is any violation of rules, the culprit must be held accountable and nobody should be considered above the law. We must also struggle to including democracy as a subject in the school curriculum. The national media should also publish special reports and air talk shows to support efforts to make Pakistan democratic as per Quaid-e-Azam’s vision.

The writer is a member of the National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council. Twitter: @RVankwani

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