In India, for a democratically elected government to complete a term, for an election to be held and another government to be voted into power are such common developments that they are hardly worth a comment. In Pakistan, this sequence of events has never happened. In fact, a democratically elected central government has never completed a full term in that country. Which is why the present tumult in Pakistan is so significant. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government of President Asif Ali Zardari is just months away from holding elections to mark the completion of its five-year term. Circumstances and the army are working overtime to ensure that the country does not pass this political milestone.
On the face of it, Pakistan’s polity has never had it so good. The judiciary is genuinely independent. Both president and prime minister are civilian, elected and not beholden to the military. The two main civilian parties — the PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) — are united in their desire for the elections to be held as scheduled. But the judiciary and the government are at loggerheads, partly as a consequence of personal animosity between the chief justice and the president. And the military, it is widely believed, has been throwing every possible obstacle in the path of Mr Zardari and the election. The sudden rise of a political party led by cricketer Imran Khan and, now, the “million-man march” of little-known cleric Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri are seemingly arbitrary developments. However, they make a lot of sense when it is understood that the military and the bureaucracy would like the March elections postponed and the reins of Islamabad placed in the hands of a caretaker government.
Mr Zardari, for all of his faults and terrible governance record, has proven a remarkable political survivor. Most remarkable has been his ability to stymie the once all-powerful military. Insofar as the military are the primary patrons of the Islamicist terror that infests Pakistan, are the main institution backers of anti-Indian sentiment and, most importantly, are the reason Pakistan has been unable to evolve into a normal country, any reasonable individual will hope Mr Zardari fends off the multiple challenges he faces today. It is still too early to tell how events will unfurl. The Supreme Court’s order against the prime minister is humiliating for Mr Zardari, but PMs matter little in Pakistan. Mr Qadri has nuisance value, but he has mobilised only a few tens of thousands and his call for the overthrow of a government sounds absurd just two months before election day. It is hoped Mr Zardari will continue to push ahead if only because, in Pakistan, the consolidation of democratic succession is the genuinely revolutionary development.