What is the difference between dictatorship and democracy in Pakistan?

Published: June 20, 2014

Right when people tend to forget the bond of love between Nawaz Sharif and Ziaul Haq, forgive PML-N for storming the Supreme Court in 1997, and believe that they have moved on from the politics of vengeance, they start showing us harsh glimpses of the past.

Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer is often referred to as the butcher of Amritsar who opened indiscriminate firing on the crowd at Jallianwala Bagh in 1919, killing hundreds of peaceful protestors. Nearly a century later, when we have evolved into an independent country governed by Muslim leaders, his ghost lives on.

In the recent barbaric incident of State brutality, the Punjab police opened fire on the workers of Dr Tahirul Qadri resulting in the death of eleven innocent civilians and over eighty others injured. The dead included two women as well, one of them pregnant. TV footages revealed how the government machinery was used to manhandle and torture unarmed protestors.

Seasoned PML-N politicians like Khawaja Saad Rafique seemed borderline apologetic, trying to divert the blame from the government and reminding the nation how dozens are killed in Karachi allegedly under the supervision of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, too, had everything but remorse in his statements.

Are we expected to be numb to this? Why not move on with life? After all, eleven is not a huge death toll in a country like Pakistan. We have witnessed many such atrocities over the years; the cruelty during Musharraf’s era as well as the tyranny during Zia’s time. But one wonders if there is any difference between the dictatorial regimes and the so-called champions of democracy.

Right when people tend to forget the bond of love between Nawaz Sharif and Ziaul Haq, forgive PML-N for storming the Supreme Court in 1997, and believe that they have moved on from the politics of vengeance, they start showing us harsh glimpses of the past.

The political motives of Dr Tahirul Qadri may be dubious; however, it does not give a green-signal to the government to slaughter its opponents. Shahbaz Sharif, who himself led multiple protests during the previous government, now seems to abhor his opponents when they do the same.

While many die in Pakistan at the hands of non-state actors, this particular incident holds significance for a number of reasons.

One, the government machinery was used to directly fire at unarmed civilians.

Two, this happened under the nose of the vigilant Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, who claims to be the ‘Khadim-e-Aala’.

Three, this was a clear violation of Article 9 of the constitution that makes it binding on the government to protect the life and liberty of people.

Four, those who should have owned responsibility, were seen tossing around the blame.

Five, PML-N leaders were the frontrunners in chanting slogans of justice and democracy before the elections.

Six, this depicts the autocratic mindset of our rulers.

As we stand in the midst of an ongoing military operation and threats to internal security loom over us, the political forces need to be united. However, the government has fuelled an already turbulent political environment, thereby giving a reason to its opponents to exploit.

This incident also reiterates the menace of politicised bureaucracy especially the police department. It draws our attention to how the administrative machinery is unlawfully used by the ruling parties for their personal interests.

One is left awestruck at the ironic state of our police, which often fails to protect those who are to be protected and supports those who are to be incarcerated, that too intentionally. The epitome of this attitude was seen during the recent Lahore tragedy when the now famous ‘Gullu Butt’ went on a rampage and vandalised public property under the tutelage of police. The same police failed to protect him from the torture of the public when he was brought to appear before a local court.

This episode also highlights the rampant culture of vigilante justice in our society. The Lal Masjid saga, the street lynching of the two brothers in Sialkot, the frequent cases of honour killings, as well as the recent ‘Gullu Butt’ incident all have a common denominator.

As every other civilised nation, should we not restrain from taking the law in our hands? Should we not have faith in our police and judicial system? But then are we a civilized nation at all? And who are we to trust when our law makers and law enforcers reveal their deceitful faces time and again?

As much as we adore democracy, it is largely an intangible concept and cannot provide bliss to the people unless practiced in letter and spirit. Dyer’s mentality and democracy cannot go hand-in-hand.

General Dyer remains a symbol of brutality, dictatorship, and intolerance. Sadly, his ghost thrives among us to this day. We have seen Dyer in the form of military dictators who played havoc with the civilians. We have seen him in our political leaders, dressed in a cloak of democracy, plundering our nation at will. We have seen him in the politicised bureaucrats who dance at the unlawful orders of their godfathers. And we have also seen him in the common man who kills in the name of religion.

Will we ever learn from our past, bury this attitude, and progress on the path of democracy?

To me, ‘Khadim-e-Aalaa’ was the last person to be possessed by the ghost of Dyer. I remember the verses of Habib Jalib that he zealously used to recite before elections.

“Tum ne loota hai sadiyon humara sukoon

Ab na hum pe chale ga tumhara fusoon

Chaaragar mai tumhein kis terhaan se kahoon

Tum nahi chaaragar, koi mane magar, mai nahi maanta mai nahi jaanta”

Usama Mahmud

Usama Mahmud

The author holds a B.S.E in Bioengineering and a Master of Public Administration both from the University of Pennsylvania. He has worked in the public finance industry in the US. He is an ardent observer of socio-political issues and has a penchant for public service.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • نائلہ

    Leaders do not determine the quality of life in a country, the people do.Recommend

  • Safwan

    You couldn’t be more wrong.Recommend

  • Golnath Agarwal

    Exactly. [Just a mindless vapid statement.] Leaders are in charge
    of the state apparatuses. They control them. They can sink a country. Or make it a city on a shining hill.Recommend

  • Hussain

    Great article. Democracy vs dictatorship is a useless argument created to distract from bad governance, corruption etc. Hopefully the publc will learn from politicians false promises since everything is on record now. But then again our nation does have an incredibly short memory. Recommend

  • Habib Javaid

    abject hypocrisy.Recommend

  • Prashant

    Just look at the history and you would know that democracy does not work in Muslim countries even with Shariyat and a state religion. The Muslims urge for secularism/ Democracy only when they are in minority as it suits them. Once they establish themselves in that country, they demand Shariyat even if they are immigrants and minority in that country. UK is the prime example of this.Recommend

  • Grace

    Imagine if Tahirul Qadri behaved like he was above the law in the US and Canada – they would charge him and jail him right away. How can such a man claim asylum in Canada, swear an oath of loyalty to the British Queen, promise to respect Canadian democratic norms but then work so hard to destabilize the democratic system in Pakistan? Shahbaz Sharif is hardly perfect but he works hard to uplift Punjab and the results are there for all to see. Punjab is developing and pretty safe compared to other provinces. It will take several cycles to improve the democratic process in Pakistan but the problem with Muslim societies is that no one wants to wait and work hard to see 2 or 3 cycles of democracy develop. hat’s why Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Egypt and other Muslim states struggle with governance.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Many will blame the politicians and rightly so……BUT the lion share of the blame falls on our senior judiciary and the corrupt, impotent judicial system.Recommend

  • masood

    and look what happened to Gen. Dyer in the end …Recommend

  • Mohammad Shuaib Hussain

    I would like to disagree. If TuQ did the exact same thing in Canada, sure the protestors wouldn’t get shot, but they would all be arrested. The only thing the government/police did wrong was shooting on the protestors, besides that TuQ was in the wrong. To top it all up – CM Shahbaz didn’t personally order the shooting and if he did please provide that evidence.Recommend

  • Mir

    So according to your statement the lowly citizens of several countries in Mid. East, South East Asia, S. America and Africa are responsible for the corruption, violence, brutality and poverty rampant there. With a sharp mind like that, I wonder why you’re saying this on an online messaging board and not a government-funded think tank.Recommend

  • Moazzam

    1) So you mean that the ‘ONLY’ thing government did wrong was to kill some people? No big deal, right, they just felt like doing their shooting practice on people, all is cool. What worse could they have done?? Go talk to the families of those killed so you may realize the gravity of the situation.

    2) TUQ is wrong or right, that’s different issue. Shahbaz and Nawaz were behaving like TUQ during the lawyers’ movement too and criticizing the police at that time from stopping them from protesting.

    3) There is something called ‘circumstantial evidence’, and that points towards the sitting Punjab government. May I remind you that Shahbaz Sharif is the CM and Police falls under him. You yourself say that the ‘the only thing government did wrong was shooting on the protectors’. Yes, the ‘government!’Recommend

  • 19640909rk .

    No difference. Army in Pakistan holds the reins.Recommend

  • stevenson

    Yes. Citizens are ultimately responsible since leaders and dictators come from the same society. People should stop waiting for perfect leaders and work to build the system and do their own responsiblities. Instead they just blame leaders and talk about their rights. After all the citizens of the country all think they can do whatever they want and break the laws at will but then they hold others to higher standards. This hypocritical thinking is the cause of the problems in Islamic world.Recommend