Who will save democracy now?

Published: December 24, 2011

All guns are pointing towards the president and prime minister and nobody dares to question the army.

I was 15 when Musharraf toppled the elected government in Pakistan. I’m a middle class guy who grew up reading Urdu dailies. I grew up thinking that our politicians are incapable of doing anything good and that the military should govern the country exactly like it does in Myanmar. I grew up thinking that Pakistan and India can never be friends.

With time, I started reading publications from different parts of the world. This made me rethink my perceptions regarding democracy.

When the elected government of the Peoples’ Party returned to power in 2008, I was as happy as any other believer of democracy. Moreover, I was even happier when Musharraf resigned from presidency. But my sentiments changed again, and the reason for that is our current President Asif Ali Zardari. Since he entered the President House in Islamabad, a section of the media was enraged. This section had remained calm through the nine years of Musharraf’s dictatorial regime. Night after night, I saw the faces of Shaheen Sehbai, Ansar Abbasi and Kamran Khan on TV. Every night, I dreamt of how bad things were in Pakistan.

I despised the government when it reluctantly restored Chief Justice Iftikhar Chauhry; I hated it when the Hajj scam was exposed; I hated it every time I came across reports on the sorry state of railways and PIA. Add to this rising fuel prices and increased inflation without any justification.

But then, I remembered that it is the same government which ordered the release of the deposed judges immediately after assuming power, the very same president who gave power back to the prime minister. It is the very same government which formed the constitutional committee and devolved many a ministry; which helped the army in regaining its reputation through a consensus on the Swat Operation. This government didn’t ban any TV anchors, and it facilitated dialogue with India.

The Urdu media was the frontrunner in the campaign to criticise the government. But did they question the army over the Osama bin Laden raid? Did anyone ask those sitting in the GHQ how Osama managed to live in our country for five years? Nobody asked them how terrorists managed to enter the premises of a naval base. Nobody asked them why there was complete silence when US drones flying from Shamsi air base kept killing innocent Pakistanis almost every day. Nobody asked them who supports people like Hafiz M Saeed, Dr Usman, and Ajmal Kasab. Nobody asked them if some retired armed forces’ officials joined militant organisations.

As a grown man, I’m witnessing the first ever fall of a democratically elected government. I can see and feel how the top army officials are pressuring a democratically elected president to resign, despite General Kayani ruling out a military takeover. I can see that nobody still dares to question the army. All guns are targeting either the parliament or the presidency.

I see politicians who are glad that this incident will give them a break. I can see that no one supported the brave lady Bushara Gohar when she demanded the resignation of DG ISI General Shuja Pasha. I can see how the army is being openly supported by some journalists. And worst of all, I can see how the youth of the country is supporting anti-democratic forces.

I never admired Prime Minister Gilani until yesterday, when he spoke his heart. He asked the people of Pakistan whether they want democracy or dictatorship, and I would like to tell Gilani sahib that he should not expect anything from the nation because the majority means the middle class. Yes, the same middle class which has grown up reading Urdu dailies.

Who will save democracy now?


Aasif Shakeel

A journalist by profession who has worked in Jang Group, Aaj TV, and ARY. He is currently working as the project coordinator at Transparency International in Pakistan. Asif tweets @AasifShakeel

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

  • Parvez

    It is loot and plunder of the country, coupled with atrocious governance hiding behind the slogan of ‘democracy’ that is not acceptable and does not deserve to be saved.
    A democratic civilian dispensation is of course desirable and should be the goal. Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli

    But sir civilions not Angels either sir and these democratic fuedals are worst creatures in pakistan,Recommend

  • Nadir

    Military loot and plunder is called “nation building”. In partnership with the upper middle class, industrial urban elite the military has presided over decades of accumulating wealth and resources. None of that is considered corruption, only accusations that can be pinned on a civilian are. These generals dont live on an island. The generals who now are playing poltiics should be spending there time fighting and thwarting terrorism, protecting our borders, in a decade when 40,000 have died. They are tarnisihing the image of the military, yet everyone would rather cheer those in uniform.Recommend

  • http://NewYork Falcon

    Let’s not get carried away in emotions. Had civilian govt. delivered what it could have, this won’t have happened.Recommend

  • adnan

    its the law of nature… when an incompetent illetrate person is on the governing seat…. and under him is he chowkidaar with armed men …. in a generla meeting the governing person sits with dumbness on his face and numbness in his head on any issues…. he is clueless abt how to administer or deal with terrorism.. orders ISI premiere to go to india the very next day….. the governing body looks at the chowkidaar for solutions like a cat looking for food…. the chowkidaar is disciplined, edcuated and has solutions,correct or incorrect; but atleast they have a solution which has a though process behind it…..


    Isnt it natural for the chowkidaar ko kick the governing body out??

    I dont support martial law but can appreaciate the reasons behind it.. its the incompetent people who dont use their brains while selecting their leaders….

    neither politicians are to be blamed or the army…. its the people who are not competent enuff to judge who is right and who to vote…..Recommend

  • akmal

    i rather live under a dicatator ( musharraf) who was far more democratic than the current rulers.. the common man was far better off..At the end of the day democracy has to deliver to the common man not ppl sitting behind a computer. unfortunately its failed miserably.. Ask the labourer, taxi driver etc and they will tell you that Musharrafs era was far far better.. they dont care about democracy.. shouting democracy democracy doesnt put food on the table for the poor.. this is the worst government i have ever seen…. with the pm and president being the most corrupt!!Recommend

  • Afaaq

    There is no democracy in Pakistan. Please wake up. What we have in Pakistan is called kleptocracy. You can use the dictionary to find out the meaning. Prime Minister Gilani only spoke in this tone because his government is in the midst of being caught up in a treasonous act. While our jawans are laying down their lives these politicians are living the dream. Spare a thought for a soldier who is away from his loved ones, fighting for you so you can sit cosy in your room and sleep peacefully.Recommend

  • faraz


    What do you mean hiding behind the slogan of democracy? It has the majority in the parliament has the right to remain in power. It can’t be removed unconstitutionally. And the constitution has to be saved. Wait for a year, and then vote for other parties in the coming electionRecommend

  • dv sikka

    The only thing that will save Pakistan is its people. There is one thing in common between India and Pakistan today and that is limitless corruption. Please look at the character of the candidate before you give your vote. His label i.e. party affiliation should not be the prime consideration. Make sure that the candidate will look after the interests of the people and the country. Like Anna in India start a movement to check corruption. You do not vote for well ten percenters.Recommend

  • http://guldaan.wordpress.com/ Hamza Balouch(@H_Balouch)

    Army is under the govt…If govt can not and could not handle the army than its fault of Govt,not fault of democracy.

    And become emotional like Bushara, When there was a time no one ask D g IsI to resign. Now govt also come to know about “State within the state”, when memo gate in court.

    If there was no Memo, there was no “democarcy or dictatorship” music from govt nor any issue of “state within the state”, There was no danger to democracy…

    Either its Electer govt, or milatry or any other… We must see the law not the personal interests!Recommend

  • Nitish

    A good article depicting the middle class psyche of a young Pakistani who has been fed all lies over the last so many decades. The problem is with the perception and intent. Punjabi generals have spoiled the whole Pakistan because of their obsession with India. Armies dont run countries, they dont govern.. their forte is to secure the borders, the public policy is the job of people who are elected. Today Pakistan is self destructive and only people like you can save it.Recommend

  • Sajida

    @Pervvez. Well said. The notion that being against current government is against democracy is wrong and reveals the commentator’s bias in favor of present leaders.
    In this internet age there is no excuse for not seeing what safeguards there can be to protect democracy. How about direct democracy and right of recall of elected officials at local. provincial and national level? How about right of referendum and right to add laws- the Initiative? How about proper public campaign financing? Has anyone wondered where the money for the campaigns comes from? This can also be a reason for corruption.
    Anti-corruption mechanisms should be beefed up.
    How do they measure up to say what South Africa has?

  • amrita

    This middle class also comprises the group of people who are using wood to cook their meals due to gas load shedding, which the govt doesn’t care about. The government restored the judiciary AFTER the long march, at which the president had ordered police to shoot at people if they advance towards the capital.
    For a strong democratic system all the political parties need to work together, despite their opposing views on issues, for the overall good. This will also keep any possibility of military takeover. PPP from ZAQ to Zardari has been harbouring the ‘if we are in power that is democracy and only that will save Pakistan’ philosophy.Recommend

  • Hameedullah

    @Hamza Balouch(@H_Balouch):
    Army is under civilian government!!! What a joke. Military has always wielded power in Pakistan and it’s proved in history.Recommend

  • Mohsin

    Look at the corruption this govt is doing…………….if military doesnt pressurize them they will sale the whole country……..Recommend

  • Mukarram Hussain AWan

    The slogan of PPP is
    Roti, Kapra aur Makan…
    Do you think that PPP ( 4 Govts) has ever tried to make true this slogan?
    Please ask all those person who have never seen a computer. Please ask all those person who are commiitting sucide due to poverty…….?
    Ask those persons, who have not a single meal in a day.?
    Actually, the elected govt of PPP has a slogan
    Roti Kapra aur Makan
    milay ga ja k qabrastan………
    And they are fulfilling this promise…….!Recommend

  • Parvez

    @faraz: If you believe that the present civilian government has come in through a truly democratic process and is functioning as a democratic dispensation is supposed to function, then sorry I am unable to help you.
    I will agree with @Nadirs comment.Recommend

  • What?

    Loop holes in the article:

    Loop hole #1: The writer writes, “I started reading publications from different parts of the world. This made me rethink my perceptions regarding democracy.” So his source of information are English publications from around the world so how does that make him any superior to those acquiring their information from Urdu publications in the country?

    Loop hole # 2: He writes,”a section of the media was enraged. This section had remained calm through the nine years of Musharraf’s dictatorial regime. Night after night, I saw the faces of Shaheen Sehbai, Ansar Abbasi and Kamran Khan on TV”. Kamran Khan and Ansar Abbasi of Jang/Geo group? If they stayed silent, are you suggesting that Geo was banned for nothing?

    Loop hole # 3: The Chief Justice he so loved for whom he even despised the Govt., what has he done for the ‘sorry states of Railway and PIA’? No suo moto this time?

    L.H. # 4: “it is the same government which ordered the release of the deposed judges immediately” ..But the restatement took ages!

    L.H. # 5: “Did anyone ask those sitting in the GHQ how Osama managed to live in our country for five years?” We don’t know that for a fact that it really was OBL. How do you?

    L.H. # 6: “Nobody asked them how terrorists managed to enter the premises of a naval base.” Naval base is not on the seventh sky where a human soul can’t reach. They found a clear fence and got lucky. Sh*t happens!

    L.H. # 7: “why there was complete silence when US drones flying from Shamsi air base kept killing innocent Pakistanis almost every day.” This question should be put forth to the Government that allowed drones.

    LH#8: “Nobody asked them if some retired armed forces’ officials joined militant organisations.” The civilians get a freedom of choice but an armed forces officer doesn’t? And what are suggesting that now you want to spend more money to recruit people just to keep an eye on the thousands of retired officers? How absurd is that?

    LH # 9: “He asked the people of Pakistan whether they want democracy or dictatorship, and I would like to tell Gilani sahib that he should not expect anything from the nation because the majority means the middle class.” ..From where I see, the majority of the youth is with Imran Khan (whether it reads or Urdu dailies or English publications. Imran Khan = democracy. Doesn’t it? Recommend

  • Zeeshan Ali


    read your article, was a good one but you just can’t ignore all the evil and the bad they have given to fate of the people of Pakistan.

    I just ask one question. Do we need prosperity? i think we need it, and it doesn’t matter it comes with democracy or with dictatorship. Whats the worth of democracy in a country which is a nuclear power and yet there is load shedding. Despite of having its own gas resources there is so much gas shortage. Recommend

  • http://isharearena.com Aswad

    I can understand from where you are coming from, I have exactly the same sentiments !! I was 10 when musharaf took over and i too belong to a middle class family same like you…You raised a very valid question , Why not the ARMY Gets questioned??? But than i look to the other side where so called Democratic Gov. is and i fell ashamed , those guys who dnt even know how to speak are controlling us, Rulling and and making things miserable…than I see why No 1 questions the army , Coz they Those are the people who eventually know how to steer things….If the Gov. had some Guts and talent to deliver they should be the first one to question the ARMY of all Humiliation we faced of OBL and drone Attacks etc….But with these Frauds …No Sir !!
    P.S This Gov was didn’t get votes coz they are competent..just because they cashed some ones Assassination …Recommend

  • MD

    A very good piece of writing indeed. You have correctly pointed all that is wrong with Pakistan as a society. When Prime Minister Gilani issued that famous statement about “state within a state”, I expected everyone in Pakistan to stand and support their Prime Minister. But, I was disappointed to see the completely opposite reaction from the common and even educated people. In a democracy Parliament is sovereign and supreme as it represents the will of the people. Every other democratic institute must remain subservient to the Parliament and they must exercise their rights and responsibilities staying within limits imposed by the constitution. Judiciary is there to interpret the constitution and ensure that the laws passed by the parliament are in acquiescence with the spirit of the constitution and do not interfere with the rights of the citizens or independent state institutions. Therefore strengthening of the democratic institute must be given first priority, without which every government would be a failure.
    But, sadly, Pakistanis want instantaneous miracles from their utterly powerless parliament and civilian government. It is outrageous to expect a good performance on all fronts from a government which has no power over key areas such as budget, defense and foreign policy. Without a total control over those key area of governance, even a government formed by the angels is bound to fail!!
    Sir, usually, I find your comments pretty fair and sensible, but, this time, frustration seems to have obliterated your rational thinking. It doesn’t matter who raised the slogan of democracy, the important thing is the context in which the slogan was raised. Corruption is not going vanish overnight, the only way to eradicate corruption is to strengthen the democracy. If defense ministry of Pakistan tells the supreme court that it has no operational control over army and spy agency, then, as a citizen, you should be much more agitated on the issue than moaning and groaning about corruption.
    Anyway, what are you expecting from a government, whose more than 50% budget goes to defense and debt servicing and which is surviving literally on borrowed money?Recommend

  • imran khalid

    certainly there is no comparison between martial law and democracy and its even beyond discussion. but if nawaz sharif, zardari, yousaf raza gillani are the products of democracy then it has to be reviewed.Recommend

  • TruthNFacts

    Keeping in view the chequered history of our country, it demands a very long struggle before achieving the dream of civilian supremacy. However, the outspoken speech of PM has initiated a war against conspirators for the first time in our history. In addition, the situation inside and outside the country is not favourable for any extra ordinary misadventure for armed forces. However, establishment does have other options to demote civilian rule and keep democracy under constant pressure, which we have been witnessing for years. It is the duty of the political forces to educate, prepare, and organise masses against any misadventure from non-civilian forces. Recommend

  • aslam

    i think shakel is ryt. but i m veru hopeful tha with new vibrent media people lyk shakel will bring change. we. the youth, should raise the question about army. why army interfares in ploticis. Recommend

  • quttubuddin


    I was taking you so seriously, until you said it wasn’t OBL they killed in the raid…. jeeeezRecommend

  • alicia

    Why did people vote for Zardari in the first place don’t they know what he is. Why vote for him when u don’t like him. I will always support democracy because I know that I can punish the current rulers on election day for their incompetency. I can’t punish the dictator Musharraf for secretly selling Pakistanis to America, for giving airbases to American drones, for the bomb blasts for the loadshedding because he ran away to UK. Recommend

  • http://isharearena.com Aswad

    @Alicia People voted for PPP ..a sympathy vote !! Just like Bollywood Movies!! Zardari was elected by the people we voted for sadly… PPP Cashed a Assassination!! Classic move.. Recommend

  • http://solomon2.blogspot.com Solomon2

    “Who will save democracy now?”

    What a question! In a democracy anyone can compete for leadership – including you.Recommend

  • Hassan Durrani

    Democracy is the only way Pakistan can survive , no matter bad or good it will gain its strength , so plz support democracy not for zardari , not for Gillani but for the people of PakistanRecommend

  • http://www.journalistpakistan.tk Journalist Pakistan

    Benazir stated very well; “Democracy is the best revenge.”

    We are still suffering from that revenge

    Journalist Pakistan
    http://www.journalistpakistan.tk Recommend