Democracy has different connotations The Excelsior 10 Jan 2024 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


Democracy has different connotations

Democracy has different connotations The Excelsior 10 Jan 2024

          While in prison on multiple charges, Pakistan’s ex-PM, Imran Khan, published an article in The Economist. In the article, apart from continuing to accuse the US of being behind his ouster he stated that elections (if held) would be a ‘disaster and a farce.’ He added, ‘such an election would only lead to further political instability. The only way forward for Pakistan is fair and free elections, which would bring back political stability.’

His accusations on rigged elections, paving the way for Nawaz Sharif to return to power for the fourth time, despite being convicted earlier, is nothing new for Pakistan. While both, the US and Pak governments, denied the accusations, Islamabad is approaching the publication to confirm how this article reached them from someone who is incarcerated.  

          Imran Khan’s nominees for elections are being rejected by the Election Commission on flimsy grounds, some being permitted to contest based on court orders. His party’s symbol, the bat, is blocked from usage, battle for which is ongoing in the supreme court.

Such was the frustration that Imran wrote, ‘all parties are being permitted to campaign freely, except the PTI. Those few of our party leaders, who remain free are not allowed to even hold local worker conventions.’ It was a desperate cry from Imran in the world press seeking intervention. However, none bothered to come to his rescue, least of all the so-called protector of democracy, the US.

          The scenario in Pakistan is such that with six weeks to go, there is hardly any campaigning for votes, unlike earlier elections. It appears that those standing for elections are aware of the winners and hence are least interested in interacting with voters.

          It was evident that one of the major agendas in the recent visit of Pak army chief, General Asim Munir, to the US was to obtain support for bringing Nawaz Sharif back to the PM’s chair. The US has not mentioned a word on Pakistan’s tampering with democracy while accusing Sheikh Hasina of subverting the same, despite the fact that the Bangladesh opposition has itself decided to boycott elections unwilling to face defeat.

          On the arrest and banning of Imran, the US stated that it is an ‘internal matter’ of Pakistan, refusing to take any position. On the suspension of Rahul Gandhi from parliament due to his conviction by a Gujrat court, the US state department mentioned, ‘We are watching Mr Gandhi’s case in Indian courts and we engage with the Government of India on our shared commitment to democratic values, including freedom of expression.’

          Interestingly, when questioned on restrictions placed on Imran Khan’s PTI prior to elections, the US State Department spokesperson, Mathew Miller, stated, ‘It is not for the United States to dictate to Pakistan the exact specifics of how it conducts its elections.’ He added that the US government is committed to ‘supporting a democratic process.’

          On a similar question on Bangladesh elections he responded, ‘We will watch the elections very closely, but of course, I would never speculate in advance on what we may or may not take in response to any development.’ The US had earlier advised the Bangladesh PM to speak to the opposition leader, Khalida Zia, to resolve differences but never gave similar suggestions to Pakistan, where democracy has been crushed. Sheikh Hasina had responded by stating, ‘Is Biden having a dialogue with Trump? The day they have a dialogue, I will also have a dialogue with the opposition.’

          Democracy as also human rights have been non-existent in Pakistan. The Pakistan army has ruled the country from the background, choosing the face of the PM based on its whims and fancies. Whenever the PM questions their decisions, he is unceremoniously removed. Historically, no Pak PM has served his complete tenure.

The hardline approach adopted by the Pak army against peaceful protestors from Baluchistan, Gilgit Baltistan as also Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would have invited global wrath. There have been regular protests in front of UN headquarters in New York and Geneva, but to no avail. India, on the other hand, faced criticism for its handling of the farmers protests. On the famers protests the US state department mentioned, ‘We encourage that any differences between the parties be resolved through dialogue.’    

          This biased approach by the US conveys its intent. For the US, Pakistan continues to remain a state which it would exploit. Pakistan provides ammunition for Ukraine on the request of the US. Media reports state that Pakistan has provided ammunition worth USD 364 million in an ammunition deal with two US companies. In recent times, the US has stopped commenting on Pak’s continued support to terrorism as also its backing of Khalistan terrorists.

           On the contrary, as Indian elections draw close there would be a slew of comments from foreign governments on concern of democracy in India. As Jaishankar rightly stated last week, ‘I expect it (battle of narratives) to reach a crescendo in the first 6 months of this year… As the elections come closer…they will actually start to attack the process if it looks like it’s going a way in which the narrative drivers don’t like… They will attack the Supreme Court and Election Commission.’

          He added, ‘We’ve got to figure this out and we have to fight back… We need to call them out and that is part of this whole narrative contest.’ India is a nation which has challenged global powers and this is not acceptable to them. The fact is that they cannot ignore India.

India’s independent foreign policy is not easily digestible and hence the current government, enforcing this, may be welcomed, but never by choice. The first hint flowed when the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed ‘extreme disappointment’ over their State Department refusing to designate India as a ‘Country of Particular Concern (CPC).’ It went so far as to demand a congressional hearing on the subject. Its justifications mention, ‘perpetrating egregious religious freedom violations within its borders,’ and ‘targeting religious minorities abroad.’

The national public needs to be prepared to accept an anti-India narrative building up in the coming months. The government must be ready to counter it both within and globally.