Bilawal Bhutto, the P.P.P. leader, emphasized the need for proper scrutiny of the law, but retreated after citing the
party’s inability to affect the outcome given its low share of parliamentary seats. But his father and former President Asif Ali Zardari’s release on bail in an alleged money laundering case in December suggests a tacit accommodation with the military. Several prominent members of both the P.M.L.N. and the P.P.P. reportedly opposed the legislation, but were overruled by the top party leaders who control decision-making.
It wasn’t just a matter of supporting the new legislation that has disappointed Pakistani democrats. What also dashed their hopes was the manner in which the P.M.L.N. and the P.P.P. unconditionally and
hastily approved the law without even a perfunctory debate, let alone dissent. For some, they behaved less like leaders and more like good soldiers who respond with “how high” when asked to jump by superiors.
Under General Bajwa’s command, the military has dramatically escalated curbs on the news media, brazenly engaged in the intimidation, torture and abduction
of journalists, rights activists and other dissidents and manipulated the judiciary. There were widespread allegations
that the military had “tilted the field”
during the 2018 elections to favor Mr. Khan and his party.
Pakistan’s army has long been the ultimate arbiter
of politics in the country, which has tilted the political playing field against its opponents with detrimental consequences for democracy. Politicians have turned to the military as a shortcut to power and their politically expedient knocks on the doors of
the barracks have allowed the generals to divide and rule.
Mr. Sharif’s seemingly steely defiance of the
military had raised hopes that Pakistan’s most popular opposition leader had learned his lesson. Democracy does not necessarily need principled democrats, but it does need determined political leaders who can rise to the occasion.
Even though democracy requires compromises and accommodation between authoritarians and democrats, politicians of all persuasions must commit to
civilian supremacy as the only game in town.
Pakistan’s politicians have chosen to reward the military’s
egregious violations of the sanctity of the vote, a principle they had sworn to stand by no matter what. Their abject betrayal of their own word augurs ill for the future of democracy in Pakistan.
23 Jan 20/Tuesday