By Mehr F Husain
October 10, 2014
For an outsider, it is easy to see why the military and a dictatorship may be preferred to a political party and democracy.
After all, unlike the squabbling political entities, it is a unified force with the ability to tackle both external and internal enemies and remove elected officials who failed to deliver.
However, respect for the military does not necessarily translate into preference as a political substitute.
If that were not the case, what can explain the crowd that greeted Benazir Bhutto post-Zia; or the thrice elected PM Nawaz Sharif despite taking on the military every time; or why people took to the streets in 2007, shouting anti-Musharraf slogans and ousting him?
There is a fine line between fear and respect, and there seems to be the misconception of what the people tend to prefer, despite the apparent popularity of dictators.
The PPP, which is currently working on a comeback, is often criticised for doing nothing during its term in power.
Given the political history of military coups and the sensitivity of the military after seeing Musharraf ousted so disgracefully, it can only be seen as one long act of prudence spread over five years that the PPP government operates with excessive caution.
Consequently, the country finally saw the completion of one full term of a democratic government and handed power over to another.
PM Nawaz Sharif is also known for locking horns with the military. His previous stints in power ended abruptly each time, despite being elected to power and gaining a majority in Parliament as he attempted to take a stand against the military.
In this term, he has been no different; some argue he has not learned any lessons, and for others it is a step to curb the military influence.
First, before elections, the PM spoke about wanting peace and trade with India, a sore point with the military.
Secondly, there is the case against Musharraf, where despite the pressure to let him go, the PML N government refuses to do so.
Thirdly, there is the control of the two most coveted portfolios - foreign and defence. Customarily, these two have been under military control, but in this term, PM Sharif decided to take them on himself as an attempt at curbing military influence.
Fourthly, in a BBC interview in London, the PM stated that the problems the country faces today are a result of continuous interruptions in the country's democratic process, clearly indicating the military dictatorships that have formed Pakistan's political history.
And most famously, PM Sharif's acceptance of Modi's invitation to the inaugural ceremony even though it clearly contradicted what the military wanted.
If all this is not indicative of how Pakistan is trying to shed off military influence, then what is?
Yet, the influence has not been completely curbed. The war against the Taliban was authorised by the military. The rumour of alleged relations of political actors such as Tahir-ul-Qadri with the military, fuels the fear of a return of the khaki rule.
Even then, the military too is changing. General Raheel Sharif is the first to consider home-grown militants as a threat. Whether the Taliban's focus is on Afghanistan or supporting IS, General Sharif is determined to cleanse the country of terrorists.
Also, given the vigorous campaigning pre-election and even now, with PPP, PTI and PAT attempting to sway public support, the military is aware of the democratic options preferred by the electorate.
Realising his role, General Sharif refused to get drawn in when consulted during the PTI/PAT anti-government protests - clearly, the military would stay out of political problems.
Yet, despite the deepening interest in politics amongst the masses, the argument against those who are pro-democracy is that they comprise of the urban 'intellectuals' that reside in cities like Lahore, Islamabad or Karachi.
That is not true. In every uprising mentioned above, the protesters have consisted of people from all socio-economic backgrounds. The electorate is changing, and as indicated by the female numbers at the PTI and PAT rallies, the younger generation - especially women - are keen on making their voices heard in support of democracy.
However, if the future shapes up for the PML N with the resurgence of the PPP, civil-military relations must work out in favour of democracy.
Mehr F Husain is a columnist based in Lahore