FOR some years, Pakistan has been in the crosshairs of change, a change that is not acceptable to some, not enough for others, and too late for still others.
And that perhaps lies at the heart of our current political imbroglio political and state grandees are not ready to understand the true dynamics of change. If they do grudgingly, it`s from their own perspective, that is, at the cost of `rivals` whether these be persons, institutions or interests.
The mother of all changes, which has set off the process of the formation of a new power structure, lies in the spectacular constitutional reforms that the present parliament, for all its shortcomings, has brought about. The reforms have reset the configuration of powers.
Within parliament, the powers have slid to the National Assembly and Senate, leaving the traditionally pro establishment president toothless. Within the centre-province symmetry, the provinces have received more financial and administrative powers, hence the intensifying demand for more provinces. The elites seem more interested in finding new avenues of authority, away from the ramparts of a receding power that once rested in the powerful capital.
Within the state-society grid, it is society that has gained thanks to a host of new constitutional tools, particularly Article 19 A that has shattered the red-tapism to keep the public and media off the rulers` shenanigans. Article 25 A has given a new tool to civil society, rights campaigners and the common man to get the state, if need be through a vibrant judicial forum, to discharge its constitutional duty of ensuring free education to all children between five to 16 years of age.
Within civil-military relations, a democratic and constitutional dispensation has emerged as the consensus form of government. All organs of state are bound by constitutionalism. Hence, the chief justice reiterates his resolve to uphold democracy, notwithstanding the perceived failure of the government to deliver.
Even at the height of civil military tensions, the army chief vouches for constitution, which is clearly a healthy aberration from the past. The ever-divided political leadership is also united on it.
Given all these positive indicators, how come democracy continues to be in peril, and why are new theories being churned out as an alternative to `failed` democracy? It is because the constitutional changes are inherently disruptive; they many not necessarily augur well for all the actors of state and society. Often, some powers are pruned, and others, strengthened; some offices shed power while others gain authority, as dictated by the new constitutional order and the prevailing political culture.
Thus, constitutional change carries both the force of the past and the promise of the future. It is, therefore, a synthesis. But the synthesis follows an antithetic process, destroying all the barriers that come in its way.
Whether the destruction is peaceful or bloody depends on three factors. One, the socio-political environment, internal and extraneous; two, the relative strength of the resistance to the change that is long due and cannot be resisted any longer; and finally the catalysts of change, be it the political leadership, rights campaigners, judges, or common citizens like Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian peddler whose self immolation triggered the `Arab Spring` Moreover, the change must conform to socio-political demands. In western societies political change was invariably preceded by economic and social transformation. By the 19th century, new capitalist and working classes had emerged to supplant the landed gentry allied with an omnipotent monarch.
Also, a culture of the sciences, technology, humanist literature and modern social, political and ecclesiastical approaches had long prepared the ground for modern democratic welfare polity. Yet, the change was not necessarily peaceful. The West confronted a number of revolutions, regicides and global conflagrations before a universal consensus on democratic polity was achieved.
On the contrary, in much of the colonial world, radical independence movements led by maverick leaders initially substituted the colonial powers. But most of these newly independent countries had authoritarian or totalitarian regimes.
A rather long and painful process of democratisation saw the removal of these regimes under a secondor third-generation leadership. The democratic trajectory of Latin America, East Asia and East Europe saw this trend during the last decade of the 20th century. And now much of Africa, the Middle East and South Asia are treading this path, though with varying degrees of success.
What is common to both East and the West is the observation that only a successful democracy is sustainable. Europe was plunged into the most horrendous world wars when democracy and newfound internationalism failed to mend social and political fissures. The rise of fascism and Nazism in Europe was the result of democratic failures as well as the industrial propertied classes` quest for protection Our propensity for allying with authoritarianism owes to the fact that while the powerful landed, business and bureaucratic elites are duly catered to by an undemocratic system, the overwhelming majority of lower and marginalised classes, the real repository of political power, have been over and again neglected by democratic and civilian rulers.
No wonder, the elite`s emphasis is more on governance, which means political stability and certainty of the law. Less stress is laid on social reforms, which means redistribution of wealth and power. The existing constitutional reforms, accompanied by judicial activism, have once again brought the possibility of `socio-political change`. But alas, the lacklustre performance of the democratic government has once again put this change in perils, and hence its own survival.
The writer is a lawyer.