The Long March — and perhaps Kayani’s intervention — seemed to have woken up Zardari. That summer, the speaker of the National Assembly (a member of the PPP) formed the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms. Out of that committee has come a series of CoD-inspired constitutional amendments, including the eighteenth amendment, which weakened the power of the presidency, devolved power from the center to the provinces, and created a bipartisan method of making election commission and senior judicial appointments. Similarly, the twentieth amendment provides a bipartisan method of choosing a caretaker prime minister. Together, these amendments offer a break from the zero-sum game of the past and place limits on the potential for intra-civilian strife, reducing the possibility of military intervention.
The presidency retains a great deal of informal power given that Zardari occupies it and heads the PPP, but parliament has become a far more active body. Parliamentary committees, particularly those in the Senate, meet far more regularly than before and are embracing an oversight role. The Parliamentary Committee on National Security, for example, played a lead role in reviewing relations with the United States after the shutdown of the NATO supply route in November 2011.
Today in Pakistan, a milestone is increasingly in reach: for the first time in its history, the country might have one democratically-elected government pass power on to another. This potential achievement would not only be the product of a chastened military overwhelmed by insurgency and Musharraf’s excess. It would also be the product of a vigilant, pro-democracy civil society and independent media, and a wiser civilian political class.
At the moment, the greatest threat to democracy in Pakistan is not the military, but failing governance by the elected civilian leadership. Pakistan is essentially bankrupt and mired in foreign debt. After witnessing some of Asia’s fastest growth rates under Musharraf, Pakistan’s economy is now trapped in stagflation. Energy shortages have crippled Pakistani industries. State-owned enterprises bleed cash and serve as vehicles of political patronage. Thousands have been killed annually in political violence in Karachi, the largest city, and in terrorist attacks nationwide. For those who survive, the lower courts fail miserably in providing justice.
Much of Pakistan’s middle class continues to look to the army and judiciary for salvation. But the army sits on the sidelines and the Supreme Court, though it is perhaps one of the most activist judiciary in the world, has no capacity or desire to actually govern.
General elections expected this spring could bring in a center-right coalition led by the PML-N, which was involved in its fair share of corruption in the 1990s, though there have been no major allegations against it in recent years. And in contrast to the PPP, the PML-N is replete with electable and competent politicians, like Ahsan Iqbal and Ishaq Dar, who are well-versed in economic and social policy.
The next government must prove in short time that democracy and good governance are not mutually exclusive in Pakistan. It will be an uphill battle. If it fails, Pakistan’s democratic moment will prove to be nothing more than a fleeting moment.
Arif Rafiq is an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute and president of Vizier Consulting, LLC, which provides strategic guidance on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. He tweets at: @arifcrafiq.