2020 in Pakistan: A year of struggle between democratic and undemocratic forces

The politics in Pakistan has always been dominated by tussle between political parties and military. The military in Pakistan has ruled the country under martial law for almost for almost half of its independence years since 1947. Besides the direct rule, military has been involved in the engineering of politics in Pakistan and supporting their hybrid regimes.

Similarly, the contemporary government of Prime Minister Imran Khan is considered as a “Hybrid regime” of the military. Mr. Khan has received an outstanding and unprecedented support of the military leadership besides the growing inefficiency of his government and the emerging political crisis in the country. According to prominent journalist, Hamid Mir, the unprecedented military’s support for Mr. Khan’s government is because of the idea that, the failure of Imran Khan’s government will be considered as failure of military.

However, the year 2020 was dominated by the rhetoric of struggle between democratic and non-democratic forces. The democratic forces like Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) emerged as strong opposition to the political engineering and growing unchecked powers of security forces in the country. Besides these two mainstream movements, the year 2020 saw rise of youth politics and student activism. Several rights movement emerged across the country, most importantly “Aurat March” (Women’s movement) calling for civil rights and democratic setup in the country.

PDM is a coalition of six political parties and several small groups which struggles to oust the government of Imran Khan and stop the military’s interreference in the politics. PDM blames military for rigging in general elections of 2018 and bringing Imran Khan into power.

In the second half of the year, PDM held massive public gatherings in different parts of the country, while mobilizing people for civilian supremacy and calling to stop political engineering. Mr. Nawaz Sharif, three-time Prime Minister and de facto head of the PDM movement, while addressing public gathering of PDM stated that “Our struggle is against those who have brought Imran Khan (to power)”. Mr. Nawaz has also accused the head of Pakistan Army, General Qamar Bajwa and Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence of rigging 2018 general elections and supporting Mr Khan’s government.

Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) emerged as a rights movement in early 2018. PTM under the leadership of Manzoor Pashteen has strongly opposed the role of military in politics and the unconstitutional activities of military especially in the tribal region of the country. PTM has called upon the military establishment to abandon the policies of “good Taliban and “bad Taliban”.

In the year 2020, PTM emerged as the largest rights-based movement in Pakistan with followers across the country especially in the Pashtun dominated areas. The movement held large public gatherings with thousands of supporters in the warn torn Pashtun areas of the country.

Following the growing fame of the movement, its leadership and supporters have faced strong crackdown by the security institutions of the country. In the beginning of 2020, Manzoor Pashteen was arrested on the charges of sedition, but later was released. Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, founding members of the movement and members of national assembly were also arrested on the charges of sedition. Besides this several members of the movement have been abducted and tortured by the security agencies.

The military has taken several actions to curb the rise of PDM, PTM and other rights movement in the country. Although PDM successfully mobilise thousands of its supporters and held impressive public gatherings across the country, but it faced media censorship and propaganda tactics to sabotage the movement. Similarly, PTM is facing total media blackout, while some military backed media channels are portraying the movement as foreign funded. 

The recent growing agitation between democratic and non-democratic forces is unprecedented in the history of Pakistan. While some analysts in Pakistan sees this agitation as need of the time to improve the democratic setup in the country while others see the end of this tussle in the form of violence. However, the military must realize the grave consequences of political engineering and curbing of civil rights. It is time for military establishment to share administrative powers with the civilian governments and halt their support to a specific political party and “hybrid regimes”.

Unlike 2020, the political forces and military establishment should stick to their constitutional duties while refraining from interfering in the affairs of each other. As endorse by the opposition parties and PDM, there is need for “grand national dialogue”, composed of all stakeholders in the country to commit themselves to their constitutional boundaries and work together for the promotion of democratic values in the country.

Abdul Rehman
Abdul Rehman
Postgraduate student of International Relations at the Corvinus University of Budapest.