Why Dictatorships are Weaker in Accountability than Constitutional Governments

At What Cost? Costs of perceived strictness of military dictatorships vs the reality of constitutional governments in Pakistan. The comparison in this post indicates that the perception of better accountability in clean dictatorship is not valid because in the long term the constitutional governments of corrupt politicians deliver a far better accountability than the dictatorships which are forever trying to buy their legitimacy.  The table below indicates the stark contrast of 9 years of dictatorship of General Musharraf from 1999-2008 versus 9 years of civilian governments of Asif Zardari (2008-13) and Nawaz Sharif (2013-to date in 2017). It is mistakenly believed in Pakistan that dictatorships are cleaner and better in managing the accountability than the civilian governments. This perception is mainly due to the misunderstanding of how a constitutional democracy conducts the accountability. 

To understand the context of this post, please read At What Cost! Why Compute Economic Costs of Faulty Political Decisions

The dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf saw the General usurping and violating the constitution twice; first in 1999 when he threw out the elected government in a coup and violated the constitution, and later on when he imposed the emergency and threw out the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court [1]. For the latter violation of constitution, a case had been registered in 2013 for treason and the case is still in the courts. How can a dictator who violates the law of the country and violates the constitution can uphold law and can catch the corrupt and hold them to accountability. 

On the other hand, Asif Zardari’s government was instrumental in restoring the constitution  in 2010 [2]. The 18th Amendment restored the constitution to its original form which had been mangled by another dictator General Zia ul Haq to enable political engineering to prolong his dictatorship rule. It destroyed the spirit of parliamentary democracy by hanging the Damocles sword of article 58-2b on the heads of elected governments [3]. The article created a musical chairs of prime ministers coming in and out every couple of years during the 1990s that did not allow the rule of law and constitution to prevail [4]. Restoration of constitution in 2010 allowed the PPP’s government to complete its 5 year term, the first civilian government to complete its term. The constitution has now enabled PMLn government to nearly complete its 5 years. This continuity of civilian rule has enabled state institutions such as supreme court, ECP, and others to independently discharge their duties creating a culture of acountability as explained below. 

Musharraf’s NRO enabled AZ to become President vs People voting out AZ

Whereas the dictatorship enabled AZ to assume power, the constitutional system restored by AZ empowered the people to vote out AZ. The constitutional method of removing governments that do not perform and under allegations that could not be proved in the court. 

Despite the notoriety of AZ and widely circulated stories of his corruption,  Gen Musharraf’s dictatorship was unable to pin even a single corruption case against AZ despite his incarceration for several years [5]. Then dictator General Musharraf promulgated the NRO ordinance that allowed laundering of all AZ’s cases. The notorious NRO enabled the dictator to bring back BB and Asif Zardari from the exile, despite their corruption stories; laundered their court cases, and enabled AZ to become President [6]. To pave way for AZ’s installation, there was the mysterious killing of AZ’s wife and Ex PM, Benazir Bhutton in Dec 2007. Surprisingly within a few hours of her killing, the crime scene was washed with hose pipes to remove any evidence. Earlier  in Oct 2007 BB had survived the bomb blast in the procession during her triumphant return from exile. She had blamed the attack on the dictator and had notified in writing that any further attempts on her life should be attributed to the dictator [7]. This case is still in the courts. In such an environment of political engineering with wheeling and dealing by the dictator there could be no accountability and rule of law. This was the case during the entire 9 years of Gen Musharraf’s dictatorship.  

Despite  AZ’s reputation of corruption, civilian government of AZ strengthened the constitutional system that empowered the people to vote out AZ in 2013. 

This indicates that the constitutional provision have a built-in mechanism for throwing out incompetent and corrupt governments, which is much more powerful than the arbitrary law less strong-arm tactics of dictators. 

[work in process]

Dictator’s NRO freed 10,000+ criminals versus Elimination of criminals during civilian rule

Gen Musharraf’s “Muk-Muka” NRO not only allowed corrupt mafia to cleanse their corruption cases, it also enabled over 10k+ hardened convicted criminals to be freed by the courts [9]. These criminals were then inducted in government departments especially in Karachi and they went on rampage creating gangs of extortionists, kidnappers, dacoits and land grabbers that destroyed the safety and security of Karachi [10].

Civilian government of PMLn since 2013 has managed to eliminate many of these criminals through a systematic operation [11].

Karachi Violence vs Karachi Operation

Dictator Musharraf support for Karachi violence became documented formally during the mayhem and killing rampage executed on May 12 in Karachi where the entire city was left at the mercy of killers [12]. To perpetuate his dictatorial rule, Gen Musharraf made a systematic collaboration with MQM in return for which the Karachi and other urban areas of Sindh were handed over to looters, gangsters, dacoits, kidnappers, street criminals, land grabbers who ruled the roost shutting down the entire city on a single call. The situation went from bad to worse, business moved up country or even out of the country. Life and property was not safe for anyone in Karachi [13]. There was not a single family or person who had not had their brush with the criminals. This happened with high frequency. till the start of Karachi operation during the civilian government of 2014 [14].

The credit for the decisive 2014-17 Karachi operation under Zarb e Azb goes to the civilian government which aided by the military resolve managed to bring Karachi’s situation in control within a couple of years [15]. Why was a dictator general who was all in charge could not achieve this in his 9 years of rule begs the question. The only explanation is that the constitutional institutions set in motion forces that enable accountability through their evolutionary processes. The civilian rule must be allowed to handle these problems politically assisted by state institutions and not through arbitrary dictatorial whims and fancies.

Farcical NAB vs JIT with NAB with teeth

NAB Chief Gen Shahid Aziz resiged in protest for the political interference by dictator Gen Musharraf in the accountability process. This has been documented in detail in his book “Khamoshi Kub Tak” [16]. The way the accountability process was politicised to go after cases of choice in the dicatorship is now well known. This could be contrasted by the eventual enabling of the state institutions like NAB and others in JIT to be empowered to open old corruption cases [17]. This type of accountability by independent state institutions is not conceivable in a one-man rule which only works at the fancy of the dictator. 

Open and Viciously Public Trial of a sitting Prime Minister

Open trial of PM and his family in Supreme Court [18] creates a precedence in Pakistan’s history where the powerful could be tried in the court. This in contrast with the hanging of ZAB in 1979 that was brought about by another dictator general through a deeply flawed process in which the Chief Justices of High Courts and Supreme Court were changed to enable a decision of choice [18]. Unlike such travesty of justice carried out by the Dictators, the current process is being perceived as free, open and transparent without the abuse of power or influence. The case itself shows that democracy is now flourishing.

Ambivalence towards Terrorism vs Decisive Operations against all Terrorists

Terrorism was encouraged by the notorious doctrine of Gen Musharraf’s dictatorship called Good-Taliban-Bad-Taliban ambivalence. His U-turn and the confusion brought about this doctrine enabled growth of terrorism in which over 60k civilians and over 6k army personnel have lost their lives through suicide bombing, massacres, road side bombs and other operations.

However, the decisive military operations during the civilian rules in North Waziristan, South Waziristan, Punjab, Karachi and other parts of the country testify that the constitutional processes and institutions are better in avoiding than any military solution. The failure of  Afghanistan war inflicted by the super power’s forces and billions of dollars to eradicate terrorism indicates that civilian and constitutional ownership of the operations is instrumental in bringing terrorism under control.

Political Engineering vs Ruthless media/JIT trial of corrupt

The contrast of the two types of governments indicate that a dictator, however much powerful, could never bring accountability through his machinations through instruments of political engineering which include buying of politicians through award of previliges or through blackmail. The Chahdhrys and their ilk produced by dictators have created many of the problems that we face today. Only the development of political leaders coming through a media activism, social interaction, and JIT type inquiries set in motion through constitutional processes can curtail the menace of corruption. 

References: [to be added]


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