Tribune Articles by Javed Chaudhry Archive

Democracy versus dictatorship – Javed Chaudhry

JAVED-CHAUDHRYA woman called me and started crying over the phone. She said she had been collecting money for the last five years so that her mother could perform hajj but each time the government increased the cost; this year the increase was by Rs38,000. She said that this was her mother’s last wish but now it seems it would remain unrealised. “If my mother dies without performing hajj, I will send the money to the prime minister and ask him to spend it on his protocol instead.”

I trembled with fear because I know Allah is very close to the hearts of the poor and He listens to the plight of the oppressed.

Another call I received was from Mansehra. Khalid Mehmood said he was a poor carpenter. However, his business was booming and prosperity knocked at his door during Pervez Musharraf’s days. Good food to eat and his children admitted to good schools. “Then I was told Musharraf is a dictator, an American agent and against Islam and Pakistan so I also shouted: ‘Go Musharraf, go’ with other people”. The democratic government came followed by slump and poverty. No money to pay the school fee, or for petrol or the utility bills. “The worst dictatorship is better than the best democracy. Please keep your democracy and return me the dictatorship.” Again I shuddered — since I like democracy but I could see that it had not delivered.

The last call was from Karachi. It was different and more interesting.

The man on the other end of the line said that Pakistan has had four military dictators: Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf. All four left the corridors of power with full protocol and their lives ended honourably. Ayub and Musharraf left the presidency with guards of honour. Musharraf is enjoying a relaxing time in London and Ayub had spent his last days on a rocking chair comfortably in his lawn. Yahya Khan’s coffin was wrapped in the Pakistan flag and was given a salute. As for Zia, when he died, the eyes of the entire nation were full of tears on his death.

Contrary to that the end of democratic leaders was not good. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged and only a couple of prisoners participated in his funeral prayers. He was buried in the darkness of the night. Two of the Benazir’s governments were dismissed disgracefully and no one came out in her support. She met a tragic death. Nawaz Sharif was arrested along with his family and was exiled. Ninety per cent of his party men betrayed him. Chaudhry Shujaat and Pervaiz Elahi currently are in search of face-saving as well.

Why is it that in Pakistan dictators often do not meet unfortunate ends while democratically-elected leaders do?

“The answer is the state of poor common people” the man said. They lived better lives, filled with less pain, and they had food and medicine and this was during the time dictators were in power. As for democratic leaders instead of providing ‘roti, kapra aur makan’ for the people, they deprived them of these things and this only increased their troubles. That is why, the man said, ordinary people prayed for dictators.

“If the present rulers do not understand this point and do not wipe the tears of the poor people, the same thing will happen again.”

And then the call dropped.

Published in the Express Tribune, June 10th, 2010.