Yet another prime minister of Pakistan failed to complete his tenure. Nawaz Sharif, the country's most prominent politician at the moment, was disqualified by the Supreme Court in connection with the Panama Papers case on Friday, July 28. Sharif was less than a year away from completing his third term as the prime minister (he couldn't finish any of his terms) and for Pakistan, this blow has interrupted its democratic run which had kicked off in 2008 after the end of the Pervez Musharraf era.
The fall of Sharif looks to be a routine affair in Pakistan where democracy is not strong. But if one compares the ways in which Sharif's last two innings as the prime minister ended, one certainly can see an improvement in the South Asian country's records. While Sharif was toppled by Musharraf in a military coup in 1999, his latest premiership has been curtailed by a public scrutiny. The latter example is a better one for a democracy by far.
The event is encouraging as it makes Pak system accountable
Cynics will still condemn Pakistan's democratic functioning but to see it through eyes of optimism, the precedent of a sitting premier and his family being subjected to explain the sources of their wealth is a welcome development. Is this the moment of adulthood Pakistani democracy?
But there are also challenges
Of course, Sharif's exit will cause more trouble for the fledgling democracy for there is not much alternative for the people of Pakistan at the moment and with the army modifying its role than what it used to be in the past, there is every possibility of the creation of a vacuum in the country's politics. And given the state of affairs in Pakistan where extremists have their say, persistence of the vacuum can pose a threat to the nation's stability and it will invariably give an invitation to the army to step in as the guards.
That could see Pakistan losing its way in the vicious cycle of terror and military measures, leaving its democratic experiment in disarray. None of Islamabad's friends or foes would prefer things going that way.
Pakistan, at this point, needs a stable civilian administration for its roots of democracy to get cemented. For that, the country needs more accountable people to man its top posts. But even though there are encouraging signs of democracy, precedents like the ouster of Sharif also pegs it back and encourage forces that undermine democracy.
Two ways ahead of Pakistan
Pakistan is at the crossroads between the good and the ugly now. From here on, two things can happen. First, the political class of the country takes satisfaction from the fact that the country's democracy has set up a bright precedent of bringing the highest executive under the ambit of law and respond with maturity to determine the next steps. If that happens, Pakistan will really take off on its journey towards true democratisation.
But on the other hand, there could also be the possibility of the country returning to the early 1990s when the two main parties – the PPP and PML(N) engaging in squabble while hunting for power. The musical chair that was played between the late Benazir Bhutto and Sharif in those days had made a mockery of the Pakistani democracy and stopped it from attaining maturity. Today, Imran Khan's PTI could fill in the shoes of the PPP as a more prominent force and engage in a bitter tussle for power with the Sharif clan, resulting in more chaos in the country.
Khan had his moment of glory in 1992 when he had won his country its only world cup in cricket. Twenty-five years later, it is another moment of reckoning for him. Will he rise to the occasion with an established mind?