The elections are finally here but there is still a lot of anxiety whether they will be held on time, or held at all. Of course there are no certainties in politics but there are some larger trends which are more powerful than individual players. The information technology, including satellite TV, mobile phones and internet will ensure that there will never be another Martial Law in Pakistan, or anywhere else in the world.
Let me explain. Crime needs a cover. No criminal is more powerful than the whole society. A strong man cannot beat an old lady in the middle of a busy street because the society will interfere against the cruelty. Preparation for Martial Law needs the cover of a censored media. No conspiracy can work if every meeting between Generals and politicians gets reported in media. A general can still possibly capture Islamabad with tanks and impose censorship on the news channels, but not on email and twitter. If government closes the entire internet and SMS service for a long time, then the economy will collapse, family contacts will be broken and the whole public will turn against that government. If the dictator uses violence to crush the public, the world media will reveal it. Every country has enemies and jealous neighbours who will help the rebels to overthrow the dictator.
Information technology brings democracy because mobile phones and internet, specifically SMS and social media (Facebook, twitter, emails) give ordinary citizen a lot of freedom. Everyone can get information from any news source in the world and similarly we can all express ourselves freely and rapidly about ongoing events. This forces the rulers to respond to the public opinion otherwise they will be overthrown by the same public.
The reason why the assemblies have completed their tenure for the first time in Pakistan’s history is not the skill of Zardari but new power of the social media. The internet and SMS cannot be controlled without closing down the entire economy. This social media defended the news channels when they were closed by Musharraf, the channels restored the judiciary when the dictator dismissed the judges, and the judiciary has protected the constitution against the next batch of conspiracies. This alliance of freedom cannot be defeated by any General or Taliban.
There is another more philosophical basis of this faith in permanent democracy. When the Humans lived as tribes in the forest or deserts, the only form of government was the tribal leader. When we leant agriculture, the society changed. Now there were kings who had slaves to work in the fields. Next came the industrial revolution which gave allowed a dictator to organise a huge army to control his own people and to invade the neighbours. But factories require technical people, so slavery was abolished and workers were hired on salary. And now the information revolution has come and has given the freedom of information and speech to the common man. This is the reason that peoples’ power has suddenly risen all over the world. General Musharraf was removed in Pakistan, Arab dictators were overthrown, democratic governments now control almost all of Africa and even advanced democracies faced “Occupy Wall Street” movements by ordinary citizens. Once the Human society has reached a more advanced stage of progress, it cannot easily go back. So the chances of martial Law in Pakistan are about the same as the chances of return of the Mughal Kingdom. Just relax and join the fun of a historic democratic transition in Pakistan and the whole world.