Dictatorship in Pakistan seems to be a popularized prime time reality show with short commercial breaks for democracy. The commercials advertise and sell products like rule of law, freedom of expression, accountability and transparency before returning to the main show each time. Selling democratic products to invest in dictatorship seems to be the latest business our powerful investors have turned to. The Dictators Pvt. Ltd. makes short term investments in democracy to earn long term profits. The company's sales and marketing team comprises retired generals cum defense analysts, international financial experts, opportunist politicians and non-journalist TV anchors apart from professors and researchers from military managed universities.

Every time there is an army chief to be selected by an elected Prime Minister, democracy products hit the screens and the government looks like the boss. But once the army chief is safely in the saddle the honeymoon is over and democracy reverts to the household model. It’s like the working woman who has to go out, earn, cook and feed the family with an eternally unsatisfied husband spending time at the gate, claiming his is the most important job of protecting the family from “the others.” His life is indeed a good example of an enlightened, moderate, democratic husband opposed to gender discrimination, in favour of women’s rights for the "development of Pakistan.” This is the Pakistani version of democracy; like a product on display at the Cantonment Stores Department (CSD). Democracy is only a fashionable buzz-word, a trendy lipstick on the lip-serving politicians or a glittering medal on the chest of defiant generals.

What else can one make of the current sea-saw of the civil military equation in Pakistan. The attack on popular TV anchor Hamid Mir and subsequent allegations by his TV channel against the ISI followed by a strong reaction from the armed forces and a public outcry against the media outlet has exposed the soft belly of political process in the country. The unsubstantiated allegations (allegations are normally unsubstantiated and subject to investigation) against a national institution like the ISI could be a crime but not bigger than security agencies defying the writ of the government in cases like those of the missing persons and previous judicial probes into the murder of journalists. These events have lifted the curtain from a bigger conspiracy against democracy and the exact authority of an elected government.

Both government and military, competing with each other for publicity, have long been pulling the media in opposite sides like a game of Buzkushi. In the same context, in the post Hamid Mir attack scenario, the results were obvious; a complete split. Media is always attracted by big business and our security institutions also run a business empire these days. We must understand that while the government is a bona fide player of the power game, the military and intelligence agencies are not. The use of media against the government by intelligence agencies is an open secret now. Elected governments are forced to think outside of the ballot box to survive and this is where they barter away the mandate of the people. But do they have a choice? The answer is yes, if the objective is to assert people's power and not serve personal interests.

The other day, large portraits of the army chief General Raheel Shareef and the ISI chief adorned Jinnah avenue in Islamabad ahead of a rally by Dr. Tahir ul Qadri's supporters. The government, in order to prove its support for the armed forces, did not prevent such public displays of military commanders. Similarly, the way military authorities have shut down private TV channel transmission and disrupted the supply of newspapers is now a potency test for the elected government. The inaction on the part of the government against such intimidation by political groups and the illegal blocking of media in cantonments can be interpreted as its lack of confidence in and about its own mandate from the last general elections. The accused media group should even consider boycotting PEMRA proceedings until the government establishes its writ in cantonment areas. The question is, why go to the ballot every five years for a commercial break that ultimately reverts to the reality show of the Mullahs or the Military? Why not revert to the people again to know if they want to be ruled by the barrel of a gun or people’s power? The inaction and timidity only reinforces the "punctured democracy" theory.

Tragic as it might be, we as a nation continue to be haunted by our past. The ghosts of dictators roam free in our parliament, judiciary, media and of course governments. This is the generation of politicians, judges, lawyers and journalists who were brain washed against democracy and politics during General Zia ul Haq's era. This was the time when political parties were banned from elections and students unions were banished from universities. Society was told that the political system was a farce and the military being more organized was the ultimate protector of the people. Now, with the same generation of politically sedated politicians and common people, why should we be surprised to have journalists and politicians talking about saving the "state" and not the Constitution? Premier educational institutions like NUST University (run by the military), has professors who tell their students that dictatorship makes the country stronger economically. One such professor who had been an advisor to the Musharraf government, once called me to prove the same data from the era of the general. I came back shocked and sad, thinking that if the professor was our Prime Minister, he would have preferred billions of dollars over our nuclear tests. This also explains why military dictators like General Zia and Musharraf were able to bring more dollars into Pakistan. Good luck to his students, who will surely grab top jobs in a politician-free future government of Pakistan.

During the successive commercial breaks of democracy from 1988 to 1999, the so called champions of democracy failed to restore the people’s faith in political activities and instead bargained with dictators and the military to remain in power. The compromises they continue to make today, will haunt their legal and political heirs in the future. They can't change the past but what they do today can certainly change our future.

The federal government must gather some courage to take control of the situation and it's national institutions. The attack on Hamid Mir ought to be investigated and the military authorities must be compelled to cooperate with the judicial commission. The government should make public the Abbottabad Commission Report and also the judicial commission report about the killing of Hayatullah Khan. It is now a known fact from the “secret” Hayatullah Khan Commission Report that army officials refused to appear before the commission and disobeyed their defense ministry in this regard. By talking politics and remaining silent on reports of it disrespecting political leadership, the military command will be sowing the seeds of hatred for the elected government amongst its lower ranks, which will be self destructive for the military chain of command as well. The farcical appointment of a lame duck defense minister must be cancelled and somebody more competent appointed. A scared government only adds to the fears of its people. Such timidity from an elected government only encourages gun-toting groups to browbeat and coerce those who do not agree with their definition of Islam or national interest. The security institutions must not be allowed to compete for popularity alongside the elected government’s reduction of democracy to a commercial break for the reality show of dictatorship.

The writer is a senior supreme court reporter and anchor for Waqt News.