Democracy and Pakistan

Category: Americas, World Affairs Topics: Pakistan Views: 5911

Commentary on the state of Democracy in Pakistan, prior to the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto

In 1947 when Pakistan came into existence, a well-known poet in Urdu, the official language of Pakistan, Faiz, wrote a poem called the "The Dawn of Freedom". It is rather long and reflects on the people's struggle in achieving Pakistan as a sovereign nation from the British colonizers. The whole poem is very compelling but the concluding three lines say it all for the people of Pakistan. It says:

"The darkness of the night has not abated yet,

The moment that our hearts and minds can be truly free has not arrived yet,

Let's keep on going, for we haven't arrived at our destination yet." 

Judging from Pakistan's history since its birth in 1947, there can be little doubt that the struggle of the people of Pakistan is far from over. The ongoing political crisis is but only a chapter in the long history of failure of Pakistan's political system to evolve.

The betrayal of Pakistan by the politicians is a long and sad story. There can hardly be any doubt that as much as the army might be blamed for the crisis that Pakistan has gone through in its short history, the politicians deserve an even greater share. They have been so corrupt, created such confusion and chaos by manipulating religious, ethnic, provincial and linguistic issues and sentiments that to this date Pakistan has not come together as a united nation; it was this incapacity of the political leadership that led to the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971. 

The paradox of Pakistani politics is such that though everyone is against army rule, there isn't much enthusiasm for the alternatives. In fact looking at their past performance there are genuine fears about the ability of the others to deal with escalating violence and religious extremism, let alone their capacity to deal with the real issue of poverty, ignorance, feudalism and health.

Judging from Pakistan's track record, the operating principle in Pakistan's politics to this date remains "the doctrine of necessity". This is not the excuse that only the army uses to rule Pakistan but is also a guiding principle for many politicians in their "horse-trading".

The problem now is that Pakistan is close to being a failed state, despite its impressive economic growth and committed world of NGOs, democratic believers, and mainstream Muslims. In 60 years it hasn't found its bearings. Therefore the answer to the questions whether there is an alternative to Musharraf or is there a light at the end of the tunnel is being discussed and debated by not just Pakistanis but many others. Now that Musharraf has set aside his military uniform and donned the robes of a civilian president, can the people of Pakistan hope to go about achieving democracy through the exercise of their vote in the forthcoming election? 

It is unfortunate that the people of Pakistan have been historically indifferent to who rules them. This is mainly due to lack of development in the social sector on the part of every government that has ruled Pakistan, whether military or civilian. The wretched masses remain trapped in their struggle to gain food and shelter for their family and could care less whether they are living under a dictatorship or democracy. 

More than ever, the ground realities in Pakistan, a nuclear state faced with religious extremism from within and under heavy pressure to do outside bidding, demand an approach that will represent in the long run the aspirations of the people of Pakistan. The short-term, "throwing the baby out with the bath water" approach that focuses on getting rid of Musharraf, however emotionally satisfying, may not help much, and even make things more uncertain and complicated.

The people of Pakistan have suffered enough on account of corrupt civilian leadership and recurrent self-serving army rule. All Pakistanis now seem convinced of curtailing the role of the army in politics. They need, however, first a gradual establishment of processes that will lead to the desired outcome of the primacy of constitutional rule. The lawyers must deserve a lot of credit for stepping out boldly to draw attention to the issue of governance and the rule of law in Pakistan. They must continue to remain in civil discourse with the government on the issue of rule of law, human rights and freedom. However at a time of grave internal threat to Pakistan's viability and survival, recriminatory politics will not only be counterproductive but even more harmful. Pakistan's future hangs in the balance. 

It must be realized that the primacy of constitutionally based civilian rule in Pakistan is possible only over a period of time, and with patience. Coalition-building transitions with interim establishment and strengthening of processes of accountability and transparency must be put in place. The lawyers and the courts can play an active role in strengthening these processes to help Pakistan move forward. 

The media along with the lawyers can play a crucial role in change management by being honest brokers, leveraging transparency with identification of innovative alternatives. We all may yet have to overcome our own visceral feelings against Pervez Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif! 

As military leaders go, Musharraf may be better than most educated, cultivated and thoughtful. His recent action in usurping the judiciary and setting constitutional rule must be thoroughly condemned and his use of the "doctrine of necessity" as an excuse must never be accepted. However in the prevailing unrest and violence many in Pakistan feel that Musharraf may yet be the right man to bring things under control. As a civilian leader with the backing of the army he might be able to begin the democratization process and systemic change, as well as keeping the Bhutto and the Sharif families' kleptocratic tendencies in check; having the corruption charges against them hang like a sword of Damocles over their heads. 

It is a sad commentary on the situation in Pakistan that we have to ask what alternative there is to the prime ministerial candidates who took corruption to its greatest heights in the history of Pakistan and an army general whose autocratic tendencies recently seemed to have increased daily, culminating in the recent chaos. Yet again unfortunately the people of Pakistan are left with "the lesser of the two evil scenarios"! 

- Dr. Nazir Khaja is a founding member of Council of Pakistani-American Affairs. E-mail at: [email protected]

  Category: Americas, World Affairs
  Topics: Pakistan
Views: 5911

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Older Comments:
Pakistan is a FAILED STATE.

The Only solution is to establish 'a Khalifate state' based on the shariah.

Sixty years is enough time for people of Pakistan realize this. The secularists have given only poverty, coups, martial law, a pen state of the West - failure on every front.

Pakistan needs to do only one thing, and that is to get rid of their Feudal Lord System (Mega Zamindars.

Pakistan has everything else : the Brains, the Hi-Tech & Nuclear Technologies, Rivers, Dams, Agriculture, Universities, Educational infrastructure, Hospitals, Airports, Seaports, Railway network, Highways, and what have you?

Iran would have been in the same boat as Pakistan, if the late Reza Shah had not abolished their version of the Feudal Lord System
called Jagirdars. The Ayatollahs inherited a cleaned-up system to build their theocratic-based democracy.

Turkey's leader Ata Turk similarly got rid of their version of Feudal Lords, and established a Military-backed Democracy.

When President Musharraf came to power in 1999 in Pakistan, he had promised that he would mimic Turkish model of Democracy for Pakistan.

President Musharraf mentioned this Turkish model as his main goal in his book "In Line of Fire".

I believe, if Benazir Bhutto had cooperated in helping establish a Turkish style Military-backed Democracy in Pakistan, then it would have been a win-win. Pakistani Military would have gone an extra mile in protecting her life.

Before returning to Pakistan in Oct. 2007, Ms.Benazir Bhutto had shown her willingness for "Powersharing" with President Musharraf.
Had that spirit continued, Pakistan may be
well on its way to a Turkey-style Military-backed Democracy.

Pakistan has lost an intellectual like Benazir Bhutto. Let her sacrifice be not in vain. The idea of "Powersharing" and check & Balance can still be resurrected.

If Turkey has done it. Pakistan can sure do it :
Just get rid of their dysfunctional Feudal Lord System (Mega Zamindars) first.

Akhtar H. Emon

I think it is a good analysis and every Pakistani should read this artcle.Certainly unless the Government looks after all its own people, makes provision for their bare necessities and spends more on education and health, unfortunatlely, I have to agree with the writer that "the wretched masses remain trapped in their struggle to gain food and shelter for their family and could care less whether they are living under a dictatorship or democracy." May Allah give us sincere, God-fearing and selfless leaders.

it is remarkable that while dr. khaja calls for outright condemnation of the 'doctrine of necessity' which 'must never be accepted' yet he still manages to lend support to musharraf citing the same!!

it is also unfortunate that dr. khaja has limited the present narrative of pakistani politics to the personas of musharraf, sharif and bhutto. all of whom he agrees are decidedly corrupt and self-serving. if we continue to marginalize opposition that has stood firm in their support for the judiciary, for the freedom of press, for the rights of pakistani citizens (such as the pakistan movement for justice) we will never 'find' an alternative. i find it even laughable to consider that musharraf is a check against the forces of bhutto and sharif. together they serve as a check against the restoration of pakistani freedoms. is it not clearly evident in musharraf's bargaining with bhutto? (he exchanges corruption charges against bhutto for an extended term in office) support for musharraf will not see off the influence of the sharif's and bhutto's but it will only add musharraf to the mix.

finally, even resorting to this failed 'doctrine of necessity' gives us no hope. it guarantees only the propagation of the failed policies into the future. the musharraf government (like the sharifs and bhutto) has only willingness no vision to counter extremism from the country. they will continue to increase their bomb payloads until pakistani civilians turn against their own army (as many have already). the real problems that dr. khaja speaks of in the article including illiteracy/ignorance, disease/malnutrition and feudalism have all been ignored by the musharraf government. pakistani educational expenditure as a percentage of its budget has never been this low in the past 15 years...

may allah guide us and give us strength to look beyond the 'doctrine of necessity'.

One of the better articles on Pakistan. Hope there is more from Dr. Khaja.