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Democracy in Pakistan: A tale of undemocratic democrats


Farah Adeed |

Democracy is, apart from a form of government, are a philosophy, an attitude, and a complete socio-political system. It carries out certain values that lay down the foundation of a democratic polity. Principally, these values are freedom of expression, tolerance, individual liberty, respect for the opposition, and peaceful coexistence.

And without the existence of all these values, democracy as a form of government cannot sustain in a society for a longer period of time for two reasons: first, foreign political systems that contradict with local political and cultural norms are ultimate to be altered by new ones or completely destroyed; two, such system does not fulfill the needs of different smaller groups that have vested interests within the state to capture political power.

Two democratically elected governments completed their tenures and the other assumed the office. This is a healthy sign for public and Democrats in Pakistan.

It is evident that nowadays non-democratic forces are becoming powerful, influencing the Pakistani society immensely, and instilling non-democratic political values in the minds of people. There are some political parties, religious organizations, and opinion makers who are continuously contributing to shaping up such an undesirable political culture in Pakistan. Ironically, almost all liberal voices that advocate democracy and individual liberty are silenced by branding them as ‘unpatriotic’ or Indian paid intellectuals.

From a historical perspective, both military and civilian dictators were able to manage self-serving definitions of democracy and gave a self-construed historical account of Pakistani society and political culture which, in their view, prefer the authoritarian system of governance over liberal democracy. To be clearer, democracy is not, in their myopic view, suitable for Pakistanis.

Read more: The problem with democracy in Pakistan – Farid A Malik

By using such narrow but smart explanations, these rulers introduced controlled democracy, Islamic democracy and sometimes militarized democracy to capture political power. As stated, the lie has no feet to stand on, these self-serving definitions of democracy and superficial political systems did not last for a long time, and were buried somewhere in the graves of unforgettable past. Political systems that merely focus upon the interest of the powerful, history confirms are bound to disappear from the limelight – sooner or later.

Since 2007, the process of the democratization of Pakistan has been underway. Two democratically elected governments completed their tenures and the other assumed the office. This is a healthy sign for public and Democrats in Pakistan. As a principal, however, this political philosophy should have some strong roots in our society after the passage of almost one decade but, very, unfortunately, our democracy has been surrounded by too many undemocratic democrats. Everyone is chanting one slogan: democracy is the only political ideology to be followed. But only a few understand and agree with the way democracy thrives in a country that has been under the direct or indirect influence of ‘other’ forces.

Political parties should play their role in spreading democratic values in our society. Without sowing the seeds of democracy it is only a daydream to think of an established democracy in Pakistan.

In the present, it is heartbreaking to see some leaders of Pakistani political parties saying that the present-democracy is useless, has no substance, therefore, should be overthrown. Historically speaking, this excuse has always been provided by the civilians to the military for intervening in the political process. This is absolutely insensible and utterly shameless.

Let’s imagine a state of dictatorship in the 21st century – will our ‘democrats’ have any right to criticize any governmental policy? Will there be any right to protest or to lock down the federal capital? Will political parties be able to use social media to run their political campaigns? Will ‘independent analysts’ be allowed to think and write independently? Will there be free and fair elections? Who will decide everything for us all? We will probably not be in a position to question anything. Anything, at all.

Read more: Democracy, constitution & rule of law: Essentials to take Pakistan forward

Political leaders and so-called analysts have suggested something really undesirable and indigestible but the question is: have they really pondered upon what they have actually suggested and to whom? I fear they have not. There is no denying of the fact that our democracy is not like it is presented in books. It is also not like what we see in the United States of America or in England.

But why?

There are two possible explanations that can be given in response to this. One, these countries experienced the worst of times in the past, but they didn’t invite their militaries to resolve their political deadlocks. They followed all values that democracy propagates or stands for. This was an evolutionary process that took many years. But this process has finally made them established democracies. And this process is still going on.

Our politicians should struggle for democracy and not merely for their turn to rule. Let’s not forget one of the lessons of history that rulers come and go but institutions remain. So, let’s focus on institutional building rather than leg pulling.

Two, the most interesting and biggest differentiating point between the two is regarding the attitude of political elites. In these countries, there were political issues, emergencies, traumas, and crises but one thing they all showed agreement upon was their respect and struggle for democracy.

So there is a long history that has played its due part in making the US and UK as established democracies of the modern world. As a matter of reality, everyone in Pakistan is against corruption, lawlessness, exploitation of the poor, and injustice. But our political elite needs to understand that by replacing this fragile democracy with a strong dictatorship is tantamount to cutting the bow we all are sitting on.

Political parties should play their role in spreading democratic values in our society. Without sowing the seeds of democracy it is only a daydream to think of an established democracy in Pakistan. Democracy takes time to grow. It is by any means not possible to overthrow a government and establish a perfect democracy in hours. This is a revolution through an evolution.

Read more: Social Democracy: The Middle Way for Pakistan

Our politicians should struggle for democracy and not merely for their turn to rule. Let’s not forget one of the lessons of history that rulers come and go but institutions remain. So, let’s focus on institutional building rather than leg pulling. We should appreciate our fragile democracy because it is much better than an established dictatorship.

Farah Adeed is a Senior Research Analyst in GVS. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s Editorial Policy. 

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