Home Global Village Democratising Pakistan: Need for an inclusive public discourse

Democratising Pakistan: Need for an inclusive public discourse


Farah Adeed |

The quality of democracy is to a reasonable degree linked with the quality of public discourse in a given society. As the overall discourse evolves and keeps on becoming more and more inclusive the democratic order in a polity gets strengthened and institutionalised. In other words, institutionalisation of a democratic order subtly refers to a predominance of free thinking, rationality, and science in society. Societies where political democracy was institutionalised without ensuring sustainability of an inclusive public discourse are now passing through a de-consolidation process.

In the case of Pakistan, there is voluminous literature available on its inability to establish a democratic political order. The problem with most books and articles on the subject is that they chiefly focus on military interventions and class structures when it comes to Pakistan’s failure to develop democracy. Importantly, scholars of democracy in Pakistan want the formal institutions e.g. political parties/military to establish democracy in the country. Such a hard-and-fast top-bottom approach is now proving to be dangerous for institutionalisation of democracy in Pakistan. Any controlled or manufacture, if not entirely imposed, political change disconnected from native socio-political environment is destined to backfire.

Many Pakistanis living in rural as well as urban centres are a victim of a narrowly-defined religious ideology which not only limits their intellectual horizon but also does not allow them to treat their fellow beings with respect and honour.

These days social as well as mainstream media are highlighting the state of religious minorities in Pakistan. In some parts of the country, abduction, prosecution, and humiliation of non-Muslims have now become a norm. As a matter of fact, religious minorities face discrimination both at social as well as political fronts. But the question is; where does the problem lie?

My argument is that Pakistan remains unable to become a genuine representative democracy because it has always focused on the policy of homogenisation. Any identity other than the one constructed by the state itself is imagined to be a threat to the foundation of the country. Similarly, Islam is always used to create a self-serving political identity to disregard ethnic as well as lingual identities. Such a reductionist approach caused religious fanaticism which leads to the emergence of faith-based violence in the country.

I am reluctant to believe that Hindus or Christians are targeted by some ideologically extremist and violent Muslims in Pakistan not because they follow Hinduism or Christianity rather the problem is that they are considered as “not like us”. Look for instance at Sunnis and Shias and Barelvis and Deobandis; are they safe from each other? According to a study, as many as 4,000 people are estimated to have been killed in Shia-Sunni sectarian fighting in Pakistan between 1987–2007. Places of worship of Shias have frequently been targeted by the terrorists in Pakistan. There is a war of “all against all”.

Read more: Social Democracy: The Middle Way for Pakistan

It is a myopic political view to focus on widespread violence in Pakistan and take it as Muslims versus non-Muslims. More Muslims have been targeted by Muslims in the country than non-Muslims by Muslims. If we look at the broader picture and deliberate on Pakistan’s troubled political as well as social history we come to explore some very interesting facts.

Pakistan has failed to create a culture of dialogue which would have ensured one basic ingredient of democracy; respect for minority view. Minorities in any terms, be it religious, political, cultural or intellectual, are the key to ensuring the continuity and growth of a democratic order. In political and intellectual spheres the minority view is generally annoying and unpopular, yet very important and most of the times very persuasive, if taken seriously and without any bias. Pakistan’s focus on uni-dimensional, single political identity led to the domination of a single, exclusivist narrative which suppressed any unpopular opinion.

Societies where political democracy was institutionalised without ensuring sustainability of an inclusive public discourse are now passing through a de-consolidation process.

Pakistan needs an effective legal mechanism to protect vulnerable segments in our society. But legal means do not offer sustainable political solutions. Political change coupled with a well-thought behavioural change proves to be productive and sustainable. At the outset, the role of civil society and public intellectuals is important to be understood. Demand for legal protection is a temporary remedy.

There needs to be a persistent intellectual struggle to change the national political discourse in the country. Many Pakistanis living in rural as well as urban centers are a victim of a narrowly-defined religious ideology which not only limits their intellectual horizon but also does not allow them to treat their fellow beings with respect and honour. A broader, inclusive and comprehensive interpretation of Islam is necessary to provide common citizens with a humane philosophy of life.

Read more: Pakistan doesn’t have democracy but ‘worst kind of dictatorship’ under CJP…

Legal instruments can facilitate such well-planned social change but cannot determine them. Therefore, public intellectuals with an inclusive worldview must be in the driving seat to help those fighting against their own conscience due to their unconditional reverence for convoluted ideological dogmas.

Secondly, the role of academia is of profound importance to ensure social change in Pakistan. Social scientists in the universities of Pakistan must help their students frame ideas and develop well-informed, inclusive worldviews. We are now part of a modern world where gender equality, the rule of law, tolerance, and struggle for democracy are paramount ingredients to believe in for living an impactful life. The culture of reading should be the first priority of academics. Unfortunately, a large number of professors at public-sector universities do not follow the latest research in their respective fields. This needs to change.

Read more: Democracy in Pakistan: A tale of undemocratic democrats

Indeed, all Pakistanis do not go to colleges and universities nor does everyone use social media. But at the same time, it needs to be acknowledged that people using social media and studying at colleges and universities are the ones who set the agenda and determine positive-negative values in the society. Therefore, any change brought by these means proposed above shall have a visible impact on the quality of Pakistan’s national discourse.

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. 

Facebook Comments