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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Do we need democracy?

Dilating upon Pakistan’s current economic woes and political turmoil, the former diplomat remarked that Third World countries, particularly those with large Muslim populations, are generally not suited for democracy.

Shamshad Ahmad, a former career diplomat of Pakistan, in a recent interview with a Pakistani- Canadian channel, has expressed his dismay at the present socio-political mess in the country. Shamshad Ahmad had served for 40 years in Pakistan’s foreign service and was once Pakistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations.

Dilating upon Pakistan’s current economic woes and political turmoil, the former diplomat remarked that Third World countries, particularly those with large Muslim populations, are generally not suited for democracy. The Muslims, observed Shamshad, have historically found authoritarian rule more agreeable than a democratic dispensation.

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Harking back to the early Muslim caliphates, the Muslims suffer from mass nostalgia that makes them long for a hallucinatory utopia based on a distant political order in the Islamic era that immediately succeeded the death of the holy prophet (PBUH).

Democracy, they say, is better than any other political system

And the remedy for democratic mayhem is more democracy. We have all the paraphernalia of a democratic system – parliament, judiciary, executive, and a thriving, conniving, and blackmailing fourth estate- the media. For the commoners there is the freedom to block the roads, rape (especially the minors), loot the pedestrians (and occasionally some banks), attack hospitals (this is a recent sport), etc.

The elite class – media barons and their carpetbaggers, feudal lords, industrialists, politicians, banking sharks, etc., have more sophisticated pastimes. They have the freedom to launder money, run private armies of goons, do all sorts of jiggery-pokery with bank loans, and make the commoner majority fool in the name of “democracy, religion, and human rights”.What more freedom do we want? And what greater dose of democracy is needed to enable the teeming millions, grinding under poverty, illiteracy, and disease, to earn two square meals a day?

Even during my college days I used to think that governments, as they appear to us, are mere façade and the world is being run by invisible governments, not only in the Third World countries but also the so-called “Geo-political aristocracy” symbolized by the White House, White Hall, Kremlin, andÉlysée Palace?

During the 60s and 70s, the terms “secret government” and “secret society” were in vogue. I and some students like me were enthralled by the stories about the knight Templar, Knights of the Holy Cross, Order of Christ, Order of Montesa, Hospitallers, and Freemasons. Their counterparts in Muslim history were the”Assassins” of Hasan Bin Sabah from the Valley of Alamut and the “Kharijites” who emerged in the time of the right-guided caliphs. The Kharijites were assassinated, besides many other notable Muslims, Hazrat Usman (RA) and Hazrat Ali (RA). The Assassins held sway during the 11th Century and kept terrorizing the whole of the Middle East for more than 150 years till crushed by the Mongol armies under Hulaku Khan.

Thereafter, like the Knights Templar, they went underground

In recent times we hear about the “Deep State” which includes the Freemasons, Wall Street, World Bank, Pentagon, the corporate sector, etc. In the Third World, the Deep State is symbolized by the civil and military bureaucracy, the feudal and business classes, and other manifestations of the moneyed class. In the US and European countries also the Deep State operates behind the façade of democracy. Is democracy merely a sport of the rich or it provides a better quality of life?

While India, Pakistan, and many other pseudo-democracies swim in a turbulent sea of organized chaos, authoritarian governments in China, Russia, and the Gulf states–to name a few, provide a better quality of life to their citizens. In the case of Iran, another authoritarian state, where the quality of life of its people has not improved, the country is certainly governed better than Pakistan. Then there are Malaysia and Singapore, two South East Asian democracies that have become Asian Tigers under rulers Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathir Muhammad, who behaved like despots.

Why democracy and dictatorship both have failed in Pakistan? We have tried military rule, parliamentary democracy as well as the presidential form of government. All three have failed. The main drawback of parliamentary democracy, in the context of Pakistan, is the blackmail to which the leader of the house is subjected by his party members. As for the presidential system, Ayub Khan’sbasic democracies failed because they deprived the politicians, lawyers, and other vested interests of the power to manipulate.

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Should we cling to the parliamentary system because it facilitates the ruling classes? Are the trappings of parliamentary democracy a necessary evil that the state should learn to live with? Whether we like it or not, either we should have a watchdog (call it the NationalSecurity Council, with teeth) like the Wilayat e – Faqih, as they call it in Iran.

The term shogun appeared in various titles given to military commanders commissioned for the imperial government’s 8th- and 9th-century campaigns against the non-compliant tribes of northern Japan. Legally, the shogunate was under the control of the emperor, and the shogun’s authority was limited to control of the military forces of the country, but the increasingly feudal character of Japanese society created a situation in which control of the military became tantamount to control of the country, and the emperor remained in his palace inKyōto chiefly as a symbol of sovereignty behind the shogun.

Pakistan, as it stands today, is a  society where tribalism and feudalism have transformed themselves into crony capitalism. It will continue to bleed us till society autocorrects itself. If this cannot happen in a heavily compromised and hypocritical society like ours, let us then switch over to a genuine authoritarian rule where the people, like in the Arab monarchies, Iran, and China, are guaranteed necessities of life and political stability.



Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology. He Tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.