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Thursday, February 15, 2024

How democracy dies in Pakistan

Nations are changed by ideas and political action. The intelligentsia has a special role to play in sharing ideas and mobilizing for political action. In Pakistan, though fixated on the idea of democracy, this segment has not played its due role.

Pakistan no longer passes the democratic litmus test, according to all definitions.

The chief founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, had a vision of a modern democratic state with regard to the socio-political system of Pakistan. That vision proves to be a deception or illusion after his demise. Once again, after four military rulers throughout history, democracy is more in practice in Pakistan. Democracy is a system of self-rule by the people and individual liberties for the masses. In addition to these fundamental principles, there are democratic norms like tolerance and institutional restraint for better functioning of the system called democracy. To put a check on the powers of the powerful, there is an independent judiciary in constitutional democracies with wide powers of judicial review. Unfortunately, all of the above-described elements are missing in Pakistan. Consequently, Pakistan as a state is in shambles nowadays.

Read more: ‘Democracy and rule of law goes hand in hand’: Imran Khan

Self-rule means the government of public representatives which can formulate policies in the best interests of the people and the state. For this purpose, the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan creates three tiers of government: federal government, provincial government and local government. At present, Pakistan’s largest political party, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI), is absent from the National Assembly. It is the largest political party with regard to popular votes as well as National Assembly seats.

It proves that the federal government is not representative of Pakistan’s majority of people. Similarly, the third tier of government, the local government, does not exist in all the provinces. If in any province it is existing, it is not effective. Local government is the institution where power is actually devolved to the grassroots level. In the case of Pakistan, power belongs anywhere but not to the people. In nutshell, it can be expediently said that self-rule is absent in Pakistan so is democracy.

The pillars of democracy

After self-rule, individual liberty is the most important pillar of democracy. Individual liberty includes freedom of speech, expression, movement and choice. The constitution of Pakistan guarantees all these freedoms in its chapter on fundamental rights. Come to Pakistan today, and all individual liberties are extinguished. Journalists, analysts, media channels, political workers, and leaders are gaged, tortured, harassed, and declared anti-state elements.

Arshad Shareef, a renowned TV anchor, has fled from the country due to harassment cases. Imran Riaz Khan, a TV anchor and YouTube blogger is arrested and kept in custody to silence his voice against the government. A private TV Channel, ARY News, is banned by the incumbent government because it does not follow the government’s instructions. Then, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, has to face an FIR regarding charges of anti-state activities and terrorism. Consequently, airing his speech on the live telecast is banned by the government.

Read more: Has Pakistan forgotten the concept of democracy?

Perhaps, Musharraf’s regime was not as dictatorial as the current rule under the coalition of parties. In short, freedom of speech and expression is non-existent in Pakistan. In his article published in ‘Daily Dawn’ on August 20, 2022, Touqir Hussain articulately argued that because the two elements of democracy, self-rule and individual liberty have been absent in Pakistan’s history, thus, we are deceived in the name of democracy. Presently, these two basic principles are flagrantly violated. Therefore, it can be said that democracy is no more in our beloved country.

Along with principles, there are democratic norms that are considered inevitable for a functional democracy; mutual tolerance and institutional restraint. ‘Daniel Zibllat’ and ‘Steven Levitsky’ in their book ‘How Democracies Die’ argue that democracy Dies when democratic norms are not followed. The authors of the book name these democratic norms as mutual tolerance and institutional forbearance. In the case of Pakistan’s democracy, these norms have been buried years ago. Perhaps the norm of institutional forbearance has never been adopted in Pakistan.

As far as mutual tolerance is concerned, Pakistan is facing such intense political polarization as it has never experienced earlier in history. Political parties are not ready for dialogue with one another for the resolution of political and economic chaos. One side declares the other as plunder and imported while the others charge the previous as anti-state and a danger to society. Both sides call each other fascists. They do not tolerate each other. When one is in power, he starts witch-hunting others. When others get power, they revenge on their political opponents by filing fake FIRs on them and curbing their fundamental rights. The period of the last three years is vivid evidence of intolerance and political polarization in Pakistan.

Along with mutual tolerance, institutional restraint is also non-existence in Pakistan’s democracy. The story of the four Marshal Laws is a history. During the civilian rule, non-democratic institutions have been a major player in Pakistan’s politics. After ousting from power, former two Prime Ministers, Nawaz Shareef and Imran Khan, openly tell the role that non-democratic institutions play. These institutions intervene in the domain of legislature. Similarly, overuse of suo-moto power by Supreme Court’s chief justices is also considered an institutional intervention in the democratic process. In Pakistan, institutional intervention is a normal routine. Some analysts claim that institutional intervention is a part of Pakistan’s political culture. At present, non-democratic institutional involvement is at its peak which suggests that democracy is dead in the country.

Read more: PM Shehbaz hails Zardari, Ch. Shujaat for “protecting democracy”

The last yardstick of a functional democracy is an independent judiciary

In a constitutional democracy, Judiciary has a very important role to play. It is the protector of fundamental rights. Under Pakistan’s constitution, High Court is powerful to enforce fundamental rights through its writ jurisdiction given in article 199. Supreme Court has even greater power to protect fundamental liberties under Article 184(3) of the constitution. This is commonly known as the power of judicial review or suo-moto power.

Unfortunately, at the time when fundamental liberties are curbed, the supremo of the Supreme Court of Pakistan is on vacation. There is also an opinion in circulation that the judiciary is internally divided on the issue of the selection of judges. Cutting the long story short, currently, Judiciary is also unable to perform its fundamental duty of preserving fundamental rights. It proves to be the last nail in the coffin of Pakistan’s democracy.

In the end, it can be concluded that democracy in Pakistan has died. There is no self-rule for people. Therefore, people are suffering from severe floods and droughts. Their children are out of school, hospitals are out of medicines, food is out of range and inflation is out of control. Similarly, there is no individual liberty. Thus, whoever expresses his opinion or speaks against the people in power is gagged, harassed and tortured if it is necessary.

Read more: The problem with democracy in Pakistan

There is no mutual tolerance and the country is witnessing historical socio-political polarization. And, the absence of institutional restraint has buried the corpse of our democracy. Unfortunately, like in history, once again judiciary could not preserve democracy from dying. This time, the course of democratic death is slightly different. This time, the proponents of democracy are by themselves involved in its death.

 

The writer is a lawyer by profession and tweets @Ali HamzaJoiya1. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.