Democracy cannot work in Pakistan, not yet

Democracy will only work when Pakistanis accept the system (they don't) and understand the system (they don't).

Salman Zafar December 19, 2013
In 2015, we will celebrate our 68th year of independence. In these 68 years, the world around us has changed a lot. For better or for worse, we too have changed as a country. The only thing that has remained constant for us over time is the ever prevalent outcry for a democratic political system.

To put it in the simplest of terms, a democratic system is one in which a government is elected by a voting process where every eligible citizen is entitled to vote. It is not however 'majority rules' as many of us assume it is -- that is a fallacy. Pakistan has tried to follow this political system, at least on paper. The trouble is however, with the implementation of this very system, and its eventual utilisation in a country like ours.

Does democracy function well in an economically volatile, politically unstable country like ours?

Common sense would say no, and perhaps it is time we pay some heed to it instead of listening to the mind numbing outcries for democracy that do not take our situation into context.

While it is true that a democratic system provides liberties and fair governance that is not possible in a dictatorship, be it military or civilian, what also needs to be accepted is that the democratic system works when the people accept the system (they don't), understand the system (they don't) and do not run amok with it (they always do).

History serves as the cold truth of how we have abused our very freedom, and how what we actually deserve is an absolute ruler imposing his will upon us with an iron fist until we the people -- not just those privileged enough to be able to read this -- are able to transition to democracy in a sustainable manner.

It is a trend evident from 1947 to date.

Never has a democratic election taken place in this country with the losing political entity accepting defeat gracefully.

From Bhutto vowing to break the legs of any elected Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) member who attended the inaugural session of the National Assembly after the Awami League rightfully won the elections in 1970, to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) whining about rigging in the 2013 elections to this day, and hoping for early elections in 2014.

If losing gracefully is beyond us, why do we even bother playing?

This does not imply that we did not protest when a dictator controlled Islamabad and made poor decisions the people were against. We protested vigorously, be it against the Ayub Khan, Ziaul Haq or Pervez Musharraf. However, when all is said and done, this country was on the fast track to development under Ayub, and this is something even the most biased of historians won’t deny.

The growth this country witnessed under Ayub has not been paralleled since, and this is evident through various economic indicators, the most prominent of which remains the 6.8 per cent real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in the 1960s.

The 1970s saw the rise of Bhutto, and our votes gifted us an era of nationalisation that crippled Pakistan economically. In came Zia, closed the door on the Bhutto’s policies, and our neighbourhood witnessed the decade long Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan which played a major role in shaping Pakistan’s future.

While we were busy welcoming Afghan refugees and AK-47s on our western borders, we forgot that our economy fared pretty well compared to Bhutto’s era. Zia’s regime, for all its social flaws, had managed to implement a stable economic system during his 11 years in power courtesy of a deregulated policy.

Next came the 1990s, and we rode on a wave of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif euphoria in successive terms, oblivious to the fact that our votes had managed to ruin us yet again, as we foresaw one of our weakest eras economically.

This in turn was followed by the reign of Pervez Musharraf, who mind you, was welcomed with open arms in 1999. It was under Musharraf that our economy witnessed one of the highest growth rates in our history - 8.95 per cent in 2004, foreign investment in the country was bolstered, and the financial industry went through massive privatisation. Yes many argue this growth was an unsustainable bubble, but hindsight is always 20/20 isn't it?

All of that went down the drain when we felt that a Chief Justice and an artillery carrying Muslim Cleric in Islamabad’s Red Mosque were national heroes.

We welcomed Bhutto’s curse back in 2008 on a wave of unparalleled sympathy vote which gave us one of our most horrific economic five years, and we followed that by electing a political party based on ethnic Punjabi prejudice.

This is not rocket science. This is not even science.

What we require is stability, and a system where policies can be drafted knowing that they will be implemented at all costs - whether in relation to the economy or national security etc. This not possible under a democratic system, and history has shown that to us in the ugliest of manners.

Our economic arm is not strong enough to handle democracy. Democracy requires adaptability, and an economic basket strong enough to handle sudden shocks. That is not the case with Pakistan.

It’s time we take the bitter pill, and accept that sustainable growth can only be achieved via a stable government that reigns supreme with an iron fist, and not one that is teetering on the verge of collapse every day.
Salman Zafar

The writer works in the Education Sector and tweets as">@salmanzafar1985

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Anooop | 9 years ago | Reply 1) The basic requisites for a Democracy is civilian supremacy. Does Pakistan meet that criteria? Then, how can it ever be called a Democracy? Considering Afghanistan as fair comparison to prove a point. Afghanistan is controlled by Civilians, however ineffective or corrupt bla bla. Karzai answers to no one in the state. 2) Even in Afghanistan, where Elections were held after decades of darkness, the government completed its full term. How many decades did it take in Pakistan for an elected Govt to complete its term? 60+ years, isn't it. Looking at both Af and Pak, Af seems to be more democratically inclined than Pakistan! Why this aversion to Democracy? One of the first acts of Jinnah was to anoint himself Governor General(Congress invited Mountbatten to occupy the highest chair) and dismiss the democratically elected Bacha Khan Government, which still had the majority. Jinnah and his League based their idea of Pakistan against the argument that majority rule will prevail. Isn't that the basic tenets of Democracy? When Democratically Elected Congress rejected the CMP, ML called for Direct Action. Against whom? The British? Of course not, the residents of Muslim Majority Bengal. 4000 people perished in one district alone in a single week. Very democratic indeed! Ayaz Amir put it well when he said Democracy is not in Pakistan's blood. Nations poorer than Pakistan(which India was in the 80s), have had stable Democratic setup for Decades. Nations much violent than Pakistan, like Afghanistan, have tilted towards Democracy. Hardly any nation is more diverse than Pakistan, except of course India, which rules out the diversity argument. As Sherlock Holmes put it, when you have ruled out all other possibilities, the one which is remaining, however implausible is the answer.
Anooop | 9 years ago | Reply Pakistan is much more Ethnically, Linguistically, Culturally diverse even today, after decades of separating from India, than most countries in the world, say Iran or North Korea or whoever. Please tell me one country in the world which is as diverse as Pakistan, apart from India. If diversity were the root cause of India's success, so should it be for Pakistan. Remember, Pakistan had 55% Bengalis, 8% Urdu speakers, a bouquet of Balochis, Sindhis, Pastuns, etc. Please think before to jump to conclusions. India succeeded because Democracy is embedded deep inside its soul; because Nehru, whom Jinnah called the Hindu Right, made sure it got a solid foundation and Constitution, which any country could be proud of. Because the Indian culture is tolerant and pluralistic, the reason we have a Sikh PM today. One of the first acts of Jinnah was to anoint himself Governor General(Congress invited Mountbatten to occupy the highest chair) and dismiss the democratically elected Bacha Khan Government, which still had the majority.
Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ