First have democracy then defend it

For a well-grounded democratic culture, people must have objective and subjective realisation

Dr Raza Khan June 20, 2017
The writer is a researcher and analyst with a deep interest in political economy, governance, development and security issues as well regional politics. He can be contacted at [email protected]

Today, whatever democracy we have had in Pakistan is once again under a dark shadow. Some argue that the present political crisis has emerged due to the Panama case and is a key stage in the democratic institutionalisation of the state. Nevertheless, democratic forces and institutions are sensing a threat to the democratic political system from undemocratic forces, both in the garb of politicians and the powers-that-be. An important divergent argument is that there could only be a threat to democracy if it is prevailing and as Pakistan does not have democracy in the true sense of the term, there is no threat.

Democratic institutions and the civil society have collectively failed to understand that democracy is not merely the name of a government, which comes into existence through elections. They have failed to lay the foundation of a true democratic culture by inculcating and internalising in the minds of the people the values, norms and features of that culture. Only by ingraining these can we expect them to be translated into actions and allow a culture of democracy to thrive.

For a well-grounded democratic culture, people must have objective and subjective realisation and comprehension of the values of democracy and their individual and collective benefits. Without this realisation there can be no guarantee of people resisting anti-democratic forces, including the so-called political parties.

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The foremost value of a democratic order is freedom. Freedom as a value of democracy has often been defined in terms of certain rights: of beliefs, speech, movement, action, assembly, association and access to information. Democratic institutions are not only the vanguards of freedom, rather their very evolution and orientation is due to it. Pakistani society is traditionally a conservative social setup in which individual freedom has never been a much-cherished ideal. The structure and functions of families, groups and clans as well as of educational and economic institutions have been so which typically negate individual and general freedom. As democratic institutions operate within the same conservative and reactionary social and cultural context, they fail to provide and safeguard individual freedom.

Justice is another core value of a democratic culture and system. Justice and equality are intertwined and they have a kind of a symbiotic relationship. The concept of justice cannot be realised without knowing one’s rights. In Pakistan with large scale illiteracy and low standards of education, there has always been a problem of people being cognisant of their rights, let alone struggling for their attainment. Due to large-scale poverty, the access to justice has always been a daunting task for the people because of the exorbitant costs of litigation. Moreover, numerous laws and several legal codes rendered the legal system so complex that individuals could not have a clear idea about their rights.


Equality is another cardinal value of democracy. Pakistani society has always been a typical example of social inequality with glaring differences between the haves and the have-nots. In its political structure, elites have always had a final say with no role for the general masses to play. Economic opportunities have also largely been a reserve for them. This has resulted in the evolution of a highly unequal society with seemingly insurmountable problems.

A democratic system cannot work without order and social stability. In fact, democracy is the outcome of societal order and in turn contributes to the stability of the society and the systems, be it political, economic or legal. Pakistani society is composed of diverse ethnic groups with their own cultures, social set-ups and subcultures, where the need of social order is greater than countries with homogenous populations.

There is a need for soul-searching by our democratic institutions if the democratic order has to prevail.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 20th, 2017.

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tuk | 4 years ago | Reply Elections by itself are backbone of democracy. Because we don't have good governance, we should not have elections either, is not a solution.
Tariq Shamsi | 4 years ago | Reply An excellent article and a must read for all those who are so called defenders of democracy in Pakistan. The author has hit the nail on the head when he implies that democracy, in Pakistan, only means the holding of elections, whether fair or unfair, and ascending to the thrown. The Parliament and the Senate having given nothing to the people of Pakistan. The 18th amendment has further strengthened the stranglehold of party leaders over the Parliament and Senate - remember Raza Rabbani shedding tears while voting for military courts. Parliamentary system has totally failed in Pakistan. Every person who holds public office must be voted in by the people and this includes the President, the Governors, the members of the lower and upper house. If this were to happen you will be amazed how many so called politicians will vanish from the political scene. Also the powers of the Chief Executive must be curtailed in making arbitrary appointments from head of the cricket board, to heads of FIA, SECP, State Bank etc. It is a wonder he is not empowered to appoint office boys and clerks in all ministries. Proper panels must be formed for appointments of heads of important institutions. Only then, and perhaps two generations down the line, we may see emergence of true democracy in Pakistan.
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