This is the election year in Pakistan and for the second time on the trot an elected dispensation is apparently going to complete its constitutional tenure. This is an unprecedented development in our checkered political history. However, there has been a widespread debate in the public sphere regarding the need of a democratic political system and its benefits. While a lot of questions could be raised on the quality of democracy and governance in the country, there can be no denying the fact that howsoever weak and substandard democracy may be, the system needs to continue as there is no other viable option for the state and people.
Democracy is a process and a culture. This process would go and the culture would get entrenched and flourish when at the structural level the umbrella is there to protect it and provide it a conducive environment to grow. However, when at the structural and systemic levels the political system and governance is not democratic it is well nigh impossible that the process of democratisation would catalyse and the culture of democracy would thrive.
The fundamental issue with the non-flourishing of democracy in Pakistan has been the incompatibility of its social structure with the essence and values of a democratic culture. The nature of social structure, which comprises the social institutions, social values, social roles and social statuses, of Pakistan is largely undemocratic. Democratic culture has its peculiar values which inter alia include equality, equity, justice, freedom and individualism (together creating a culture of merit, inventiveness and amity). Against this backdrop having a democratic political system is important. It is under this systemic structure that a democratic structure could be anticipated to evolve.
The social structure is profoundly and extensively tribal and ultraconservative. Such social structure primarily functions on the institutionalisation of traditional authorities and primordial ties. That is the fundamental reason that symbols of traditional authorities like Khan, Malik, Chaudhry, Wadera and Sardar on the one hand and imam on the other have been dominating the society through their societal power and influence to the exclusion of the masses, and their consciously and freely-elected democratic and liberal leaders. In this scenario, liberal leadership would have a fair chance of play if the democratic political institutions are there and sustainable. On their part, members of the traditional authorities and elites have been successful in manipulating the democratic political system and have had prevented the evolution of a democratic structure by infiltrating and dominating the institutions of democracy like parliament, political parties and elected governments.
Thus the very institutions of democracy which could otherwise have been a guarantee of flourishing of democracy in Pakistan have served as stumbling blocks for the evolution of democracy. Still Pakistani people and democrats have no other option but to stick to the democratic political system as it is the best mechanism to produce forward-looking, visionary, non-traditional leadership. Such leadership is critically needed for two fundamental objectives of the state and society: to provide multi-dimensional security to the citizens and to ensure all encompassing development of the people and society. This includes economic, political, ecological and human security as well as social, economic, infrastructure and human development.
Institutions of a tribal culture intrinsically operate on the principle of inequality and top-down flow of power and authority. Therefore, the values of a tribal culture, like that of Pakistan, are incompatible rather in conflict with the values of democracy. A society like Pakistan which is based on tribal principles where equality and equity are hard to be attained or ensured, whereas democracy functions on the very principle of equality to all members of society and citizens of the state. For instance, every member of society and citizen of the state have only one vote to exercise and are expected to have equal opportunity of social and economic mobility. At least in letter the Pakistani political system, which is outwardly democratic but inwardly not, operates on the principle of one-person-one-vote but most of the people cannot use vote freely either because of the pressure of the respective traditional authorities or bonds or because of their lack of education and information. Resultantly, the government which gets elected is based on what German political-thinker-cum-sociologist Noelle Neumann called ‘loud minority’ while the majority become ‘silent’. This theoretical democratic base of the Pakistani political system is indeed good because it at least provides the framework for the evolution of a democratic system and culture. Therefore, this needs to be sustained as the system does have a self-rectification mechanism. The present political system must continue as this would increase the capacity of the politicians and citizens to govern. Any derailment of democracy would further entrench the power of institutions like bureaucracy without any inhibition.
As the state and its people have been encircled by forces that are undemocratic and conservative, the way forward is continuity of the political system with the intelligentsia also having to play a pronounced role instead of working for personal interests.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 10th, 2018.