More democracy, not less

Published: January 15, 2012
The writer is professor of political science at LUMS

The writer is professor of political science at LUMS

In these very interesting and frustrating times, people at large appear to be pessimistic and anxious about their future and that of the country. They seem to be losing faith in their elected representatives, particularly the individuals and parties that are in government.

There are many understandable reasons for their disappointment. Most of these disappointments stem from poor governance, a sense of insecurity, unemployment and an unending spiral of inflation.

While the country faces these and other challenges like insurgency, terrorism, and political violence, the various political forces present here remain polarised. But that is only one dimension of our complex politics. During the past four years, we have seen political forces reaching out to one another and building a national consensus on some thorny political issues like the Eighteenth Amendment, provincial status for Gilgit-Baltistan and the NFC Award. Although it was short-lived, we also saw the political partnership between the PML-N and the PPP which are major political parties.

Pakistan’s problems today — the multiple challenges from economy, security and governance — are neither the creation of present elected governments nor can we expect any future government to resolve them quickly with a magic wand. Some of the structural problems in three vital areas — economy, security and politics — are the legacy of the last martial rule of Pervez Musharraf. With his rhetoric, manipulations and machismo we lost national direction, and lost a decade full of opportunities. The present governments started with complex issues, many of which were inherited: judicial crisis, terrorism, insurgency in Balochistan and the energy crisis.

The scale of troubles left by martial rule is much higher if we include the fragmentation of political parties, the ruin of state institutions, and the trashing of the constitutions twice. The top military man did every wrong for personal interest, primarily to protect his job and use his position in the military to rule the country. Three of his predecessors have done the same thing with tremendous negative impact on the Pakistani state and society. Let me be clear: a great part of the political troubles that we face today is the legacy of the past martial rule.

The chaotic political situation, even with so many of points of confrontation among a multitude of political forces, is better than the calm and quiet of martial rule because the later eats up quietly like an insect. Pakistan for its own integrity, progress and internal cohesion cannot afford yet another martial rule.

While we often critique the political leaders on all forms of media, continuously, we support their rule unambiguously. They have popular legitimacy, meaning right to rule. We cannot condone corruption, mismanagement and promotion of pigmies and non-entities into formal positions of power and influence. Our history is evident on how those from the military who portrayed themselves as clean and patriotic, committed the same wrongs they accused the political class of. Clutter and political confrontations are normal in developing democracies. We need more democracy to make it better. The basic condition for allowing democracy to get more democratic is that it must continue, and the democratic tree even with fall leaves must not be rooted out. It was this impatience with democracy in the past, along with the hubris of men in uniform which harmed Pakistan the most.

Democratic polarisation and conflicts result in establishing a natural equilibrium. The present chaos, if allowed a democratic solution, will achieve exactly that.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 16th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • ifti
    Jan 15, 2012 - 11:55PM

    Though not supporting the military rule, its still a reductionist approach to link the causality of all problems in the realm of politcs, economy and security in Pakistan to the 9 year rule of Pervez Musharraf. Its crucial to bear in mind that the present government has done very little to undo the wrongs of previous regimes. A lot of problems might actually be inherited, but the current PPP government has aggravated them more, so lets not take the credit away from them!


  • ab wasay ex luminite
    Jan 16, 2012 - 12:15AM

    no doubt sir, you have clearly shown the right side of the political picure to the public who willingly want to pack their own elected govt. by giving way to agreed martial law. and all these problems are inherited by previus dictator and cannot be solved at a glance. And same will be true fot the next government. Inspite of all the facts, at least there must be a fair system in which public is to judge what their elected lords have done for the public and how much fat accounts they have before and after their tenure?


  • nnk
    Jan 16, 2012 - 3:36AM

    I agree with you entirely. Unfortunately, the whole problem has been the military’s involvement in politics since independence, which cannot be reversed in a short span of time, besides are our political forces prepared to manage their affairs anyway. There are no overnight solutions to correcting the existing civil-military imbalance, that is seemingly being pursued so vigorously. We have made some progress by closing the door to future military adventurism, I presume. Let the next government reign in the military a step further. Complete transformation may take years. We need to display some patience and a sense of sanity and not rush things without a well thought plan of action, otherwise the results will be disastrous and irreversible.


  • Falcon
    Jan 16, 2012 - 4:26AM

    Very interesting. Agree with your position. However, at the same time, it would have been helpful to see more details on how prior Martial Laws have contributed to present challenges of economy, governance, and security.


  • Kafka
    Jan 16, 2012 - 11:33AM

    I 100 percent agree with the author. The people of this country have elected this Government for five years. This was people’s verdict and is valid for five years. Let them suffer. In the next elections, they may elect better people. Martial law is not an option in civilized world.


  • Mani_Uetian
    Jan 16, 2012 - 12:57PM

    We always give this comment democracy should continue and system will purify itself, how??
    Will these leaders purify it? or system has enough capacity to purify itself?


  • Mirza
    Jan 16, 2012 - 1:20PM

    A balanced and pragmatic Op Ed by a highly educated person. It would be of great help if the good professor can tell how tiny third world economies support such a huge army? What is the total budget of Pakistan, where is it spent and where would the money come from for public good? Unless there is money available no govt (current or future) can improve the plight of people? We have bombs and we are not happy eating grass. We want to have our cake and eat it too!


  • Amjad Rana
    Jan 16, 2012 - 5:25PM

    Only way forward is democracy! No more generals & martial law.


  • Tahir Awan
    Jan 16, 2012 - 9:43PM

    To those with blinkers on their eyes yes there is a threat to Democracy? If no single Government has been allowed to complete its term, the facts should have spoken enough. Not every government was voted out on the floor of the house. To those who love Judiciary there is nothing wrong with it but please look at the selective activism. Many of the Judges who derailed Democracy and took oath under PCO in 1999, cannot be lovers of Democracy Gilani is a Democrat at heart and has good intentions, if citizens are not happy find another MNA to lead else deserve a brutal Dictator. MNA’s must stay united and vote for a Powerful Parliament. The people have sent you to Power to govern, not fiddle.


  • Kamran Fayyaz
    Jan 20, 2012 - 3:32PM

    DEMOCRACY not an easy piece of cake

    It is in aprapos to Rasul Baksh Rais letter More Democracy, Not Less Friday 20 January,i completley agree with the writer arguments in which he highlighted the causes of failure of democracy in state. Democracy can not completley get stable in Pakistan unless the population get litterate enough to vote the best candidate for goverenance. An excellent govenment of people by people is only possible if the excellent one,s vote the excellent.


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