Pakistan and Turkish democracy

Published: March 27, 2012
The writer is executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies

The writer is executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies

Turkey used to be called the ‘the sick man of Europe’ and suffered inflation rates as high as 80 per cent per annum. But eventually, it fought back, reformed its economy with some tough decisions and made a remarkable economic turnaround. Successive International Monetary Fund support programmes also contributed in the economic recovery and consolidation. Though still somewhat volatile and beset with bouts of inflation every now and then, Turkey is not a risky economy any more for the simple reason that its economic managers are quick to make adjustments whenever needed. Turkey owes this turnaround also to political stability, heralded by the ruling Justice and Development Party — AKP.

At the same time, the grand political consensus on the separation of politics and religion remains strongly in place. The entire political discourse, therefore, continues to be embedded in universally acknowledged democratic values, despite the fact that outside modern Ankara, Izmir and Istanbul; Turkey, like Pakistan, is a religious country. That’s the reason why the AKP (a more ‘modern’ version of JI) didn’t dare to touch the overall secular framework (yet), though it has been placing its own people in key positions, preferring to promote bureaucrats who are more overtly religious, for example. Wine is no longer served in government functions. The hijab is okay. A friend once quoted an older Turk friend as saying that the country they had wanted to emulate in the past was Pakistan. But not the Pakistan of today, which they see slipping very quickly towards chaos.

It is, of course, debatable as to whether Pakistan can follow what Ataturk did over 90 years ago with brute power. The extent to which Ataturk went to remove reference to religion from every segment of the society was breathtaking and many observers believe, probably not possible today any more in an era of fast-moving, trans-nationalist Islamist ideologies, epitomised particularly by al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. This may, however, meanwhile endanger the secular edifice that Ataturk raised in 1923.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, perhaps, also is feeling the pressure and facing the challenge on the governance front; he may be popular but maintaining that popularity is predicated on service delivery and economic consolidation. Most local and foreign observers do feel that the Turkish government can face off any ideological or political challenge if it stayed focused on economic expansion and stabilisation.

Yet, what deserves consideration is whether Pakistan can emulate some of the fundamental principles that guide the Turkish model of democracy.

Other Muslim countries like Malaysia and Indonesia have also gone through more or less similar experiences which can indeed serve as role model for a country like Pakistan. If the entire education system is subject to state regulations, why cannot the private religious education establishment i.e. madaris be subject to those regulations?

The monopoly of religious thought and dissemination in private hands is risky and fraught with numerous pitfalls. This is what we see happening in Pakistan, led by the five Wifaq’s — Religious Boards of five Sects — and the religio-political parties. The latter have traditionally been unpopular but still benefited from the expedience of mainstream political parties. This way they also created space for their affiliated mosques and madaris, even though many of them were raised illegally. Ruling parties often look the other way when a Wifaq-related cleric encroaches on state or private land.

Based on the experiences of Turkey, Malaysia or Indonesia, Pakistan’s mainstream political parties, perhaps, can help initiate a debate on the subject. They need courage and a vision for a liberal and prosperous Pakistan to embark on that path. This, however, must not be misconstrued as an attempt to infringement of religious freedom. Everybody is and must remain free to practice faith. But that practice must not become an instrument of injustice, discrimination and intolerance.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (26)

  • BlackJack
    Mar 27, 2012 - 11:20PM

    Sounds unlikely due to the extent of diversity in Pakistan, as well as the amount of water that has already flowed under the bridge. Maybe 40 years back, Pakistan could have taken the right steps, and would have been the South Korea of South Asia (not impossible given the relative growth rate of both countries in the 50s and 60s); but today you are a nation that is used to an overdose of Wahabi Islam in public life, and will go into severe withdrawal with catastrophic effects if this is changed.


  • TightChuddi
    Mar 27, 2012 - 11:27PM

    Musharraf tried that with his englightened moderation thing but failed. things in fact went downhill from there…


  • Don Draper
    Mar 28, 2012 - 12:26AM

    “A friend once quoted an older Turk friend as saying that the country they had wanted to emulate in the past was Pakistan”.

    I seriously doubt any sane Turk ever said that they wanted Turkey to emulate Pakistan. Turkey’s imperial history and Ata Turk’s will and resolve cannot and should not be diminished by such statements. Recommend

  • fahim
    Mar 28, 2012 - 1:19AM

    we are going backwards to dark ages, with more crude, raw and lower human tendencies spreading in the society and country. Talking of modern progressive thinking is a joke in this country


  • NewGandhi
    Mar 28, 2012 - 6:48AM

    Just stop looking everything through the mirror of religion, and it would do wonders for the country.


  • Fardad
    Mar 28, 2012 - 8:50AM

    One major difference between Pak and Turkey or for that matter Malaysia or Indonesia is that they do not have the scourge of sectarianism unlike us . Pakistan can never dream of real stability whether social or economic, unless this curse is taken care of. A consensus needs to be developed amongst religious scholars actively prodded managed or maybe forced by the govt, to prohibit any body calling himself a sunni or a shia or any other sect. Only ‘Muslim’ just as at the time of the prophet PBUH.


  • Hafeez
    Mar 28, 2012 - 9:37AM

    We don’t have to emulate Turkish model. We just need to put a full stop to military encroachments into political domain and let the institutions grow stronger. By the way, every Pakistani columnist writing on Turkey forgets about the plight of Kurdish population that is being suppressed really badly by the Turkish government.


  • Falcon
    Mar 28, 2012 - 9:47AM

    I think it might take long for Pakistan to get there but the country can make it provided we are able to get focused people at the top. De-radicalization in Pakistan can only happen if two conditions are met; Firstly, if Pakistan pulls out of all wars and militant support in whatever shape and form it be. And secondly, focus on economic growth and social / political / economic justice. Musharraf would have been successful if he had been slightly slower in his implementation of enlightened moderation.


  • khan of quetta
    Mar 28, 2012 - 12:19PM

    people over inflate pakistans problems in india maoists have captured half of india and kill 15 to 20 people every week yes there is problem but things are improvingfrom literacy rate to rate if indigenization in our products and new dams are been built i am very positive of our future


  • Kashmirian
    Mar 28, 2012 - 3:25PM

    Most of the turks I have met proudly identify themselves as Sunni Hanafi muslims and get excited if you tell them that you are only sunni hanafi.


  • Mar 28, 2012 - 5:34PM

    Pakistan’s problems are not due to existence madrasa or spread of fundamentalism. The latter were born, unfortunately, due to external factors such as Kashmir dispute, Russian invasion of Afghanistan and then US invasion that continues. Pakistan can improve its economy, law and order, and justice by severing its ties with the colonial governance structure. Things will improve overnight if we reform our police system as was done by GEORGIA an ex- soviet country. Corruption went down 80% there.


  • Haris
    Mar 28, 2012 - 6:52PM

    @Don Draper:
    ““A friend once quoted an older Turk friend as saying that the country they had wanted to emulate in the past was Pakistan”.”

    I am also not sure if the statement is True but it is evident that 1st South Korean foreign minister visited Pakistan soon after their Independence and asked about the formulation of Economic growth and Stability with the society. He means to ask, How Pakistan stabilized itself soon after the 1947 while the nation was came in to being without adequate resources and barely any industries? He was given complete documentations of these formulations and he went back with sincere thanks. These formulations were designed and developed by Pakistanis themselves but were never implemented in Pakistan. However, South-Koreans had implemented them and it is evident with the difference between two countries.


  • Abbas from the US
    Mar 28, 2012 - 6:57PM

    Comparing the AKP with the Jamaat e Islami is truly an insult to the AKP, which while being comprised of people afflicted with the religious thought process, nevertheless have the highest respect for the secular values imbibed into the long history of secularism that has consistently existed for the last 7 to 8 decades.
    The AKP represents the Turkish expression of practicing Muslims reconciling with secular values drawn from modern evolved suceessful states.

    The JI on the other hand led by the most retrogressive of the Muslim thought process, who on the other hand thru Muaududi’s books and relgious literature showed a road map to transpose an inherited secular society into a reflection of an ideal society at least in the fundamentalist perception,

    As for those who have commented that Turkish society cannot be compared with Pakistani sectarian based society, need to acknowledge
    that Turkish population is compaosed of about 20% Kurds whose drive to find expression of their cultural boundaries outweigh their allegience to the Turkish state religious or secular. 25% composed of the Allawis a religious minority that has safeguarded their existence by electorally and otherwise finding common ground with the Secular right institutionalized by repeated armed forces intervention to reinforce the seperation of church and state.

    The sucess of the AKP is the provision of economic growth to the widest section of the population in the Turkish state while appeasing the religious sensiblities of the shrinking population of observing Muslims


  • Tasadduq
    Mar 28, 2012 - 8:23PM

    Turkey cannot be compared to Pakistan in any resonable way and it is still a very secular state and cannot be called a ‘religeous country like Pakistan’.Unlike Pakistan,Turkey is a very tolerant society.In Turkey,women started voting in 1935 and it has historically been a multicultural state. In Turkey, apart from the Kurdish problem, there are not many examples of sectarian violence and many Turks are still very pro-European inspite of all the current difficulties this country is experiencing with Europe.I have enormous doubts that given the mindset of a large percentage of Pakistanis and the influence exercised by numerous religeous factions, any debate is really possible within Pakistan.However,I do agree that it would really have been nice to learn some good things from Turkish democracy.


  • Cautious
    Mar 28, 2012 - 9:08PM

    The article makes it clear how different Turkey and Pakistan are. In Turkey a leader ripped control away from the religious elite and made sure they would never dominate again – in Pakistan you can’t even have a serious debate about controlling the religious fanatics let alone wrest control from them.
    Turkey is successful because they know their economic engine is driven by the West and while they may hold true to their religion they won’t allow that religion to place them in a position which will ruin that relationship. In Pakistan’s case you have chosen the “blame game” and rather than elect responsible govt you elect corrupt people who blame others for your woes – rather than embracing the people who might drive your economic engine you alienate them.


  • Abbas from the US
    Mar 28, 2012 - 9:55PM


    The Pakistani state which takes itself as a rightful partial inheritor of the British colony of undivided India had provinces with the right for women to vote all the way back to 1921 (Madras) even earlier than the Turkish granting of the right to vote to its women citizen.


  • Fardad
    Mar 28, 2012 - 9:56PM

    Turks whom I have come across in the course of my service and travel have not shown leaning towards any particular sect. They called themselves Muslim, nothing more nothing less. Of late if they have had new thoughts on the matter, then God help them.


  • Umar
    Mar 28, 2012 - 11:32PM

    @Abbas from the US:

    “The sucess of the AKP is the provision of economic growth to the widest section of the population in the Turkish state while appeasing the religious sensiblities of the shrinking population of observing Muslims”

    I went to Turkey on Mid 2011 after 15 years and saw more observing muslims, more women in Hijab than I saw 15 yrs ago. Mosques had higher attandence than what I saw 15 yrs ago. That is actually a proof that practicing Islam is not contrary to democracy and economic growth. There are other factors for our misery. But it is easy to blame religious parties for all the evils in Pakistan. We have to identify what is wrong and only then we can fix it. I bet people will praise any party(religious or not) that brings end to corruption and economic stability in the country. Unfortunately we are still waiting 65 years on. It took longer for Turkish Republic to find such a party however.


  • Abbas from the US
    Mar 29, 2012 - 12:18AM


    While it may be true about your conclusion that more observing Muslims are wearing religion on their sleeve and the fear of ostracism associated with the practice and symbols of religion, that prevailed during the period when secular governements were in power has dissipated with the the long tenure of the AKP government, But you have to go back and look at Turkey and its evolution during the last several decades. The sick man of Europe that the writer of the article refers to, is from the earlier period of the twentieth century. But If you looked at the periods starting in the 70″s it showed a higher level of economic activity than Iran and most Arab states surrounding ever had even than,.leave alone Pakistan.

    And even before the ascent and catapulting of the AKP into power Turkey had a GDP per capita with levels higher than that of most of Eastern Europe dominated by communism and in the decade in between after the end of the communist empire, and the rise of the AKP which has certainly added to the economic prosperity that we so desperately yearn for..

    The observation that you make that with your viewing Turkey under this government that there is no contradiction between Muslim societies and democracy is really not valid in the case of Turkey. You are viewing a society that has a secular consitution in place for at least more than 70 years safeguarded and guaranteed by the officer corps of the Turkish national army. Even if Erdogan has dreams of a return to the Caliphate, he is at a very preliminary stage of challenging the constituional safeguards of secularism, a crucial feature guaranteed by the armed forces, who in turn take the secular nature of Turkey’s ideology very seriously.


  • Umar
    Mar 29, 2012 - 3:47AM

    You got definition of “Secular” completely wrong. AK party is no different than Christian Democrats of Europe. Turkish military is Anti Religion Extremists. In a secular country people are free to practice their religion and show off any symbols if they choose too. Cross, Sikh turban, Hijab and Jewish Kippah are all allowed in real Secular countries i.e. Canada. Canada goes to great extents to accommodate religious beliefs. When state bars religious symbols or tells you what not to wear (Turkey before AK Party government) or force certain attire (Taliban) then they are both extremists just on opposite poles. Non-religious theocracies are as wrong as religious ones.
    When comparing with very weak communist economies of East Europe, oil based Middle East economies and Pakistan. Turkey was slightly better, but 80% inflation rate is no sign of progress. In last 2 terms of AK party GDP has more than doubled and Turkey is 14th biggest economy and can be compared with Western European economies now. Inflation is under control. AK Party is shooting for another double in GDP in next 8 years. Still long ways to go but they are on right track.
    Now they feel more confident and are more assertive and confident when comes to international diplomacy, but it should not ASUMED that Edrogan is dreaming for a Caliphate.
    They still have to work on their Kurdish rights, but it is better now when we see a 24 hour Kurdish channel vs not acknowledging them at all and calling them “Mountain Turks” and punishing one for using Kurdish language by the military and displacing thousands of villages in early days of the REPUBLIC, causing more than a million deaths.
    Military influenced Turkey was too occupied with ethnic issues, problems with neighbors (vs Zero problem with Neighbors policy of AK Party) and enforcing their anti-religion theocracy. Things have changed a lot in last 8 or 9 years in Turkey. And it is natural, in developed countries and good democracies Military are subservient to elected government and not other way around as it was recently there or is in Pakistan right now.


  • Umar
    Mar 29, 2012 - 6:53AM

    You proudly declare your country of residence, which happens to be a democracy where one can wear their religious symbols on their sleeve (or head) and where military is under elected officials, yet preach benefits of military intervention in government affairs in Turkey and seem to dislike one proudly showing their religious affiliaton. Government has no role in telling what one should wear or not. (taliban and Pre AK Party Turkey are examples of two extremes) and both defy definition of SECULAR.


  • kaalchakra
    Mar 29, 2012 - 10:57AM

    Turkey has just begun to find its Islamic expression. The positive or negative consequences of the Islamic component will be visible there after thirty years.

    Similarly, Malaysia and Indonesia – the latter particularly – will see the full benefits accruing to societies from adopting Islam only in the next couple of decades.

    Whether Pakistan will follow their route or they will follow Pakistan’s remains to be seen.


  • Abbas from the US
    Mar 29, 2012 - 7:09PM


    It is not only my country of residence, it is possibly one of the few places in the world which offers me citizenship but also all the benifits that go with it without any reservations. What country of any consequence in the Muslim world would have given me an equal status with any other natural born citizen as an acquired right. Since I make a conscious effort to participate in Democratic party politics I had the opportunity to meet President Obama while he was campaigning, Secretary of State Hillary, Vice Presiden Joe Biden all of them during the last Presidential campaign and make my voice heard.

    Your comparison of the secular democracy as practiced in the US and my welcoming the Turkish Army’s role in the ongoing evolutiontionary stage of Turkish secular democracy require some additional comments. There are limitations to the practice of religion in public life even in the US, Where democracy functions with checks and balances that aspiring democracies emulate and use as examples, where public funded institutions cannot emphasize Christianity and its symbols despite the fact that it is the religion of the majority.

    Turkey and its precarious state of secularism is subject to unravelling, if Erdogan with his dicatatorial mindset continues to chip away at the edifices of the Turkish state instituions that can guarantee the secular democracy, What makes Turkey so unique in the Muslim world in terms of relative freedoms for the majority of its citizens specially on the subject of the equality of women.

    But everyone speaks from one’s own cumulative experience, and I happened to witness the Iranian Islamic revolution when the Secular right led by a dictator in the form of an imperial Shah offered much more personal freedom than, the current dictatorhip of the Mullahtariot offers. Where friends from the Iranian Diplomatic Corps left their country and sought political assylum after being humilaited for wearing short sleeve shirts in unislamic.

    I forsee all the work in this exemplery society that we are talking about to be undone by the same impulses that can be channelized in the wrong direction by a dreamer that could be compared as another Khomeini in the making.


  • asghar zaheer
    Mar 29, 2012 - 10:15PM

    Pakistan has little chance of checking its downward spiral or even surviving unless we
    accept separation of religion and politics . Turkey is one Muslim country which has
    entered the modern era and has achieved progress in social and economic spheres . Many
    of our leaders have had Ataturk as their icon but they did not have the courage to liberate
    themselves and the nation from the outdated and utterly dysfunctional notions of religion
    imposed upon us by the mullah .Unfortunately , we have almost excluded from our history
    Sir Syed Ahmad who in the 19th century provided us a glorious version of Islam which
    would have enabled us to meet challenges of modern time without losing our bearings in our past .


  • kakar
    Apr 28, 2012 - 1:49PM

    yes of course these may be suitable role models for Pakistan but i think the best role model for Pakistan according to my point of views is India rather than these countries because there are much similarities between India and Pakistan historically, culturally, various ethnic groups and important one is starting point.


  • Gautam
    Apr 28, 2012 - 8:39PM

    I don’t understand Pakistan’s problem. Why you all need to follow or emulate any country. Pakistan must do what people of pak think is right for them and pls feel proud of yourself. Absolutely no need to follow any footstep of any country. God has given every one the same brain and power to think and act. Cheers..


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