An impatient nation

Pakistan has just started on the road to democracy and we must not derail it by wanting perfection at each stage.


Yaqoob Khan Bangash July 29, 2013
The writer is the Chairperson of the Department of History, Forman Christian College, and tweets @BangashYK

Lately, I have been observing comments in the news media about the impending presidential elections in Pakistan. Several commentators have said that this is a repeat of the Rafiq Tarar saga when a nonentity was made president, that this does not augur well for democracy, etc. While this criticism has some merit, I want to argue that we are simply trying to put the cart before the horse and being too impatient. This was our first normal transition from one elected government to the next. In the grand scheme of things, this might not matter, but in Pakistan, where ostensibly we have had at least 25 years of democratic government, this ‘first’ is very significant. Expecting too many things so quickly is simply impatience.

One of the interesting jobs of the historian is not to inform people of something novel or new from the past, but to simply remind people of past events and their relevance today. Therefore, perhaps it is worth recounting how democracy was achieved in Britain — the first modern democratic country. We all know that King John was forced to sign the great charter — the Magna Carta — in 1215 by the barons, which enshrined a few rights and significantly, curtailed the power of the monarch. The Kings Council, set up under the Magna Carta, eventually became the parliament of England, and was split into the House of Commons and the House of Lords in 1341. Thereafter, gradually, parliament began to assert itself, and by the end of the civil war and the Glorious Revolution of 1688, parliament established itself as the central power with the monarch’s role increasingly limited. The 1689 Bill of Rights and the 1701 Act of Settlement further consolidated the pre-eminent position of parliament. However, until the Reform Act of 1832, a very small proportion of the country was allowed to vote and constituencies varied between 20,000 and seven voters! Women only received full voting rights in 1928.

The reason for narrating the above is to show how long it took Britain to establish what we call ‘democracy’. It was a process which took nearly a thousand years, and in some ways, still continues. It also shows that democracy is never perfect — in any age. Therefore, while no women and very few men had the right to vote before 1832, this did not mean that Britain should not have had a parliament and elections. We can now laugh that some constituencies till 1832 had seven members, but even such ridiculousness did not mean that the process should not go on. Achieving democracy is a process, where the process is as important, if not more, than the final product, and cutting it short and steamrolling it is not healthy.

We, as a country, have become very impatient. Maybe it is result of our convoluted trajectory, or environmental factors. So, if something cannot be done in 90 days, we are not interested and we can barely tolerate differing opinions. This impatience is dangerous for us, as it removes our sight from the long term and only makes the short term significant. No person, let alone a country, can survive like this.

The choice of Mamnoon Hussain might not be ideal, but can we at least appreciate that we are going to get an elected president? Even in India, with a much longer democratic history than ours, there is often disagreement over the choice of president and, in fact, Jawaharlal Nehru was rather unhappy about the choice of India’s first president, Rajendra Prasad, thinking that he was too communal. Choosing someone who represents the whole country is never an easy task. We also have had a perpetual tug of war between presidents and prime ministers, and therefore, perhaps the loyalist choice of Nawaz Sharif should have been expected.

Pakistan has just started on the road to democracy and we must not derail it by wanting perfection at each stage. Yes, elections will be rigged in places, governments will not always act properly and the choice of president might be difficult but the important thing is that the process must go on. It is indeed from the process itself that real change will come.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2013.

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COMMENTS (24)

c mann | 7 years ago | Reply

A patient nation is ,indeed, a "Patient" nation Nothing can be achieved if one is not impatient especially in Pakistan

BruteForce | 7 years ago | Reply

@nrmr44:

Thats the easiest way to deal with dissension isn't it. Liken it to some extremist thought, attack the credibility. Bang!

But, Internet has revolutionised the nature of thought and the ways of sharing it. Now, there's far less problem in speaking freely, even if the message goes down or not, the message will be heard.

"Please check up on the Nazi party’s and Hitler’s religious affiliations. "

You still didn't tell me where I mentioned Fascism as ideal, nor, now, Communist Dictatorship.

Whose comments are you reading, anyway? It'll be a folly to treat me like you might treat the less intellectually inclined.

"especially generalizations about the current state of Muslim nations around the world. "

Of course you disagree. It you didn't we wouldn't be having this conversation. Disagreement doesn't lead to being right.

The nature of truth will remain, even if we don't agree on it. Because if I am right and the truth is on my side, the Muslims world will continue to be in a state of flux, some improving, some going worse(who would have thought 5 years ago there would be massive protests by the secular bunch in Turkey), but on an average bad.

If you are right, slowly things will begin to become better on a whole.

Denial is coded into our DNA. Its a survival instinct. If everyone started to truly believe what their brain tells them, everyone would be getting up scared everyday, thinking about all the possibilities of death that day.

As a Co-Religionist, you are too coded by Nature to deny what is apparent in your society to outsiders. You, as a liberal, I am assuming, know this denial all too well in your conversations with fellow Pakistanis/Muslims everyday. The difference between them and you is only a matter of degree, as far as I am concerned.

"so it would be unwise to talk down to Pakistan, or offer them advice from over the garden wall."

Your argument makes no sense. I am talking of a common illness that plagues the Muslim societies. You are attributing it to some local problem, as if Pakistan is wholly disconnected from the narrative in the Muslim world.

Indira Gandhi in her Emergency was always bound to fail. Someone had to try, and now everyone knows what will happen. Where Indira Gandhi failed, various dictators succeeded in Pakistan, which used to be India too. It was as if DNA changed, with Demography.

You still don't get it don't you...

What I am telling you is simple. If I am wrong, great! Good luck. But, if you are wrong, well..

Too bad explaining more might lead to my comment being censored. So, I'll stop right here..

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