Will democracy survive?

Published: October 20, 2010
The writer served as executive director of the Pakistan American Cultural Center from 1990-2004 

The writer served as executive director of the Pakistan American Cultural Center from 1990-2004 anwer.mooraj@tribune.com.pk

The political history of Pakistan was once described as one long period of military rule interrupted by occasional bouts of democracy. It was during one of these brief spells, when there was a whiff of democracy in the air, that the press, clutching at straws, willfully exaggerated the importance of an irredeemably marginal figure from Vehari named Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan.

Quick to recognise a stirring in the political wind, his main contribution to politics was to provide a focal point towards which other dissidents in the country could gravitate. Unfortunately, he and his colleagues, all of whom belonged to the landed gentry, didn’t really achieve very much. But they at least kept the spirit of democracy alive.

However, frequent changes in the constitution, ushered in by a clutch of military dictators, completely destroyed the state structure and the fabric of government in Pakistan. The civil elite and the industrial class invariably benefited from such changes.

Across the eastern border, things were very different. India was fortunate to have had leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Azad and Pandit Nehru. It was Pandit Nehru who, in 1953, introduced his land reforms which played a key role in creating a proper democratic state. In Pakistan, the agricultural sector is apparently sacrosanct and governments wouldn’t dream of taxing local kulaks. And so the country continues to be saddled with feudal and tribal systems where jirgas and panchayats exercise their own judicial system.

The feudal class, irrespective of the party it supports, continues to hinder progress in this country. It fields uneducated, unqualified candidates who are totally incapable of handling problems that beset the nation and who are elected because they happen to belong to the right class and the right families. This class has yet to produce a mayor in Karachi with the vision and sense of commitment of that workaholic, Mustafa Kamal.

To give the reader an idea of the latent power the military exerts in this country, during the period 1951 to 1958, when a democracy of sorts existed, India had one prime minister and several army chiefs while Pakistan had one army chief and several prime ministers. Pakistan now has a democracy and there is a good chance that the present government will complete its term, provided the prime minister stops sparring with the judiciary.

The tragedy, however, is that public perception of the people who pull the strings that make the marionettes dance is that they have been making a mess of things. Excessive borrowing from the state bank, the inability to curb birth rates and to provide potable drinking water in the villages, the belief that only the salaried class is paying taxes and the infinite reluctance to tax the agriculturists will eventually sink the PPP government, unless it takes drastic action and soon. A democracy was ushered in at great sacrifice. It’s up to the present government to ensure its survival. We won’t get another chance.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 21st, 2010.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • Oct 20, 2010 - 11:50PM

    Our present government is behaving as if it is under siege, and everyone is against it. It fights its “aggressors” in the streets, in the courtrooms and the palatial drawing rooms of the presidency and the PM house. Perhaps they realise that their power is not in keeping the people, i.e. the voters satisfied, instead a government that has come into power under the guise of “agreements”, ordinances, and “foreign guarantees” cares less for those who they are supposed to serve, rather its survival seems to be its preoccupation. And for that, the Pakistani taxpayer, (i.e. those who pay their taxes, and whose children will one day bear the massive national debt that we are accumulating) has to foot the bill.Recommend

  • Kamran Ashraf
    Oct 21, 2010 - 2:19AM

    The present govt had no plans to actually govern the country, but they were looking forward to ruling it, though.This is not a state to them, it’s a piggy bank, and as far as they are concerned, it’s their turn to reach in and grab the riches inside. Too bad for them that starting with the ongoing Afghanistan / Fata affair, we had the earthquake and now the floods. They would have dealt with the judiciary’s attempt to question or restrain their corruption, or the media constantly raising cane about one thing or another just fine thank you. Perhaps by giving a few thousand rupees a month to a number of families, or by implementing rental power plants or any number of token gestures and marginal policies, nothing substantial mind you. Just enough that would let them create any semblance of actually caring, so come the next elections they can claim to have done something. By then they hoped the tussle with the judiciary would have lost it’s potency and people would start dismissing the news as “same old crap”. And if every thing goes to plan the next crop of our “saviors” will be of age by then to take over their rightful inheritance, the piggy bank. Worse comes to worse they will not come to power next time but by then all their “hard work” would have paid off. Foreign accounts would be stuffed with hard earned moneys and sprawling properties abroad lie waiting for them. Anyone stupid enough not to have a second nationality or residency already will have to scramble but most likely escape the clutches of any looming accountability, and then after the next administration has had it’s fill hopefully this tree of never ending bounty will be in bloom again for them to reap or rape perhaps. But the strangest thing has happened, these floods and the the ensuing devastation has shifted too many eyes on this part of the world. Everyone wants to help to ease the suffering but they wonder if this govt. can be trusted. How unlucky can one be? What was supposed to be a gold rush for them has turned out to be the their ball n chain. Why couldn’t the world just send billions in aid and take their word for it’s judicious dispensation, instead they want accountability and transparency. Not only can this govt. not steal this money with impunity, what’s worse is that they actually have to appear to be competent in utterly mundane matters of governance and crisis management. This was not part of the plan. Any energy not being spent on figuring out ways to stuff their pockets was to be spent on swatting away any criticism or legal challenges facing them. They are not professionals, they are not administrators or intellectuals or even scholars. They were not supposed to be saddled with the task of actually finding any solutions. But one should never loose faith, not in our so called leaders ability to overcome and adapt any obstacles that keep them from amassing wealth for themselves. After all it is the harvest season. Recommend

  • Ishaq Narejo
    Oct 21, 2010 - 10:28AM

    Article randomly goes from here to there. Argument does not follow logicaly.Recommend

  • Oct 21, 2010 - 1:11PM

    Anwer Sb, you’ve covered almost every facet of our history, follies and jollies and the whole nine yards. This may or may not be our last chance. On ne sait jamais. However, this is definitely one of the most crucial ad breaks we have ever had in our general drama of dictatorship. It is today and now that will shape the future and determine the path of the pakistani governance soap. I believe our worst enemies are those amongst us who feel that the solution lies in the army. No matter who leads the nation today, we have to take chances. Noone ever got it right in the first go. And our military will never get it right, be it the fourth or fifth go. We have to understand that as crucial as the right to vote may be, it is eqully crucial to boot the army out of the political arena. There is no space for arms, uniforms, boots and generals. This is a civilian domain. Representative of a majority.

    The question is: will the miliatary ever don a brain instead of a helmet on their shoulders?Recommend

  • Ammar
    Oct 21, 2010 - 2:05PM

    Agriculture Tax is a provincial subject and needs to be levied by them. PPP government is at center and ever since it took charge, dates of its ousting are given by a historically hostile media to a thorough antiestablishment party. It is the PPP government that has extended the provincial autonomy to Pakistan’s federating units. This may be the reason why they are singled out for attack. PM’s last address is a clear message to the historic forces that have manipulated the fate of democracy in Pakistan so far that this battle is not over as yet and real power of people is with the democratic forces of Pakistan. The power, that cannot be denied by some third class surveys and media trials and filing petitions in front of an utterly biased judges to defame and discredit the present government. 18th amendment is passed when there was not even the simple majority in the parliament. It is easy to criticize the government but governing is the toughest business to perform when the whole power machinery is against you just to punish your crime of giving back the power to whom it belongs. And it belongs to the People of Pakistan. Not some unelected functionaries and selected politicians. Everybody has the right to wish though.Recommend

  • ali hamdani
    Oct 21, 2010 - 4:23PM

    @ishaq. Would agree with you. Democracy, however should be protected in the country. The militants eye the fall of democracy as a starting point to impose their mode of Islam.Recommend

  • nmb
    Oct 21, 2010 - 6:52PM

    this piece of land is for the army, the buearucrats, the politicians , the media and law relevants

    the feudals in any form of the above, are the root cause of every problem here, they demanded this land for their own purposes , the well being of an ordinary citizen is in the hands of these , and they will never do it . who kills his own domination. believe me there is no gaining in such disscussions & writing here save an earning of livelihood. the people here knows nothing but to dance and vote the lords of various types. though change and revolutyion are not smthng impossible but nearly impossible hr. they do corruption, they have failed to give us protection but have started our taget killing for highlighting their issues.
    we must put aside our sentiments ,must stop being used by these, use our heads , must know the value and might of man’s mind.Recommend

  • Oct 21, 2010 - 7:10PM

    Is democracy in survival form? ;SRecommend

  • Abdul Afridi
    Oct 21, 2010 - 9:13PM

    Democracy will survive provided the countrymen prefer NATIONAL INTEREST over PERSONAL INTEREST. Pakistan is facing lot of problems but surely we will overcome all if Judiciary is independent and Parliamentarians get out of money chase, and concentrate on law making, which is there primary role. We must strengthen Gross roots democracy. The Parliamentarians must be educated, not “fake degree holders”. More, law should be in action and must punish the culprits irrespective of their political strength, status, position/rank in any service. Youth should concentrate on national problems, identify and must forward in correct direction. Universities, colleges and schools must have good educated people for guiding the Youth. Pakistan Zindabad Recommend

  • parvez
    Oct 21, 2010 - 9:44PM

    An election process that throws up a pre-determined result is not democracy, it’s a sham democracy. But then as one of our national leaders would have said ” democracy is democracy even if it’s a sham”. Recommend

  • Anoop
    Oct 21, 2010 - 10:27PM

    “Across the eastern border, things were very different. India was fortunate to have had leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Azad and Pandit Nehru”

    –> True. Although the Mahatma was assassinated in 1948 India moved on. What is glaring is there is not a single leader who could have replaced Jinnah when he died. Pakistan was a one-man phenomena and even Muslims like Azad had thought Pakistan was a bad idea and had even predicted that the Bengalis would soon break away and was worried that relations between Hindus and Muslims would severely be affected.

    But, Jinnah had threatened Civil war. Partition was in many way inevitable.Recommend

  • binwakeel
    Oct 21, 2010 - 10:37PM

    Democracy is by no means the end all be all. What is important is not democracy or its genre but good governance. The experience in the Land of the Pure has been that ‘democracy’ is hardly ever accompanied by good governance. Recommend

  • Kamran Ashraf
    Oct 22, 2010 - 4:40AM

    @ Anoop
    ” Pakistan was a bad idea”. Well you know what, if Azaad thought that, at least he had the courage of his convictions and he stayed in India. As far as you are concerned, name suggests you are a Hindu, if you are a Pakistani you can migrate to elsewhere and if not then your opinion is not valid on this matter anyway. It’s not because your opinions don’t matter but because this country was explicitly carved out as first and foremost for the right of the Muslims in sub continent to have a land of their own It’s like me saying India is not a good idea. And what was the other option for the Muslim populous, may i ask? Stay in India and be the blind pigeon who never sees the cat till it’s too late. I suggest you look at the plight of the vast majority of Indian Muslims, how they are being systematically and institutionally shut out of any positions of substance on the national and state levels. Look at their education and income levels compared to other factions of the Indian society. In short all economic and political power is being veered away from them. They are second class citizens. Now there may be a lot wrong with Pakistan but it was never a “bad idea”. We are lucky to have a country of our own and be the masters of our own fate. We must never confuse our right to critique and be frustrated with what may be the most selfish, corrupt and petty minded political leadership in the world with the blessing we have in having a land we can call our own. Recommend

  • basharat
    Oct 22, 2010 - 4:56AM

    There is no doubt that the Judiciary is doing everything, which it can to destabilize the democratic
    government . The parliament has power to introduce amendments into the constitution by following the procedure set out in the Article 239 of the constitution . The 18th amendment have been passed , strictly , in accordance with the provisions ,provided in the constitution in this behalf.
    The Supreme Court entertained the petitions against the18th amendment , ignoring the ouster clauses of Article 239 . Article 239 ( 5 ) states , ” No amendment of the Constitution shall be called in question in any court on any ground whatsoever “. The Ouster has been further augmented through Article 239 ( 6 ) which states , ” For removal of doubt, it is hereby declared
    that there is no limitation whatsoever on the power of Majlis – e – Shoora ( parliament )to amend
    any of the provisions of the Constitution.” Through the interim order Supreme Court has directed the Parliament to reconsider the amendment . The Parliament in its discretion or under pressure , may agree to the suggestion of the Supreme court and alter the procedure for the appointment of judges of superior courts thus the matter will be stand resolved . And if the Parliament does not make the adjustments , as has been desired by the Supreme Court , many people have the view that the
    clash between the Parliament and the Supreme Court may become inevitable . One becomes confused to observe that the Supreme Court , throughout the history of Pakistan , had been cooperative with the Usurpers and readily validated their unconstitutional manoeuvres . The reasons , as to why the Superior Judiciary feels uncomfortable with the democratic governments and more often is too aggressive , one fails to understand.Recommend

  • Anoop
    Oct 22, 2010 - 12:34PM

    “this country was explicitly carved out as first and foremost for the right of the Muslims in sub continent to have a land of their own It’s like me saying India is not a good idea. And what was the other option for the Muslim populous, may i ask? ”

    –> The option that Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains took. I mean Pakistan is a country where even Muslims are institutionally barred from even calling themselves Muslims.

    Case in point:


    This is for shameful form every Muslim has to sign in order to get a Passport. I hope you dont have a passport or you can be accused for directly exploiting Ahmadis.

    So, a country made for Muslims where Muslims cannot even call themselves to be Muslims. A very nice idea of a country this is.

    “I suggest you look at the plight of the vast majority of Indian Muslims, how they are being systematically and institutionally shut out of any positions of substance on the national and state levels.”

    –> I just showed you how Muslims are institutionally discriminated in a land made for Muslims. Can you show me an example where a law or a line in the constitution discriminates against anyone?

    Hindus and Christians, Hindus and Sikhs and Hindus and Buddhists are living peacefully in India and so are IHindus and Muslims. Although, I feel Partition has ruined the healthy relationship that had existed between Hindus and Muslims in India. But, with all other communities there is almost no friction.

    A Sikh who form about 5-7% of India’s population is PM now! There is no reason why a Muslim cannot be a PM. I ask you can Ahmadis become PM or President in Pakistan? Constitutionally only a Muslim can occupy such posts and Ahmadis are not considered even Muslims.

    Just look at the top 2 things India is obsessed with- Cricket and Bollywood. Both have a greater representation of Muslims than the proportion.

    There are,or rather there were, many anti-muslim incidents in India but so are all over the world, notably in Europe and USA. But, Pakistanis would give up anything to go to these countries.

    You are just satisfying your ego with these arguments. Good luck with that. It is because of people like you who have their head stuck in sand that Pakistan is in the place it is. Recommend

  • Ammar
    Oct 22, 2010 - 3:42PM


    No Sir! Partition was not inevitable. You only mention selective facts for obvious reasons. Being a citizen of a thoroughly democratic country, we expect fair comments from you. Mr. Azad had said lots of other things especially about Mr. Patel. For your reconsideration I am posting a link. http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/columnists/19-mahir-ali-the-burden-of-history-180-hh-09

    I extend best wishes for our Indian friendsRecommend

  • Anoop
    Oct 23, 2010 - 2:52AM


    From the moment Jinnah famously threatened Civil war Partition was inevitable. The terms which he had put forward were impossible. Cabinet Mission plan if accepted would have divided Indian into many tiny parts. Nehru and Patel saved India from destruction and united it by rejecting the CMP outright.

    M.J.Akbar puts it beautifully when he says that Jinnah was ready to accept a moth eaten Pakistan but Nehru was not going to compromise on a moth eaten India.

    Look at where 2 countries stand now. One, although it has one of the largest number of poor in the world and a host of other problems, is considered to be one of the a fastest growing and treated with respect. The other figures prominently in the top ten failed country list while its leaders go around begging for money(FOP,for instance).Recommend

  • saadi
    Oct 23, 2010 - 3:13AM

    I think anoop is correct in a lot of things he says.
    Pakistan was divided along religious lines, a kind of division very rarely surviving in the world
    he is absolutely correct in asserting that we had no one who could replace Jinnah, makes you realize, that the country was a one man rule, and the non existence of one man, led to a dissolution of the entire system, ridiculed by militray take overs and religious fanaticism.

    The first line of defense for every pakistani is the lack of ability to debate, as evidently shown by Mr. Ashraf, who displays an arrogant attitude, not realizing the real issues. He displays a knee jerk reaction criticizing Anoop, and asking him to leave the country if he lives in Pakistan.
    This is precisely why, our nation lacks behind, there is an inability to understand history, yet there is a craving to regurgitate second hand demagoguery Recommend

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