No room for democracy

Published: September 18, 2014
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The writer is an independent social scientist and author of Military Inc. She tweets @iamthedrifter

The writer is an independent social scientist and author of Military Inc. She tweets @iamthedrifter

The video of two parliamentarians being forcibly offloaded a PIA flight from Karachi to Islamabad has gone viral. The incident is generally being viewed as an indicator of how a peculiar behaviour, which was associated with old style patronage politics, will get challenged. The national carrier may find it increasingly difficult to treat its passengers differently — trap over two hundred souls in an aircraft while allowing VIPs to sit in a comfortable lounge as the aircraft recovers for two hours from its technical problems. Surely we can all clap at the event as a forward movement, this also indicates militant attitudes creeping into our political and social lives. Here I am not taking a position for or against but only suggesting what has changed.

This is not even an isolated incident. Those enjoying video evidence must also see the manner in which the police have been taking a thrashing from the ‘Naya Pakistan’ protestors. While we can all sympathise with Imran Khan’s right to change the political tone, it would be worthwhile for him to envision how he would, if he did become the prime minister of this country, put the genie back into the bottle. Much that he likes to compare himself with Jinnah, Imran would not be able to ensure that the same police, which get battered and bruised during the rule of his opponents, will get respected when he becomes the man in charge. No one seems willing to tell the story of the tired policemen who have been doing their duty for the last 30 days with little to boost their ego.

Many believe that the police deserve such treatment because they are corrupt. But then which element of our law and security apparatus is not? The bigger issue is that people would like to target any weak segment of what is considered as a colonial state. Here are these uniformed people, who are probably awe struck by Imran’s celebrity status and a realisation that if they tried to do their duty and stop him from forcibly freeing PTI workers and get beaten in response, the state machinery will not stand for them. One has to look carefully at what at least some of the demonstrators are fighting for — is it to introduce a new system in the country usable by all or to shift power from the old elite to the new? I am reminded of my recent visits to some of the parks in Defence, Lahore, where the guards sitting outside ensure that members of the working class does not get in and sit around as they are viewed as ‘disturbing’ to the health conscious begum sahibs walking there, some of whom go regularly to the dharnas.

Perhaps, this is the new change in which a new elite will push the old one to a corner. This is certainly not the time for old behaviour. No justification for not comprehending that the mob can set the rules faster and more brutally. The elite can no longer take cover of a weak state against an increasingly powerful mob.

Notwithstanding justification for change, both democracy and the concept of evolutionary change has taken a big hit. This is not to argue that people wouldn’t stand up for their right but stating a fact that the PTI/PAT versus old parties politics has severely damaged democracy. Watching the sit-ins, the people’s increased wretchedness, and the directionless and knee-jerk response from the government, who would want to believe in democracy? It is now becoming fashionable to argue that democracy has done nothing to serve the people’s interests. It has left a scar that will be difficult to erase even if Imran Khan finds his way to the throne.

There certainly are beneficiaries of the anti-democracy rhetoric. While the outside world and the international donors may look at Tahirul Qadri as a man with ideas to restore moderate Islam to Pakistan, the natural beneficiaries of his kind of politics are the militants and ultra-religious right who are at the forefront condemning democracy. The new al Qaeda leadership, for instance, argues for destruction of the four pillars of democracy — the Parliament, the judiciary, the civil bureaucracy and the media. They are not the only ones. Then there are the Hizb-ut-Tahrir, the Islamic State and a few others who argue for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. Their argument being that since democracy is an evil system, which is anti-Islamic, it should be eliminated and replaced with an Islamic system of governance. The narrative is that many hundreds of years ago there was an Islamic state where it was all peaceful, laws were followed, the caliph used to stitch his own clothes and roam around the streets in search for those who were not given justice. Those were also the times when the Islamic world, we are told, excelled in science, art and literature. Notwithstanding inherent flaws in a linear linkage between a particular system of governance and advancements made during the period, the fact is that we are gradually creeping towards a situation where an Islamic caliphate becomes the only possible (if not viable) option. In many ways, the so-called liberal and the militants share the same space as far as the future of the state is concerned. The former believe that democracy is redundant and the latter are waiting for the liberal and other societal elements to get sufficiently tired of the system to suggest replacing it with another one.

Of course, the blame for such impending death of democracy is not just on the new political elite but the old one as well. Pakistan has passed the stage of evolution. We will see a revolution happen in parts which will be even messier and prolonged. One ditch effort is for members of the ruling elite to remember that they will have to cover their old habits quicker and nicely as has the leadership of the new political actors. It is a long game of narratives which may already have been lost. Even militants know better how battles are won through capturing people’s imagination.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 18th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (31)

  • Ch. Allah Daad
    Sep 18, 2014 - 2:15AM

    Terrorists and drawing room extremists need to find other jobs. Our educated middle and upper middle class led by two Anarchists have accomplished what they could not in decades,

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  • Nadir
    Sep 18, 2014 - 2:19AM

    When ex-corps commander Karachi’s wife left her handbag in the Jinnah terminal lounge, the plane had to taxi back so that she could pick it up. That ofcourse was not VIP culture as General saab has given sacrifices and the nation owes a debt to him, his immediate family and all future generations.

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  • Ricky
    Sep 18, 2014 - 2:55AM

    An eye opener by A. Sid. It is a gone case and only a revolution in people’s thinking and education can change it. I have lost all hope from civil and military leadership. Country cannot survive when the army plays neutral when the elected govt is threatened by force. When IK/Qadri are not even in power they and their supporters have a dictatorial attitude. One shudders to think what would happen if they come into power.

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  • sabi
    Sep 18, 2014 - 4:43AM

    The ‘first flight’ and perhspse the last flight of inqilabis has failed for the only reason that it went on its own.
    Imran and Qadri can go home without feeling any shame-because they don’t have that sense.

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  • sabi
    Sep 18, 2014 - 5:07AM

    Western powers are well aware of what this cleric is and what actually Islam is.They know exactly who is pulling the strings and for what purpose.They know one basic principle- use of religion in politics whether by extremist or by a moderate is equally damaging to peace and prosperity.ZAB was a secular man who opened the window of religion to politics.Ever since it’s widening only to bring in winds of hatred.Inqilabis want to enter through this hole.

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  • bahaha
    Sep 18, 2014 - 6:54AM

    . One has to look carefully at what at least some of the demonstrators are fighting for — is it to introduce a new system in the country usable by all or to shift power from the old elite to the new? ….

    I personally find it strange that there is a massive reaction to ” preceived blasphemous” events in far off lands and yet there is no mechanism for reacting to internal issues. The quality of debates in the electronic media were so substandard that one felt that maybe the whole “nation” is retarded and possibly paid to stay that way. The closest thing to an intellectual discourse could have possible come from ISPR or Senate or Parliament but it never came. Only one woman on TV took time to sort the issues by “legal/good” and “illegal/bad”, the majority just kept misusing the words like democracy, and people dharma until even the ” retards” among us lost interest. We have no national intellect and nobody to deliver the ” balanced narrative”.

    Misusing Gibran ” Woe begat the thinking resident of an aimless nation”, a damnation of 60 odd years, our average life expectancy!!!

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  • Sep 18, 2014 - 7:22AM

    As much as we all want Pakistan to progress, the Army and Mullahs will never allow peace and progress. It is in their advantage to keep the country in Stone Age.

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  • Yes
    Sep 18, 2014 - 8:44AM

    Yes, there is room for democracy when and if proportionate representation and devolution of power to the local level will ensure a lesser concentration of power and broader political representation.
    See: http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-9-273484-When-the-madness-passes

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  • vinsin
    Sep 18, 2014 - 10:05AM

    @Dipak:
    Do you think Indian Muslim Mullahs will allow peace and progress in India? They are successfully opposing secularism since independence and living on special status.

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  • Fahad Arshad
    Sep 18, 2014 - 10:37AM

    Why are journalists of Pakistan conveniently forgetting the reason why we are here? What are the underlying causes behind this? It isn’t the ‘new elite’ as you so eliquently put it, that has brought us here. It is the incompetence that has created a vacuum for the vigilantism to take berth.

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  • Fahad Arshad
    Sep 18, 2014 - 10:41AM

    Instead of wasting all of our collective time, the journalist community should concentrate on investigations into why the government is dragging its heels on getting the audit of the elections done with or how it benefits from dragging its heels. Spend more time on that narrative, rather than the “Oh mere saath anarchy ho gayi!” narrative.

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  • Niaz H. Jafri
    Sep 18, 2014 - 11:30AM

    Thanks to our ruling classes (civil, military, bureaucratic, technocrats, industrialists and other elites), the saddest part is that people have started disbelieving/questioning democracy as a possible form of governance. Even after more than six decades of independence, the ruling classes have not been able to make our people understand the true meaning of democracy. :(

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  • Niaz H. Jafri
    Sep 18, 2014 - 11:31AM

    Thanks to our ruling classes (civil, military, bureaucratic, technocrats, industrialists and other elites), the saddest part is that people have started disbelieving/questioning democracy as a possible form of governance. Even after more than six decades of independence, the ruling classes have not been able to make our people understand the true meaning of democracy.

    Recommend

  • Uza Syed
    Sep 18, 2014 - 11:46AM

    Democracy is wonderful as practiced in any democratic society, what the gangs of thugs wish us accept as democracy is pure and simple evil and people must fight and destroy it like all evil must.

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  • Parvez
    Sep 18, 2014 - 12:23PM

    The people are so frustrated that they are willing to cut their nose to spite their face……the losers will be the entrenched 1%………the 99% really did not have much to lose but at least they will feel that they have salvaged their DIGNITY……no small feat that.

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  • Faraz
    Sep 18, 2014 - 12:27PM

    @vinsin:
    Please defne the “special status” unambiguously. Please also define how this has disadvantaged the rest of the nation ?

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  • shahid
    Sep 18, 2014 - 1:05PM

    Mam, this is good article as usual and in line with your thinking. The second last para seems little awkward with the conclusion and paras proceeding. Surely, democracy is not our baby and neither we will practice it…fauj or civi or who ever in power. This is for our future generations who will live side by side sometimes peacefully and sometimes dagger drawn, in New Pakistan that will be named as Disunited States of Pakistan. This is now a matter of time only.

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  • Ranjha
    Sep 18, 2014 - 1:39PM

    @Nadir:

    When ex-corps commander Karachi’s wife left her handbag in the Jinnah terminal lounge, the plane had to taxi back so that she could pick it up. That ofcourse was not VIP culture as General saab has given sacrifices and the nation owes a debt to him, his immediate family and all future generations.

    Don’t slander and make things up. Show us the proof for that. Leak the video. And if he did, people will kick them out of the plane as well.

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  • Sep 18, 2014 - 2:23PM

    Haha, by the way, ma’am, I cannot help smiling when you mention “begum sahibs”, attempting to paint protests as just another whim of elites, yet I do not find an elite within me or amongst those freed by IK from the Police. Did you? Above all, though, irony is perhaps lost on you, but let me wholeheartedly assure you, stepping amidst commoners, from whom you are quite detached, you will be perceived as yet another elite as well. :-)

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  • Youth of Pakistan
    Sep 18, 2014 - 3:09PM

    @Ch Allah Daad,

    Looks like you got your cheque paid, no please spread hate against IK

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  • Sep 18, 2014 - 3:34PM

    How come only one of my comments have been posted and not the other one, which was actual critique of the article and my account of the time I have spent at the protests? Media azaad hai? ;-)

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  • ObserverUSA
    Sep 18, 2014 - 4:38PM

    “No justification for not comprehending that the mob can set the rules faster and more brutally.”
    What was very essential to your analysis is why is the mob is so powerful? Does it have any backing of any powerful elements of the establishment or not??? If it does, then this is a spurious change. If it does not, it is a real change. So, please tell us what exactly the situation is.

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  • freed
    Sep 18, 2014 - 4:38PM

    people know there is something very wrong here. people can leave Pakistan and prosper in every other country in the world. As an overseas Pakistani find themselves no longer hindered by so called democratic forces of 2 party and army musical chair type of system. has an FIR been issued against so called police officers for attacking the media broadcasted live through TV? any of them arrested?

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  • Lost Relevance
    Sep 18, 2014 - 5:16PM

    Madam, you have consistently opposed military rule in your writings. Now, you seem to condone mob rule, which if successful is likely to lead to military rule. Hence, do you know what you are talking about?

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  • Investigate
    Sep 18, 2014 - 5:54PM

    Please investigate allegations about the London plan. Did IK and Qadri meet to discuss joint strategy in London? Did Qadri travel to Iran, during which visit, Ejaz Hussein coordinated between Qadri and some powerful men in the Pak establishment who were visiting Iran in tandem? If there really is the London plan with all the alleged connections which is now being enacted in Islamabad it would have sectarian leanings. If so, do the dharnis know about it? Kindly try to find out so that we know what is happening. Thanks.

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Sep 18, 2014 - 6:50PM

    Justice for all equality for all education for all health for all one law for all then i dont understand
    why guys are opposing him its not a rocket science and thats what it is in west and thats what
    islam or caliphat is all about.

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  • Atif Iqbal
    Sep 18, 2014 - 7:57PM

    Nadir Sir, pointing about how plane taxied back for corp commander wife’s handbag and military vip culture. Plane came back all the way from runway for me once when i forgot my bag in the lounge at Pindi airport. I’m a student. Dont twist stuff.

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  • Investigative J
    Sep 18, 2014 - 8:20PM

    @Investigate:
    Yes, further investigative journalism is needed to answer these questions but some initial findings are given here:
    http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-2-271584-Who-pushed-Dr-Qadri-into-this-mess

    Recommend

  • Think
    Sep 18, 2014 - 9:48PM

    @Uza Syed: Wow!! We are a nation of destroyers and will DESTROY ourselves to the very end.How about we talk about BUILDING strong democratic institutions? Even if we get an angel for a PM (IK??), nothing will change.

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  • Uza Syed
    Sep 19, 2014 - 12:05AM

    @Think: As a matter of fact so far we have been a nation of passive gofers, who just took all the nonsense, all the humiliation, all the disgrace we were made victim of. One wishes that we were what you seem to be saying as sarcasm. Had we refused to be subjugated and treated as ‘persona non-grata’ in our own country then we could have saved this unpleasant job of destroying the exploiters, the plunderers and the looters of our resources on this large scale. Had we done it right in the beginning we could have saved destruction of many now, the job could be done on much smaller scale. As far as destroying ourselves is concerned, do you realize the have nots that make 90% of Pakistan is already either destroyed or on the verge of it and has nothing to lose anymore. It is the gangsters who go for elites here have got all to lose including their home and hearth in addition to their ill-gotten wealth and usurped power here.

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  • Sep 19, 2014 - 12:21PM

    I once taken same like stance in front of Security arrangement of Gen Kiyani’s wife in convention center Islamabad where we civilians were not allowed to enter as after entering of this VVIP person no person was allowed to enter in the building.So officers including a colonial and two major along with hundreds of armed men faced same kind of response from me and few others as you witnessed there in PIA scene.Surely army men highly criticized my verbal attack on their lady boss but one thing that given me hope at that time was that poor police men of Isb who were sidelined by this lady security brigade given me salute while saying that you made it which no body ever think in this country. This article was written after this incident.http://naziaiftikhar.wordpress.com/…/begum-security…/Recommend

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