Academics, media practitioners and rights activists at a conference have said that democracy was essential for safeguarding peoples’ rights and stability of the country.
They also said that independent media, decentralisation of power and local governments were imperative to cater to the needs of a diverse group of people.
They were speaking at the concluding session of the two-day conference on “Pakistani democracy: potential, promise and performance”, organised by the Centre for Civic Education Pakistan (CCEP) in collaboration with the National Endowment for Democracy here on Monday.
The speakers said that Pakistan was a diverse society and such societies were difficult to be governed through centralised governance system, as, according to them, centralisation bred regionalism and sense of deprivation. All institutions should work within their defined constitutional parameters.
Dr Jaffar Ahmed, Director of the Pakistan Study Centre at the University of Karachi, emphasized the importance to social sciences subject in understanding societal realities and strengthening democracy.
He said that army entered the politics after the feudal clique and the bourgeois class failed to deliver for almost a decade after the birth of the country. He said that Gen Ayub Khan brought limited land reforms and a new rich peasants’ class emerged in addition to the old feudals.
“When a new class emerges, it demands its share in a political system. While the bureaucracy and the military exploited the situation after the elected representatives failed to deliver or they were made to fail,” he said adding that during Ayub’s era bureaucracy and military had close links.
He said that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto tried to break this link but he could not reduce military’s involvement in country’s internal affairs.
Veteran journalist M. Ziauddin said that democratic forces and media had struggled a lot for strengthening democracy.
“All the institutions should work according to their role defined in the constitution,” he stressed. He said that charter of democracy and policy of reconciliation greatly helped in smooth transition of power.
He termed local bodies essential for democracy and emphasised that political parties should develop a consensus on local bodies’ elections, electoral reforms and conducting census. “Democracy cannot be devolved to the grassroots level until local bodies elections are held in the country.”
“The military has now realised that they were not suited for governing the country,” he said. He said that current military officers were aware of the mistakes made by their predecessors.
Ziauddin said democratic forces and media had struggled a lot for strengthening democracy in Pakistan.
Journalist and anchorperson Hamid Mir said that the debacle of the former East Pakistan could have been averted if media had been independent and issues were resolved politically.
According to Mir, during the 1971 war, censorship was imposed on the media and the day Pakistan army surrendered to Indian forces in Dhaka, headlines in the press here were saying that “the armed forces were giving a tough time to the enemy”.
Both media and democracy had been under threat in Pakistan and a number of black laws were introduced to curb freedom of media during dictatorial regimes, he said.
He stressed the need for structural changes in the system to make it more palatable to the society. “Strong democracy is imperative for a free and independent media.”
CCEP Director Zafarullah Khan shared interesting facts about the short life of democratic rule in Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 21st, 2014.