Democracy in Pakistan.
Democracy in its purest form would be a society in which every adult citizen has an equal say in decision making processes that affects his life. It is a government which is elected by the will of the majority of people of a country or state. As Abraham Lincoln rightly stated that democracy is government of the people, by the people for the people. It is a system of government which ensures civil rights for the people and is responsible to the people for its actions. Though there is no universally accepted definition of democracy, however, equality and freedom have been described as its important characteristics since ancient times. These principles make all citizens of a country equal before law and to have equal access to facilities of a society.
Before discussing the situation of democracy in Pakistan, let us first see the historical development of democracy.
The term democracy comes from Greek word democratie which was coined from demos meaning people and kratos meaning power. The term first appeared in ancient Greek philosophical and political thought. Plato described democracy as the system of rule by the government. In Athens, which is generally regarded as the first democracy established in 500 B.C., there were two features of democracy. First, few were employed in governmental work and secondly, there was the Assembly of people where every citizen about the age of 20 had a right to speak and vote.
In the Roman culture, only a small number of people had the right to vote and the vote of the powerful had more weight than that of an ordinary person.
England had its first Parliament in 1265 with its roots in Magna Carta which restricted the powers of the monarch. Still, only a small aristocratic minority actually had a voice. Parliament was elected only by a few perfect of the population. The power of the parliament increased in stages until the Glorious Revolution of 1688 when monarch became largely a figurehead.
Democratic process got tremendous pace in the 18th and 19th century with many countries establishing universal male suffrage and later women also got the right to vote but still devoid of right to stand for elected as member of Parliament.
By the 20th century, majority of states adopted democracy as form of government. The communist Soviet Union busted in late 1980s, resulting in new democratic states.
Democracy has taken a number of forms, both in theory and practice with its various codes and atoms; it is being implemented in different shapes in different regions with different procedures. The division of power and responsibilities between different States institutions vary with each democratic shape and space. For example, in a representative democracy, government officials are chosen by the people being their represent. Under a Parliamentary democracy, government is exercised by the executive under the checks and balances of the parliament. Similarly, in a presidential democracy, the president is both the head of the state and the government, exercising powers through his cabinet. Other systems of democracy are constitutional democracy, direct democracy and consensus democracy etc. All these system have one thing in common power belongs to the people.
Democracy has some core ingredients without which it cannot work properly. The right ratio and mix of these ingredients is vital for the efficiency and effectiveness of a democratic system. These ingredients are; written constitution, sovereign parliament, responsible executive, sovereign judiciary and freedom of expression.
By supremacy of constitutions it means that it is the code of conduct to which each and every institution of the state must adhere. Constitution is a pivot around which governmental machinery revolves. Any law or executive action in contradiction to the constitution is void.
The second ingredient in a democratic system is sovereignty of parliament. Sovereignty means exercise of power not subjected to any other higher or external force. Thus, parliament acts as the law-giver as well as law-enforcer through executive. No other state institution enjoys privilege and power as does the parliament of a country.
In a democratic setup, power is vested with the executive headed by a president. The hierarchy of executive includes the cabinet, bureaucracy and other government offices which discharge their functions within the limits of Constitution. A responsible and efficient executive serves as the backbone of a democratic government and works under the scrutiny of the legislature.
Another crucial part of a democratic system is independent judiciary for fair administration of justice. Democratic norms long for independence of the judiciary from the executive as to work properly, efficiently and effectively without any undue pressure and constraint.
The presence of aforementioned ingredients makes democracy a unique system of government where no one is above law. Everyone is equal in the eyes of law whether rich or poor, powerful or weak. Obligation to law andrules of the state is observed irrespective of the power and status of the individual.
Democracy embodies idea of harmony between stakeholders of the system. Trespassing and encroaching into the domains of other institutions is strictly prohibited and discouraged. Every institution and organ of the state is bound to work according to the law and role prescribed for it in the statue and respects the other institutions and their role in the function of the state.
Since independence in 1947, Pakistan experienced a form of democracy in which rule of law, sovereignty of the Parliament and independent judiciary is not supreme but dominated by civil and military bureaucracy, supported by some incompetent and selfish politicians.
Immediately after independence, few events went wrong which barred democracy to dig its roots deep into the system of government. The first of such events was the early death of visionary and untiring Jinnah, the Quad-e-Azam of Pakistan. Pakistan was comprised of two halves separated by 1100 miles of hostile Indian Territory. West Pakistan, had most of the land and resources, but East Pakistan had greater numerical strength. Ruling elite of that time which was mainly hailed from West Pakistan did not hold general elections fearing that power would shift to East Pakistan. The Kashmir invasion provided an excise to military for establishing the institution stronger and more organized than any other institution of the country. Moreover, there was not a single leader after Liaqat Ali Khan who could assert moral authority over the unbridled military and controlled the civil servants. Majority of the politicians had feudal background, who wanted to secure their states and empires rather than working for the development and prosperity of nation. They aligned themselves behind the ranks of military and civil bureaucracy to advance their personal interests. The fight of democracy was abandoned by its democratic soldiers, resulting in the transfer of power into the hands of military establishment.
Military invariably ruled the country; directly or indirectly. It ruled directly through multiple coup de etat and indirectly through dummy politicians and technocrats, forging their policies and implementing their desires. Even the elected prime minister was hanged and another leaves the country to save themselves from the gallous highlights the fact that democratic system is not working properly.
Pakistan is situated in a region which is excessively militarized. Moreover, India and Pakistan are bitterest foes, fought three wars directly and proxy wars under covert operations are never on hold. The bone of contention between the two neighbours is Kashmir. The military took the Kashmir issue and enmity with India as an excuse for increase military power and uncontrolled intervention in civil affairs. There is no doubt that adequate military capacity is vital to guard Pakistan from external aggression but it shall not over burden the state.
Pakistan has been a victim of international influence since its independence. For example, Pakistan enjoyed cordial political and military relationship with America. The latter has always used Pakistan to fight its proxy wars in return of aid and investment from which military benefited tremendously. The soviet and Afghan war are two examples which strengthen military dictators but weakened democracy in Pakistan.
The internal security situation of the county also strengthened the military dominance in Pakistan. The security situation pushes the military to fill the shoes of incompetent civilian security forces which the former happily accepts. For example, the current scenario in Karachi, Quetta and other parts of the country is saturated with excessive military operations in all parts of the state. The fight against terrorism has put the military in the driving seat, improving its public image as well as morale, strengthening its role in policy making and implementation.
As merely the protector of boundaries of the country, according to the constitution, military has claimed itself to be the protector of the state, nation and domestic political arrangements as well. It not only plays an important role in management of economy, but also has been the sole arbitrator and controller of issues regarding the defence budget. It has built stakes in all segments of the economy such as construction, agriculture, manufacturing and services etc. Moreover, its business comes not under the audit by the government of Pakistan.
All the factors which are discussed above collectively play an important part in giving uncontrolled and unbridled powers to the mighty military, consequently undermining the political and democratic institutions.
The political school of Pakistan is not mature enough to tackle the problems of the country. There are several reasons as to why the institutions failed to reach maturation level after six decades of freedom and independence. Rapid military take overs and interventions is one of the many reasons. Moreover, the politicians do not have the vision and qualities of a dynamic leader to lead the country towards prosperity and development.
Political dynasties and feudalism have also marred the development of political institutions in the country. Political dynasties hamper the growth of political thought and maturation of political ideologies. Resultantly, few individuals or families rule the country for decades, stagnating the vision and prospects of development. Furthermore, politicians with feudal backgrounds are seldom educated and possess no such qualities as to lead the country by example. Their personal interests dominate the national interest. Their all energies and resources are spent on saving and augmenting their fiefdoms, neglecting the government functioning.
Political parties also present a gruesome picture in the annals of political history of Pakistan. Political parties established in the name of democracy are aptly undemocratic. Personality is more important than the party itself. The leadership seldom such parties, making them ineffective thus producing incompetent leadership.
Poor performance and weak governance provides the undemocratic forces with an excuse to topple the elected governments as they know the masses would not show any resistance or make any effort to save their representatives. The bloodless coups in Pakistan speak volumes of the fact that popular “governments” are highly unpopular in Pakistan. Common people do not stand by the democratic government as they have got nothing except poverty, hunger, unemployment and disgrace from their political masters. For them, change of face of ruler doesn’t matter much.
The electoral process of Pakistan is highly questionable. Elections are rigged; both intentionally and unintentionally votes are either purchased or stolen. Illiterate and poor masses are either emotionally or financially exploited. People vote their caste rather than casting their vote. Baradari system is rampant and dominates all other features of a candidate. Emotional slogans are chanted to entrap people, avoiding real issues confronting the country. The landlords and feudals have unlimited influence over their people and constituencies which is used to elect corrupt, incompetent scions of political dynasties to the parliament.
The role of independent judiciary is of paramount importance for the growth and survival of democracy. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, this respected institution has failed to fulfill its duties towards the law and constitution. When the time came it always aligned itself with the undemocratic forces or directly targeted the elected governments undermining the democratic process in the country. The doctrine of state necessity gave legitimacy to the illegitimate.
Lack of national unity and integration is another reason behind failure of democracy in Pakistan. People are divided on the basis of provinces, ethnicities language, cast and creed. There are Punjabis, Sindhi, Balochs and pathans but not Pakistanis. Then there are leaders of balochis, leaders of sindhs, leader of the poor and less privileged, union leaders and trade leaders but not even a single person can claim to be a national leader. With such a division and vested interests, it is not difficult for undemocratic forces to send the elected representatives home without any problem and challenges.
Pakistan is not a poor country but is managed poorly. The state of governance is pathetic. The law and order situation is appalling. The economy is at the brink of collapse with billions of dollars in debts both foreign and domestic agencies. The trade deficit has reached $28 billion. Exports are shrinking against ballooning imports. Yet there is an army of ministers, advisors and special assistants who are doing nothing but plundering and looting national exchequer. Corruption is rampant. The anti-corruption department is the most corrupt of all. State institutions which used to be the jewel of the state, like PIA and steel mills have gone bankrupt. Under such circumstances, it is not difficult for the usurpers to get hold of the reigns of the government and not even a single bullet would be required to send “democratic government” home.
The continual disruption of democratic process affects the state of Pakistan in many ways. It disturbs the economic policies of the regime or reverses the economic gains achieved by a democratic government. The basic human rights are suspended and there remains no voice of people in the corridors of power. Massive crackdown on political workers and imprisonment violates the fundamental rights of individuals. The state plunges into excessive militarization and resultant chaos in the form of armed uprisings in the ranks of political workers.
While it is true that democracy brings corruption and mismanagement with itself which is one of the factors of its failure but it is equally true that failure of democracy results in unprecedented corruption which is unprecedented. The democratic forces are somehow accountable to their electorate whereas non-democratic forces are accountable to no one, looking and plundering without anyone’s knowledge.
The successive and rapid military coups earn a bad name and negative message for the country. The non-democratic regimes are no more entertained by the international community. As a result, Pakistan has to suffer at moral, economic and diplomatic levels.
Democracy demands rule of law. Strong cases and effective implementation without any discrimination must be ensured. The ractive of grabbing the weak and leaving the powerful shall be shunned. No one is above the law.
The constitution is supreme which must be accepted as such. It should neither be violated nor abrogated under any circumstance. No one has the right to adjourn the law and hold the constitution in abeyance. It is the soul and spirit of the state and shall not be desecrated.
Both democracy and democratic institutions need some breathing space and support from all the stakeholders, military, bureaucracy, politician and civil society. Every stakeholder has a responsibility to enable democracy to take roots in the system of governance and government. Undue pressure from the system shall be removed. Moral and practical support through proper participation and dispensing of duties would be helpful.
Democracy depends upon democratic institution for performing its duties and responsibilities. Each and every institution is required to perform its duties efficiently under the limits which have been set in the constitution. Organs of states should not trespass into each other boundaries. Rather they should work like two or more tyres revolving around a single axle. This will certainly strengthen the democratic values in the country.