Why Pakistan’s Democratic Credentials Are Bleak? Way Forward – OpEd


The age of empires is gone, and empires have been replaced by the nation state system after Second World War. The emergence and collapse of by- polar system led by US and former Soviet Union is now history. Now is the age of big powers’, regional powers and nation states, which are mostly democracies and Pakistan is one of them.

What is democracy in the views of prominent scholars

The simplest definition of democracy is: holding elections at certain intervals (four to five years) to change faces.
The ‘people’ – who are the real sovereign, according to the classic definition of democracy – go through this ritual, once every four or five years. 

Abraham Lincoln has defined democracy, “as the rule of the people, by the people and for the people”. However Plato and Aristotle have condemned the concept of democracy and argued that the way democracy is discussed can only be implemented in the “real” world. Further quoted, democracy is the rule of the pool as seen by Plato while Aristotle regarded it as the rule of the Mob. Where as Professor Shelley viewed it differently, “Democracy is the rule of the majority where all the people take an active part in the affairs of politics. It is a form of government, which is based on the consent of the masses. Francis Fukuyama was on the forefront who compiled his exposition in his notable work—’The End of History and the Last Man’. He concluded, “The end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government. 

A leading development expert, Dani Rodrick has highlighted the institution of democracy as a ‘meta-institution’ that assists with the building of other good institutions. Roderick cites a range of evidence to show that democracies enable high-quality growth — sustainable growth that improves living standards. John Friedman, In his column carried on February 2, 2022 by the newspaper, The New York Times, wrote that truth and trust provide the foundation on which democracy rests but here in Pakistan both truth and trust are a pip dream and lacking at all level

Some prerequisites for democracy 

Democracy (rule of the people) is more than holding elections. democracy has some components each as important as the other:

1. Civil liberties. This includes the right to equal protection under the law, equal opportunity and meritocracy, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion, freedom of press, and the right to life, liberty, dignity, and equality, and freedom to participate in civic and democratic institutions without duress or discrimination. 

2. Division of Power. This includes supremacy of the constitution that protects the civil liberties of its citizens, all its citizens without discrimination, and treats them equally, and promotes division of power in government — the judicial, the legislative, the executive — to prevent abuse and misgovernance. Most importantly, a system of checks and balances is essential not only among the three branches of the government but within each branch of the government as well.

3. Elected Representation. This includes representation of people at all levels of government: local, provincial, and federal. Fair and timely elections. This also includes intra-party elections to prevent one man or one family from dominating politics. Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, warned, “The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first objective.”

4. Accountability. This includes routine internal and external independent auditing of institutions that run the government including but not limited to the judiciary, the military, the parliament, the senate, the executive, the ministries, and all bureaucratic agencies. To combat corruption, all government offices must be transparent and their activities should be open for public scrutiny. 

5. Open society. Democracy must be built through open societies that share information. When there is information, there is enlightenment. When there is debate, there are solutions. When there is no sharing of power, no rule of law, no accountability, there is abuse, corruption, subjugation and indignation.

6. Pro people. Democracy is construed as a system that would advance the interests of a people and the state and not allow any expediency to impede the way. In Pakistan, it has degenerated to being used as an umbrella to hide under and escape the lashings of accountability.

7. Well-informed citizenry. Modern and inclusive education free from all dogmas, faiths, can produce a well informed and quality citizens who can play a pro active role in forming democratic dispensation and depend their rights. Further Democracy is the offspring of democratic thinking and values. The political parties are the nurseries of such learning. In Pakistan, these parties are run not as democratic institutions, but as family oligarchies. No outsider can even dream of ascending to the top. They begin and must continue to remain just menial bootleggers responding to every crappy call of their masters.

8. Good governance. Democracy and good governance are learning processes which involve the development of a whole range of credible institutions, practices, attitudes and habits of mind that nourish them. This inevitably takes time. Meanwhile praetorian interventions, whatever the immediate compulsions and even justifications may be, undermine political learning processes and unintentionally but palpably inflict lasting damage on political society. 

Why is democracy not stable in the country?

Pakistan, for its part, has witnessed various democratic experiences. It can be divided into two phases. One from 1947 to 1972 and second started from 1973. The democratic credentials of the country in both periods are bleak because since beginning there is a continuous tension between the two instruments of the empire, the civil service and the military – collectively called the ‘establishment’ – on the one hand and on the other, a political, landed and industrial elite. Both feel threatened from each other and apparently cannot live together in peace. In the country’s relatively short history of over 75 years, there have been four direct military interventions/rules. We have experienced about thirty years presidential and the rest years parliamentary form of governance but unfortunately non of them is a success story. Politicians blame the establishment for intervention and political engineering while the establishment blame the politicians for incompetence, incredible stories of corruption and abuse of power. 

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is perhaps the only country on the globe that had to formulate not one but four constitutions (1956, 1962, 1972, 1973). The first two ended up in the separation of east Pakistan now Bangladesh due to denial of democratic and constitutional rights of the majority Bengalies by the minority Punjabi dominated west wing and the third one LFO of General Yaha khan gave birth to 1973 constitution. Though We are country with a written constitution now that is the result of a consensus within the nation and which in principle recognises that the authority of the state is to be exercised by the chosen representatives ‘as a sacred trust but in fact the power is always exercised by military establishment either directly or by hybrid so-called democratic regimes. Resultantly, at the fiftieth golden jubilee of the present constitution, the parliament has become irrelevant, free and fair election is a dream, corruption and exploitation is rampant, freedom of press and speech is suppressed, fundamental rights are denied above all justice is denied at all levels, good governance is nowhere, institutions are dysfunctional particularly superior judiciary is badly divided and in head on collusion with parliament and executive. Military establishment is calling the shots.

In a civilised, functional and vibrant democratic society, the unelected state institutions have no role in political affairs. However, in Pakistan, these institutions are a force to be reckoned with and their increasing political control and corporate interests make them stronger. Thus, segments in these institutions have a lot to lose if Pakistan is ever to become a fully functional modern democracy, upholding democratic traditions, values and the rule of law.

In a real democratic Pakistan, unelected institutions will have to give up their unchallenged political role, entitlements and privileges as well as corporate interests through effective legislation based on fairness and rule of law. Pakistan, which is in dire need of wide-ranging and deep structural reforms to successfully cope with a range of looming existential challenges, any deviation from the path of democratic, inclusive and participatory governance will cast a pall over its future.

Way out for Pakistan from the current judicial, political, economic and constitutional crisis 

The Pakistani rulers since 1947 have taken a leaf from a book , “ The Prince “ written by Machiavelli an Italian Renaissance philosopher, politician, military strategist and practicing it with continuity which is called Machiavellian,” political philosophy. It describe cunning or deceitful actions in the field of politics. political maneuvers marked by cunning, duplicity or bad faith to acquire power, create a state, and keep it. The main idea of The Prince is for a ruler; the ends justify the means. Machiavelli argued that rulers should strive to maintain or expand their position, even if immoral acts are necessary to accomplish that goal. Machiavelli argues that princes should always be prepared to do the wrong thing.

In fact, last 75 years political history depicts that the Machiavellian style of politics in Pakistan has proved counterproductive and it’s further continuation is existential threat for the country, therefore, I think, the only way leftover is, Pakistan must follow the western philosopher Socrates, who has offered three conditions for just State ( 1, democracy 2, opportunities 3, passion ). 
In a discussion with his young companion Glaucon, Socrates describes that a ‘just’ state must have some form of democracy for good decision making, together with open opportunities for trade including making and selling of goods. Glaucon inquires whether these two things are enough, Socrates states in the negative, that a just state can neither be built nor defended without ‘Thymos’ which in Greek refers to passion. 

Passion means, human emotions like (identity of religion, language, race, or a shared history are passions ), Thus he, around 375 BC described a tripartite soul, for a complete man and a just state.

The human soul is a mix of various ingredients as well as emotions of love, hate and phobias that throw the proverbial spanner in the whole mix of decision making. This then modulates our lives as individuals, families, tribes and nations.

Dissection of our political history in the light of Socrates:

1) Democracy. In our case, after elapse of 75 year, we as nation utterly failed to become a fully functional modern democracy, upholding democratic traditions, values and the rule of law in a real democratic sense. Rather we are practicing a majoritarian federal democratic system dominated by Punjab due to its democratic position. The answer to that is empowering the Senate equivalent to National Assembly so that rights of smaller nationalities are protected.

2) Opportunities. Providing equal opportunities to every citizen is the constitutional obligation of the state. All successive governments have blatantly violated this basic rights of citizens particularly in smaller provinces. 18th constitutional amendment and 7th NFC award in 2010 has addressed this issue to great extent but more is to be done in this regard. The nation needs a new social contract. For this purpose a grand National dialogue be initiated, truth and reconciliation commission shall be constituted to fix the responsibilities of past failures and suggest future course of action.

3) Passion. Various nationalities are the necessary ingredients in the body of Pakistan’s nationhood because they existed before the birth of Pakistan. They are very much sensitive about their respective cultures, languages, emotions and history but amalgamation of those nationalities in artificial way by corrupting the history and false fabrication in curriculum and ignoring passion will be disastrous for the integrity of the country.

The nation faces multitude of pressing issues: woeful state of education, an exploding population, a looming water crisis, lamentable health services, distressing law and order situation, runaway inflation, chronically underperforming economy, cracks in superior judiciary and sorely needed judicial reforms, institutional decay, fuzzy civil-military relationship, massive brain drain, climate change challenges etc therefore We being young nation must revisit all three ingredients i.e, Democracy, Opportunities and passion in its true sense for achieving the status of a just and successful state of the 21st century, as described by Ancient Greek philosopher Sac-orate in 500 B.C other wise history will teach us a lesson as we are in a habit of not learning from the folly’s of past history.

Sher Khan Bazai is a retired civil servant  as secretary education Government of Baluchistan. The writer can be reached at [email protected]

Sher Khan Bazai

Sher Khan Bazai is a retired civil servant, and a former Secretary of Education in Balochistan, Pakistan. He can be reached at [email protected].

2 thoughts on “Why Pakistan’s Democratic Credentials Are Bleak? Way Forward – OpEd

  • May 3, 2023 at 12:26 pm

    A very good analysis of the woeful state Pakistan has sunk into. Pakistan is unlikely that it will ever become a democracy, as the very basis of its creation was religious extremism which included some medieval practices like apostacy and blasphemy. Suppressing and oppressing
    minorities, amongst others, were part of the tools waged by state and non-state actors.

  • May 4, 2023 at 5:57 am

    A comprehensive and accurate analysis of the pathetic political state of affairs the country is undergoing through. Politics in the country has been intruded into, intervened, subverted and molded to serve the unholy alliance of elites exclusively. Common people will always remain peripheral.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *