Democracy In Ashes: Why Political Movements Continue To Fail In Pakistan – OpEd


In the recent assassination attempt on Imran Khan, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan was wounded in the leg. The news outlets reported one death and five injured. The attack on former Prime Minister Imran Khan during a protest march raises two major questions. Why do political movements continue to fail in Pakistan, and are these political marches any effective in improving the function of the state? 

These questions can be best answered according to what Dr. Francis Fukuyama mentioned in his lecture at the Universiteit Van Amsterdam, where he summarized one of his works, The Origins of Political Order. Dr. Fukuyama described three categories of institutions that are critical for understanding the modern world. First, the state. Second, the rule of law. Third, an accountable form of government—all missing in Pakistan for the nation to emerge as a modern nation-state. 

Dr. Fukuyama points out in his lecture, “Since September 11th, I have been quite preoccupied with the question of the weak and failing states, and we have had a lot of them, particularly, in American foreign policy where we intervened in Afghanistan, Iraq, but also dealt with Somalia, Haiti, any number of other countries and the general problem of development in any poor government, is always related, I think to a failure of government. It is not the fact that countries are lacking resources; it is the fact that they do not have good institutions that I think keeps them chaotic, poor, underdeveloped, corrupt, and alike. [sic].” This is certainly true for Pakistan.

Pakistan has abundant natural resources and even human resources to develop as a nation at a rapid speed; however, due to a lack of functional and effective institutions, Pakistan continues to struggle and fail as a modern state, and all political rallies prove futile. In fact, the opposite is true. The absence of strong political institutions creates social chaos, opens the door for assassination, and leaves the country stalled. When a country that is full of natural resources, human resources, and the required intelligence to transition to a modern state, does not utilize what it has at its disposal, it is a failed modern state. 

Examine the quick progress of Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E, Qatar, Kuwait, and other Gulf countries that survived the US invasion. These countries were mere deserts once. Its people lived in tents, yet such countries are able to formulate fully functional institutions that serve their citizens. How did this happen? The answer is, yet again, strong institutions and reaping the benefits from the one natural resource all countries have, oil. Pakistan is blessed with the world’s second-largest salt mines, fifth-largest copper and gold reserves, second-largest coal deposits, and estimated billions of barrels of crude oil that just sits there. Because Pakistan failed to create and maintain corruption-free institutions, it suffers to the present day. 

In the report, “Strategy For Mineral Sector Development In Pakistan,” Dr. Syed Akhtar Hussain Shah mentions, “The country has the world’s second largest salt mines and fifth largest copper and gold reserves, and second largest coal deposits, as well as estimated billions of barrels of crude oil. Despite huge potential, contribution of mineral sector to Pakistan’s GDP is around 3 %, and the country’s exports are only about 0.1% of the world’s total.” Although Pakistan is rich in minerals and other natural resources, Pakistan lacks efficient institutions that are plagued with corruption, lack of governance, and political stability to revive itself from the economic troubles it faces. As a result, Pakistan continues to miss investment opportunities and increase its exports to thrive in the modern world. 

What is the reason that despite having so many minerals and resources, Pakistan’s development is constantly stalled? Again, the problem of Pakistan is exactly what Dr. Fukuyama addresses in his lecture. It is the lack of strong institutions that can help Pakistan prosper. Dr. Shah’s report points to the same fact. Shah writes, “A number of gaps exist in exploitation and marketing of mineral. Regulatory Framework has missing links between the national mineral policy and provincial mining policies/laws, resulting in procedural delays, creates hurdles for investors particularly for foreign investors.” Additional hurdles, Shah notes, are outdated technology, human resources, low productivity, and low access to finance, which can be a positive contributing factor to Pakistan’s advancement. 

A further crippling problem for Pakistan is that it still has not evolved into a modern state. It is a state but not a modern one. A state, according to Dr. Fukuyama, is all about power. It is the ability to concentrate power in a hierarchical organization and use it to force rules to govern a particular territory. This description of a state is aligned with Hasan Askari Rizvi’s description of a state, written in The Future of Pakistan by Stephen Cohen and others. In the essay “At the Brink,” Rizvi writes, “A failed state is often described as a state that is unable to meet its obligations as a sovereign entity in both domestic and international context. Its administrative and security structures, its economy, and its societal fabric are in complete disarray, making it impossible for the state to perform its basic functions.”

What is a modern state, then? Dr. Fukuyama asserts that a modern state is not built on friends and family relationships. A modern state is not based on who is acquainted with the ruler. It is based on universal criteria. The universal criteria is that the state rules over its citizens based on an ‘impersonal basis’ in which people are recruited based on merit and function, not on the basis of personal ties with the ruler and his family. Pakistan has been in the grips of Sharifs and Bhuttos with the anomaly of military rule from time to time. After Imran Khan, Pakistan is again in the tight grip of the nation’s two main political dynasties.

Farhan Bokhari and Chloe Cornish write in the Irish Times that “Pakistan has been ruled by the military for about half of its existence since the nation was founded in 1947 while the Bhuttos and Sharifs have led multiple civilian governments since the 1970s.” Pakistan’s transition to a modern state requires extreme political and institutional reforms that break the cycle of dynasty rule. For Pakistan to exist and hold global influence, Pakistan requires political reformation that is corruption-free. The nation cannot exist between two contrasts, a weak state sometimes and a strong state sometimes that plays a strong role of a mediator in the global village because of its strengths. Rizvi asserts, “The troubled internal security situation and stepped-up violence have contributed to extremely poor governance on the part of the federal and provincial governments, which are finding it difficult to effectively address the socioeconomic problems that inflict the state system and society.” What is the result of such poor governance? 

What this has done for Pakistan is, as Rizvi highlights, “given rise to a culture of defiance and anarchy. Sporadic street protests by political parties, social groups, or disorderly crowds that are quite upset by some events like road accidents are quite common in urban centers. It has been observed for the last four to five years that the protesters seem most interested in making things difficult for others by disrupting ordinary business and city life, causing traffic jams, and ransacking property. There is increased tendency to block highways to suspend intercity traffic, disrupt railway train services, and attack police stations and government offices.”  These ‘mini-insurgencies,’ as Rizvi calls them, are a daily routine. 

Ponder for a moment. Pakistan’s political elites, who should be focusing on reforming the country’s institutions, rooting out corruption, and implementing a merit-based system to offer the best civil services to its citizens, are busy blocking the roads, screaming political slogans and poetry from their microphones, and driving a crowd of people into madness. Rizvi provides the example of PML-N, “Political leaders often encourage defiance of the government in order to paralyze it, hoping that it will cause some collapse. The PML-N leadership, the main opposition party, has on occasion called on its supporters as well as government employees to defy government orders or has threatened to launch street protests.” People run to the streets at any leader’s call and find themselves disappointed the next day. Has this behavior done any good for Pakistan? 

The corruption is so deeply rooted in the system, like a tooth cavity, that its pain is felt at every level of society. Rizvi writes, “Corruption and mismanagement have greatly undermined government efficiency, and state patronage is being employed in a highly partisan manner, placing a greater premium royalty than on professionalism and performance.” Here, one must recall the words of Dr. Fukuyama and his point on the second necessary element of a modern political system. 

According to Dr. Fukuyama, the rule of law is the second important set of institutions. He states, “The rule of law, in my definition, is a set of rules that reflect the norms of justice of the larger community, but it is not the rule of law, unless the government, the existing government, is subordinate to it and feels that it has to obey those rules. If you are a king, or a president, or a prime minister, and you get to make up the rules as you go along, that is not the rule of law. You only have the rule of the law when the governing executive believes that their function is to fulfill a law that is made by other people [sic].”  The willingness to respect and obey the law and implement the law accordingly is missing in Pakistan. This is also apparent in the ordeal of the former Prime Minister, Imran Khan. Imran Khan’s rule was delegitimized. What did this do for Pakistan? Per Rizvi, “the process of delegitimization of the Pakistani state in the social and economic sectors, which strengthens the perception that ordinary people cannot depend on the state to address their problem.” All opposition parties, which include Sharifs and Bhuttos, among other opportunists, led Pakistan into a deeper economic crisis where people have no faith left in the government. 

Imran Khan, who was charged with ‘terrorism,’ which Pakistan’s court dismissed, faces a government with no respect for the rule of law, nor does the political elite understand what it means to implement the rule of law. One can further argue that the wealthy elite in Pakistan is also part of this group. So, how should such a problem be solved?

For Pakistanis to transform Pakistan into a modern state, Pakistanis need to step away from the ‘culture of defiance and anarchy.’ Dr. Fukuyama proposes that an accountable form of government, which is the third category of an institution, is necessary. For Dr. Fukuyama, accountability is a broader term that has two dimensions. One is that a government must be accountable, and the second dimension is moral accountability. Perhaps, the answer is in this for Pakistan. Dr. Fukuyama mentions that without an election, rulers can be trained and educated such that rulers feel a sense of responsibility to the people they rule. Power must be regulated by law and limited by democratic accountability. If Pakistan continues on such a chaotic path, such trends, as Rizvi asserts, are “indicative of the growing incoherence, divisiveness, and fragmentation in Pakistani society, which threatens the prospect of democracy and political stability.”

Ahsan Qazi is the founder of One Voice-Pakistan and World Affairs in Sociological Perspective. He was born in Pakistan, but raised in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Ahsan Qazi

Ahsan Qazi is the founder of One Voice-Pakistan and World Affairs in Sociological Perspective. He was born in Pakistan, but raised in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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