Pakistan’s 68 years of freedom from British rule through quelling colonial forces has achieved no significant steps in establishing the roots of a strong and efficient democracy. Plagued with inherent and structural weaknesses, attempts at creating a democratic system of governance has been undermined at every step by the feudal elites and non-civilian forces.
Democracy in its nascent stages in Pakistan during the time period of 1947 revolved around uniting a vastly differentiated group of people on the lines of a common religion ‘Islam’ and thus took off to a shaky start because of the various differences in terms of language and culture of the Muslims of erstwhile India (as seen In the separation of Bangladesh from east Pakistan on the grounds of linguistic and cultural differences). Foundations were laid under the aegis of Jinnah representing the Muslim league, a party of the bourgeoisie elite, which was unresponsive to the needs to people but still maintained its popular support.
It was imperative to counter the mass exodus and violence that preceded the creation of Pakistan by establishing lasting and stable political institutions that would serve as pillars for democracy. However, falling into the cycle of violence and vengeance and its continued antagonism towards India has had an adverse impact on the experiments of democracy across the border.
To be clear though it is not just the sour relation with India that is responsible for its poor record of democracy. Several other factors also conspire to keep a substantive form of governance as a distant dream for the citizens of Pakistan.
The first one being the nature of society prevalent in Pakistan which is highly feudal in nature and therefore promotes an elitist and exclusive power structure that seeks to keep power within the hands of the few, thus depriving the many, and is therefore wary of a popular people’s democracy .To combat such a social structure, efforts need to be made to abolish landlordism and zamindari and move towards a more equitable distribution process.
Similarly the highly interventionist nature of non civilian forces -the military that capitalized on the disillusionment of the people vis a vis the experiences of corrupt and inefficient elected governments and also gained support by pointing across the border, alluding to India as a potential threat.
Another factor that facilitates intervention of the military is the poorly designed constitution that has been abrogated and even suspended countless times and the weak institutions of the judiciary and the parliament which are often reduced to nothing more than puppets in the hands of the military dictators.
Characteristic of military rule under the dictators Ayub Khan(1958-1969), Yahya Khan (1969-1971), Zia Ul Haq(1977-1989) and Parvez Musharraf (1995-2005), Pakistan was often under Marshall law under strict conditions of censorship denying its citizens even the most basic of freedoms. Power was highly centralized and the coups sought to undermine the elected parliament, forever compromising the democratic process.
Another major factor remains the integrity of free and fair elections and universal adult franchise that have remained mere ambitions on paper (the first elections to have universal adult franchise was the one held in 1971), many instances of stuffed ballots, intimidation, buying of votes and rigging have been recorded implying that even when following the procedures of democracy the results often undermine the process further.
Vibrant political parties with clear agendas constitute an important corner stone of any democracy as it provides a link between the people and political process are hence ostensibly missing. This too undermines the political structure of Pakistan, which also increases its susceptibility to coups and dictators.
The aftermath of the war in Afghanistan has also led to the establishment of the roots of terrorism within the country which has led to strained relations with neighbors and the ineffectiveness of the elected governments in Pakistan who are often at the mercy of such forces as well.
Initially even the lack of international support for the re establishment of democracy and the covert international support that the dictators enjoyed also conspired to keep Pakistan estranged from any meaningful step towards democracy.
Recently Pakistan has managed to establish a transfer of power between two democratically elected governments, which has been the first of its kind. This was along with relatively higher political participation and a fierce electoral campaign from
Both Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan that sought to change the rhetoric of Pakistan. The general elections of 2013 also boasted an incumbent Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. As of now measures must be taken to incorporate the youth and people at the grass root level in implementing democracy not letting it be just an elite phenomenon. Thus working towards free and fair elections, maintaining the sovereignty of the constitution, establishing free and fair elections and creating an independent judiciary are currently top priorities in Pakistan.
Also tackling corruption and inefficiency that arise in governments, maintaining a distance with the bureaucracy and fighting forces that seek to undermine democracy like feudalism and terrorism should feature on their agenda.
While on the subject of reforms, the dismal rate of literacy and awareness in Pakistan to the benefits of democracy should also be remedied, thus correcting their misconceptions of the same. The activities of various civilian groups, NGO’s and think tanks have been seen as a welcome change. Thus while so far democracy has had rather a turbulent past in Pakistan, the future looks towards being more optimistic as the common people unite in their aspiration to establish a more meaningful experiment with democracy.
– Nitika Bakshi