Pakistan isn’t a democracy | By Dr Abdus Sattar Abbasi


Pakistan isn’t a democracy

A terrible history of fratricide and never ending wars have evolved human understanding to develop a structure of government which enables societies for peaceful transitions of power.

Entire human history irrespective of caste and creed is packed with blood shedding conflicts and battles to grasp supremacy.

We can find innumerable instances where even states and dynasties of same faith crushed their fellowmen for their hunger for control.

During peacetime we can’t imagine some of the extremely brutal traditions and executions of war even in our recent history which horripilate our imaginations.

However, human learning about formations of governments from anarchy to democracy has somehow brought civilization in human societies to ensure less animosity in power corridors.

We have also been trying to comprehend for the last 75 years; that which form of the government is suitable for Pakistan.

Although our history has remained devoid of certainty, but mostly people agree to allow democracy to flourish in the country to get benefit from the collective wisdom of the masses.

But which model of democracy we are following, as yet, in Pakistan is a million dollar question.

Parliamentary, according to the books, but in reality it is more than a hybrid model.

Different experiments, a variety of interventions and then numerous recipes for corrections, all this made it an interesting subject for a common man to understand the real face of Pakistani democracy.

Charles E.Merriam defined democracy in 1941 as “a form of political association in which the general control and direction is determined by the bulk of the community in accordance with understandings and procedures providing for popular participation and consent.

Its postulates are 1) the essential dignity of man on a fraternal rather than a differential basis in a formula of liberty, justice and welfare 2) the perfectibility of the man 3) value of the consent 4) The value of decisions arrived at by common counsel rather than by violence and brutality.”

Intellectually it is the point no.2 which remained head-on to our friction with the concept of democracy which, I think, isn’t without solid philosophical underpinnings.

Probably it is this point which owes a lot to determine the dark side of democracy; however, it is not our focus today.

According to Conrad P.Waligorski from University of Kansas, “Democracy is one of the most used and abused ideas in the twentieth century.

Since the end of World War II, virtually everyone has claimed to be a democrat and to be supporting, working toward, or preserving democracy.

Denominations include liberal democracy, constitutional democracy, participatory democracy, direct democracy, representative democracy, economic democracy, social democracy, elite democracy, majoritarian democracy, mass democracy, limited democracy, and people’s democracy; there are military juntas claiming to restore democracy and theorists attempting to curb democracy in the name of preserving it.

Sometimes these terms overlap, and often they are incompatible, but there is still virtually universal agreement that democracy is good.”

When we look back to our history it is predominantly dictatorial due to three long military rules.

To legitimize their coup dictators usually pursued two pronged strategy: seeking legal ratification and popular support.

This opened doors for compromises (popularly known as NROs), manipulations, exploitations and fabrications.

Requirements for legal endorsement led to constitutional amendments, particularly in-and-out of 58-2(b) which gave discretionary powers to the President of Pakistan to dissolve the National Assembly.

The Objective Resolution adopted on March 12, 1949 states, “sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to Allah Almighty alone and the authority which He has delegated to the State of Pakistan, through its people for being exercised within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust.

” The ruling of the country in the name of God (Allah) consistent with the doctrines and principles of a particular religion or religious community is called theocracy.

Prof.Robert Audi from University of Notre Dame suggests, “Much of the world is seeing conflict between people whose views permit basing political actions and lawmaking on religious convictions and people whose democratic values oppose this.

Democratic societ¬ies are in principle open to the free exercise of religion and, in constitution, they are characteristically pluralistic in both culture and religion.

Religions are highly variable in their stance toward government, but many of the world’s most populous religions, including Christianity and Islam, are commonly taken to embody standards of conduct, such as certain prohibitions, that cannot be endorsed by democratic governments committed to preserving liberty for the religious and the non-religious alike.”

In Pakistan generally it is believed that throughout after the independence there are certain families who remain in power whether the government is formed by any of the dictators or the political party.

These people and families are popularly known as “electables” due to their wealth and influence in the society.

Nowadays their next generations have emerged as leaders and progressed significantly during the last decade and now this new generation is quite prominent in the mainstream political arena.

This transfer of influence and power from electable few to their next generations to continue their legacy clearly depicts deep-rooted oligarchy in our society.

Occasionally we do witness representation of other classes of the society but those who make it to the parliament usually end up to the affluent class and join their mates from oligarchic circles.

Oligarchic characteristics of our democratic processes further mystify the nature and the form of our government and one wonders if Pakistan isn’t a democracy.

We did fumble with one unit and the federation.Fundamentally, Pakistan is a federating union of provinces with relatively sufficient autonomy after 18thamendment. One way or the other importance of citizen voters survived over the years.

Dictators required voters for referendums to legitimize their rules while voters did exercise their right of choosing their representatives through elections under both civilian and military regimes to form yet another unique ‘theocratic parliamentary oligarchic democratic governments’, which indeed is an exclusive version of democracy and calls attention of scholars of the subject to probe further in the nature and characteristics of this distinctive model.

—The writer is Associate Prof Management Sciences, Head, Centre of Islamic Finance.


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