Naveed Aman Khan
THE political parties of Pakistan will have to become institutions of public representation and sustain a representative form of government, if they aim to dislodge and disengage the Establishment from Pakistani politics. Basic approach that explains the flourishing of democracy in a society can be explained in four ways. Firstly, Democracy is a function of level of economic development. The higher the level of economic development, the better is the prospect of flourishing of democracy. Economic development leads to a vibrant middle class whose interest is in sustaining free market economy, protecting rights and freedom and building democracy. Secondly, Democracy is a function of level of education. The higher the education level of a society, the greater are the chances of having a democracy. Thirdly, Democracy is a function of cultural pluralism and work ethics; that a correlation exists between the culture of a society and its chances to create a representative form of government. Finally, Democracy is a function of elites’ ability to bargain, compromise and build consensus on normative aspects of democracy – rule of law, respecting dissent, protecting minority rights and mainstreaming gender that could be most helpful in explaining the Pakistani case.
The masses may be able to help in sustaining democracy but constructing democracy is a function of the elite. It is thus important to study the evolution and transformation of Pakistani elite to opine on the prospects of democracy in Pakistan. The structure of Pakistani elite has undergone social and political transformation and at least five trends are visible. In particular look at the military civil bureaucracy, political parties and the religious elites. Among these elite structures, the role of military is peculiarly different because it has been involved in the construction of other elites. If history is an indicator, each military regime in Pakistan has indulged in patronizing a new set of individuals to construct political elite who would adopt the political system projected by the military.
Closely looking at the institutional make up of Pakistan’s military, in particular since 1979, an enormous change in social origins can be observed. General Jahangir Karamat and General Pervez Musharraf and their cohorts were the last breed of pre-independence born military elites. The year of 2007 has been unprecedented. It marks the ascendancy of an indigenous Pakistani, born after independence at the helm of military decision making. Until 1971 the base of military elites of Brigadiers and Generals was relatively small totalling around 120 officers. Today there is a five fold increase. The base of military elites has considerably expanded to over 600. However, the strategic decision making is confined to 10 Corps Commanders and another 30-40 top staff officers. Their ethnic, social class and educational composition has also become noticeably diffused. There is considerable speculation on the ideological orientation of military elite. During the 1960s and mid 70s, the Generals from rural background and the Pothohar the so-called ‘martial races’ were dominant. The new breed is much more urban and has a humbler social origin. Pakistani military has moved beyond the soldierly profession and assumed constabulary functions. In the post 1979 period, with the exception of Kargil conflict (1999), the military has increasingly been involved in combating internal disorder, fighting internal insurgency and planning counter-insurgency.
The second visible trend is the changing composition, orientation and educational background of the emerging bureaucracy. The Pakistan civil bureaucracy which is the pivotal pillar of governance and till late 1980’s was the backbone of administration is now, plagued with crisis of moral authority and institutional decline. Unlike the 1950s, 1960s to early 1970s, it no longer attracts the brightest, who instead opt for business schools and IT. Since the mid 1990’s the recruitment pool has changed from upper to middle and lower middle social classes who for status enhancement and limited choices of personal advancement still find competitive examination as the only vehicle for social climbing.
Since 2001 Police is the most preferred occupation group. The FPSC pointing to the choice of service indicates that the change in composition is not conducive for promoting representative government but appears more supportive for authoritarianism and clientelism. The third visible trend is that the political elites leading the political parties are becoming more dynastic and their leaders unabashed in giving key party positions to family members. Pakistani Political Parties are in decay, organizationally weak, lacking vision, without ideological commitment and have no leadership succession plan for the development of the country and the poor bread seeking masses. The current ruling coalition has banded together not on the basis of any principle but on simple Machiavellian notions of power. Thus the outcome has been a cosmetic change in the procedural dimension of democracy because they have acquired a degree of legitimacy through elections. But the normative dimension of democracy – respect for rule of law, a dissent and core values of tolerance, accommodation, bargain and consensus is still missing. How political parties, that do not have a democratic culture, that pursue power without regard to public good, whose leaders are disconnected from ordinary workers and who still need an outside ‘international broker’ to communicate among each other can provide an alternative to the military?
The fourth visible trend is a significant change among religious institutions and religious leadership. Last four decades have seen rise of Madaris as a primary source of social status and political power. It is significant that these Madaris have produced a new breed of the religious elite that claims religious scholarship as well as leadership of their own political parties. They have increasingly become assertive and uncompromising in projecting and introducing their own form of Shariah. Since the late 1970’s state patronage, Afghan Jihad and trading communities have been at the forefront in supporting this new religious elite. This has greatly influenced the Pakistani political discourse as religiosity rather than religious principles and ethics has made strong inroads leading to constraints on the social, cultural, political and economic activities.
The critical question is to what degree this religiosity has produced the Jihadi culture? Without state connivance and support, neither religious elite could flourish nor would militancy have become the monster it has become. The main casualty has been the balanced liberal political space which has shrunk as a consequence. Rationally, the part of society has gone to the unbalanced level of secularism during last five years. Pakistani society is clearly divided in religiously orthodox and acute secularly modern and socially out of bound liberal classes. Both classes have been made hostage to the leaders the Mullahs and the Cowboy of these classes. Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf are the examples of this extreme division. The election 2018 will in fact expose division of Pakistani nation in diverse directions.
— The writer is political analyst based in Islamabad.