Covers, Democracy Today — November 7, 2011 3:48 am

The Dysfunctional Democracy

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Poet and philosopher Sir Muhammad Iqbal, once said, “Avoid the democratic system of government, because the combined thinking of two hundred donkeys cannot produce the wisdom of one man.” Iqbal’s criticisms of popular Western democracies and arguments in favor of Islam in public life hold sway even today. In 1930, he proposed the creation of a state in northwestern India for Indian Muslims to the All-India Muslim League. Yet, on 14th August 1947 Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the charismatic western educated lawyer and first Governor General of the young state of Pakistan, addressed the new constituent assembly with the words, “You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

The clash between Iqbal and Jinnah resonates in Pakistan today. Western democracy, with its stated commitment to liberty, equality and representation has long seemed at odds with Islamic governments in the East. Pakistan in particular, was created on the basis of religion, but its founder hoped to establish a secular democratic state. In practice, Pakistan has vacillated between Islam and more secular forms of government, democracy and military rule. As a state at odds with its own identity, Pakistan has struggled to find a brand of democracy to fit the Pakistani context.

The Young and the Restless

In its initial years, Pakistan struggled to unite its two separate wings—East (now Bangladesh) and West Pakistan—under a democratic framework. According to Christophe Jaffrelot, visiting professor at Princeton and former director of the Center for International Studies and Research, the Muslim League was the only party in existence in Pakistan, but lacked the clout and civil society support of India’s Congress Party. As a result, initial power remained in the hands of a few landlords and muhajirs, immigrants of West Pakistan. Yet the clear majority of Pakistan’s population resided in East Pakistan, separated by India. Any democracy meant that power would devolve to East, something the original Muslim League, largely made up of West Pakistanis, found unacceptable.

Jinnah died in 1948, leaving behind a country struggling with seemingly divergent ideologies, and separate wings. The instability of the new state, coupled with fear of India next door, led the Pakistani government to emphasize short-term goals, designed to keep themselves in power and immediate threats at bay. For the first ten years of its existence, then, Pakistan tried and failed to instill a democracy, largely because political parties were discouraged and the ethnic identity divided the land so strongly from the start.

Enlightened Moderation—and the Military

In addition to the ethnic struggle within the country, an existential threat from India and the dispute over Kashmir increased the role of security in public policy, establishing the military’s presence in Pakistani public life from the start. “It created the mindset of liberty afterwards, security before. Ayub Khan used this line when he took over in 1958,” says Jaffrelot. Further, Pakistan inherited two highly militarized and underdeveloped provinces. The North West Frontier Province (now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) and Balochistan comprised fiercely independent tribes that had evaded British influence and resisted efforts for development. They remain hotbeds of resistance movements today. After alternating between two prime ministers in the 1990s, both of whom were ousted on charges of corruption, Pakistan embarked on its longest period of military rule under Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf remained popular despite his controversial takeover and appealed to many moderate Pakistanis. In 2004, Musharraf began his mantra of “enlightened moderation,” stating, “We must adopt a path of moderation and a conciliatory approach to fight the common belief that Islam is a religion of militancy in conflict with modernization, democracy and secularism.” Attempting to achieve this moderation as a military dictator seemed unlikely, yet his policies encouraging free media and open criticism seemed to support Musharraf’s benign image as a democratic reformer.

Coming Into its Own

Musharraf’s efforts, however, were complicated by societal structure. According to Anatol Lievin’s book, Pakistan: A Hard Country, a culture of patronage rules all institutions in Pakistan. Political parties, tribes, courts, civil services and police all function according to a system of patronage between individuals and loyalists, reducing the appeal of large scale democratic voting.

Some experts, however, view the systems of patronage as a contextualized adaptation to democratic processes. Ayesha Jalal, a historian and professor at Tufts University described to the HPR the traditional tribal Jirga: a council that normally resolves disputes within a village. Jalal argues that while jirga has its flaws, it can be adapted to the demands of a modern democratic state. As Jalal claims, the system’s existence as an informal alternative to the judiciary has produced a sense of ownership amongst the people.

The potential of systems like the jirga suggests that democracies must be allowed to grow out of their flaws. Jalal explained the described the interrupted flow of democracy in Pakistan, “We have always voted a government in, but never voted one out.” Democratically elected governments in Pakistan have been plagued by corruption and inefficiency, prompting takeovers by military rulers at every juncture. The consistent interruptions prevent accountability mechanisms from running the full cycle. In Jalal’s opinion, Pakistanis know what they want, but have not been given the forum to express themselves.

A New Era?

After Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in 2007, Pakistanis heralded a new government with the largest election turnout in the country’s history. Today, rising prices, a refugee problem in the wake of military operations and natural disasters and growing suspicion between the United States and Pakistan after Bin Laden’s controversial capture, place this democratically elected government at yet another crucial juncture. The army seems to be stepping back from interfering, yet the intelligence agencies still influence public policy, especially in the wake of Bin Laden’s death.

In 2013, if there are no interruptions, Pakistan will have its next major election. Choosing between the existing political parties will be a challenge, since most have been tried, tested, and struggled. Yet, if history is any indicator, muddling through remains the best possible route. Even in Pakistan’s case where democracy is dysfunctional and manifests itself through unconventional means, the universal principles of participatory governance and rule according to the will of the people should be emphasized. According to Amartya Sen, a Nobel laureate and professor of economics at Harvard University, people will mold the word “democracy” to their own ends unless the universal values of democracy need to be applied.

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  • Russty

    While Obama have been hard at work taking apart our Military, he is using drone strikes and special forces teams to invade pakistan space. At the same time he has allowed the us fleet to slip down to 11 Carriers and not any Battleships, and the messed up ships he’s allowing the US to build are confused and unable to even defend themselfs. Making them death traps for our sailors, without weapons systems ready for them now so he can fund his domestic agenda. At the same time he is leaking secrets about our allies, so even they will no longer trust us with the security info we need to keep another 9/11 from happening, also expose’s the methods we will be using to defend our country. When the sec of defense has to tell the White House to keep their ****ing mouths shut, Um America we have a problem, A huge government work force having to be loyal to the democrats in order to keep the jobs they have, are leaking what they are told to with no paper trail to follow, and Eric Holder ” Is going to investagate the leaks from the DOJ” Ya right,just keep thinking about fast and furious and how thats going. This whole mess is going to be even bigger than watergate, and damage the USA for a decade ahead. Oh and what are we doing about our AA credit rating unless you want the world counting on the yen where the government controls the value (that will be just great for the USA). Or Germany in charge of all the money in europe and maybe the world (just think Hitler). I know what my parents whould have thought about this situation (may god bless their souls) they did not fight WW2 just to have the 60 to 70 million people having died for nothing. They would have rolled up their sleves and said NO to the crazy place that this country and her crazyier political party’s have got us to. They would have taken to the streets by the 100′s of thousands and tell them to do the jobs we hired them to do or we will fire you.
    We need to get the 1000′s of lawer’s working the system out of washinton and make sure they can’t bribe our elected leaders with another contribution. Let them hear it loud and proud. This is my country, a real superpower, with the guts to fix what we find wrong, take care of our own first, and support our allies as best we can, we need a 450 ship navy, a larger, better equiped marine corps, a larger better trained and armed army with the best weapons in the world, lastly an air force that will make anyone shake in their boots to back up the army. Let the word go forth, from this time and place, to friend and foe alike. America may have taken a hit, but we are not outta the fight, we will however be bringing the fight to our foes in their own lands, no matter how deep the hole you hide in, it’s not deep enough, and in November 2012 the message will be MUCH clearer. I Pledge, I am an american and I will bear any burden, wait in the poor weather for as long as it takes to cast my vote, I will bring my voter card, my photo ID, Social Security card, and my Tax form from last year to show I paid my fair share, further I shall report to the election officals anyone that I think may be tring to vote that may be an illegal alien.
    Nuf Said,
    RC, Arizona

  • Raja Vudatala

    This is a very good analysis of the ground reality. Both India and Pakistan have suffered the same problem of shaping into republics that no where meet the vision that the respective founding father envisaged. It is an interesting co-incidence that the found fathers of both the states passed away an year later to declaration of Independence. I sometimes also feel that both the founding fathers suffered from acute short sightedness or blissful ignorance. They somehow failed to see the ground reality of a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and uneducated population who had varied view points and interests was forced into a form of democracy that would be very alien in concept and implementation. The lack of wider consensus on this matter has lead to rise of secessionist forces who when seen through a black and white specs appear as Terrorist and not as legitimate Representatives of certain section of people. Ofcourse Pakistan is a very young country and if it has to be seen from when the most democratic government started functioning then it has to be 2007 onwards. So it will need many more decades before a stable, progressive and widely accepted Government could come forth and take Pakistan to a better state. Probably it needs a new generation of leaders to come and make this happen and has to wait till the bad blood withers with time.

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