NationalVOLUME 14 ISSUE # 23

Democracy in Pakistan

Constitutionally, Pakistan is a democratic country. Different political and religious parties, like the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), contest elections which are held after regular intervals. Theoretically, these parties are formed to protect the basic rights of the people, ensure smooth functioning of the democratic system, promote democratic culture within the parties and in the country, safeguard different ideologies, uphold, implement and follow the Constitution of Pakistan in every matter, introduce people-friendly plans and revolutionary solutions to emerging problems and existing challenges.


The people of Pakistan are supposed to help these parties which, after contesting elections, form governments in the provinces and Centre. The sole purpose of the government and the parties should be to serve the people of the country because democracy is a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” In democracy, education, rule of law, rule of merit, economic equality, transparency in every walk of life, independent and strong institutions, honest political leadership, industrialisation, tolerance and moderation, scientific progress, self-reliance and human development hold paramount importance. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s democracy is devoid of all the fundamental principles and values. In fact, the quality of democracy is falling very rapidly, not only at the theoretical but also at the operational level in Pakistan.

Since the creation of Pakistan, political governments and parties have not tried to create and follow democratic culture by abolishing feudalism, tribalism, cast-based social, educational and political systems, outdated police and judicial laws, a cruel land (Patwari) system and corruption from the country. Political parties and their leaders have used power for protecting their partisan interests, intimidating opponents, controlling poor people and misusing state resources.


It is an established truth that democracy suits only a small ruling elite and ignores the majority of the people of Pakistan. The ruling elite has introduced a class-riddled educational system (Madrassa, Urdu and English medium) to keep the people of Pakistan uneducated, divided, submissive and naïve. The sole purpose of the system is to stop the people from launching any protest and demanding their rights. The system has successfully given power only to the elite, including feudal lords, tribal heads, politicians, businesspeople and bureaucrats. With this power, the elite has become very rich and influential while most of Pakistani people are poor. It has stashed ill-gotten wealth not only in the country but also in other countries. The elite has intentionally discouraged industrialisation in the country because it requires a skilled and educated workforce which is against the interests of the corrupt ruling elite. It has turned Pakistan into a consumer-oriented economy by borrowing from international organizations, like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank etc.

Ikram Sehgal, a defence and security analyst, writes: “Large amounts of the borrowed money that was flowing into the country ended up in the pockets of the rulers. The staggering amount of debt accumulated has now reached a level where the debt service takes away such a big part of the budget that the funds required for necessary investment into the defence of the country, into the social sector, like healthcare, education and poverty reduction, and in the infrastructure, agriculture and industry are not possible and can be paid only with new loans and more debt. The stolen and amassed money has been used by the elite to lead a luxurious life based on imported goods but a major amount has been taken out of the country to be parked in offshore accounts and invested in property abroad. Most Pakistan citizens are poor, living at or below the poverty line while a tiny minority has become unbelievably rich with stolen money.”


Tragically, when the state or government tries to control corruption and the anti-democratic attitude of the ruling elite, it becomes united to spoil the efforts. Almost all political parties serve their own partisan interests. They have no interest in serving the people and the country. The primary duty of any democratic government is to enforce the rule of law, satisfy basic needs of the people, provide speedy justice and solve the socio-economic problems of the people, which all the governments have failed to achieve in Pakistan. Due to the bad and poor performances of the previous political governments and opposition parties in the Centre and provinces, many doubts about the successful functioning of democracy in Pakistan are raising in the minds of the people.


Now, after PTI governments were formed in 2018 at the federal level and in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, there are some signs of improvement in the law and order situation. But, it is also a fact that the PTI government has failed to provide economic relief to the people. It has been unable to control the price hike of essentials and commodities such as electricity, gas and other services. Middle level businesspeople are also not willing to pay taxes. They are not happy with the Federal Board of Revenue’s policies.


The PTI government is also not willing to provide relief to the PML-N and PPP leaders who are facing corruption charges. Both parties have started propaganda against the PTI government and the accountability process. They are trying to paint the accountability process as political victimization. Interestingly, the Jamiat Ulema-Islam (JUI-F) has also joined the PPP and the PML-N in condemning Prime Minister Imran Khan and his PTI government just to protect its own partisan interests. These parties are playing every bad trick to derail the present political and judicial systems just to save their corrupt leaders.


Maryam Nawaz, the PML-N leader, has leaked a video which allegedly showed a conversation between Accountability Judge Arshad Malik, who had convicted former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the Al-Azizia case, and Nasir Butt, a PML-N supporter. In her press conference, Maryam Nawaz tried to prove that the judge had been blackmailed and forced into convicting Nawaz Sharif. To get rid of his guilt, the judge has disclosed the truth to Nasir Butt. The judge has denied the charges and demanded a probe into the video. All political parties and the media have demanded an enquiry into the matter.


It appears Maryam Nawaz, also a convict, has played a dirty trick to save her father. Her purpose is to discredit the judiciary and other institutions of the country. She also wants to start an agitation to destabilise the country and the government. The judiciary and the government should take action against the dirty manoeuvre. Special Assistant to Prime Minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan has suggested a forensic examination of the tapes. There is no doubt about it that, with the dirty stroke, the PML-N has succeeded in attracting the attention of the people. Maryam has also threatened to leak more videos in the coming days if her father is not freed from jail. Interestingly, she is also demanding PM Imran Khan’s resignation.


The fear of accountability has brought the PML-N, the PPP and the JUI-F closer to each other. All the parties will try their level best to create disturbance in the country. Resultantly, the quality of political discourse will be lowered in the coming days. Moreover, leaders of all political parties are using abusive language against each other in the parliament and on TV, which is not good for democracy.


Dr. Hasan Askari Rizvi writes: “The current phase of Pakistani politics shows that major political parties are motivated by their immediate needs rather than working on the basis of a long-term or a well-thought out political agenda. Their friendships and rivalries are shaped by immediate exigencies. Until the PPP and the PML-N embarked on their current camaraderie, both had a large number of statements on record wherein they accused each other of political opportunism, mismanagement and corruption. All of that seems to be a thing of the past — forgotten by both the parties who feel threatened by the accountability process. Today, politics appears to be a power struggle among the political elite. Democratic principles, institutions and processes have either become irrelevant or are relevant for a political party to the extent that they help them achieve their agenda vis-à-vis the political adversary. Democracy underlines the need for serving the common people. However, if politics becomes a free-for-all struggle for power for the political elite, the democratic culture and the people’s interests will eventually become a secondary consideration”.


The state should take every step to complete the accountability process against the corrupt ruling elite, if it wants to make the economy strong by bringing stolen money back, promote the rule of law in society and bring a real democracy in the country.