NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 9

What next for democracy in Pakistan?

Ostensibly, the third elected government in Pakistan has almost failed to address the key issues of the country and its people. These issues include providing political stability to the country, ensuring security for a majority of people, putting the economy on track, pulling the country out of internal and external debt and meaningfully negotiating ever-rising extremism in society.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has been in the saddle for more than three years and when it rose to power people in general had great hopes that it would be able to somehow address the issues. A majority of people anticipated that the PTI may be able to overcome them to a great extent. However, the three-year performance of governance of the PTI leaves a lot to be desired. Now from the analysis of the discourse of Prime Minister Imran Khan and his key cabinet members, defeatism is quite evident. This can be ascertained from the fact that the PM and his aides have been putting the blame of all failures of their government on the past governments of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). This is not only tantamount to the admission of the PTI’s government failure but also of the previous governments, and thus, of the entire political system and democratic set-up in the country.

It is said that democracy carries an in-built mechanism of self-rectification. However, despite the fact that it is the third elected or for that matter fourth elected government that has been in the saddle in Pakistan since 2002, all of them have largely been unable to provide political stability to the country, ensuring security for its people, putting the economy on track, pulling the country out of internal and external debt and meaningfully tackling extremism in society. Instead, what we are seeing right now is that political instability is more prevalent in the country. The PTI government is ruling mostly by bypassing the parliament and issuing presidential ordinances or passing legislation by bulldozing the opposition. The opposition, on the other hand, is not ready to even have a working relationship with the government. Insofar as security is concerned, no Pakistani today can claim that he or she is completely secure. In other words, there are profound insecurities posed to the lives and property of the citizens. The country’s economy is in tatters as the GDP of the country in real terms is negative and there is hyperinflation in the marketplace. The level of extremism in the country could be gauged from two recent incidents. Firstly, the killing of policemen by militants of the Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). Secondly, the gruesome killing by a mob of a Sri Lankan citizen, Priyantha Kumara, in Sialkot, Punjab, where he worked as a production manager in a local industrial unit.

What does all this mean? This is not a simple question to be answered. The extant situation is both due to the crisis of policymaking and governance. As in the parliamentary political system, both policymaking and governance are to be provided by the parliament or the federating units’ assemblies, but it seems that the root cause of the problems lies within the political system. The parliamentary political system of Pakistan, as provided in the state constitution, has failed to give birth to governments that have the capacity and willingness to address the issues of society or many other related problems. This needs to be seriously looked into by the political leadership as well as other societal leaders, particularly members of the intelligentsia. It is important to argue whether a political system, which has not been able to give birth to governments that have the capacity to address the key issues of the state and society, rather let them become aggravated, should continue or not. Political systems are for the country, not the other way round. The fact neutralises the argument of those who think that the parliamentary political system is the ultimate fate of the state and society of Pakistan and it is irreplaceable. It is the country that is sacred and inviolable, not the system, which is running the country and that too so badly.

Although the political system has an extensive influence on democratic consolidation in a country, yet it in turn gets succour from prevailing democracy. In the case of Pakistan, the quality of democracy leaves a lot to be desired. In other words, democracy has not been able to flourish in Pakistan due to several interrelated reasons. The foremost cause of lack of democracy or non-flowering of democracy in Pakistan has been that the social structure is undemocratic or its key values do not support democracy in them. It could also be described in a way that the culture of Pakistan is undemocratic. This, in turn, has roots in the ultraconservative societal culture of Pakistan. Whatever political system we have in Pakistan was the result of the societal dynamics and among these dynamics ultra-conservativeness and lack of democracy were and have been key features.

So, with the government almost completely failing to rule the country in an appropriate manner so that the main issues of the state and society could be addressed, what could be done to alleviate the woes of the country? The principle must be that the panacea for the failure of democracy is not dictatorship or any other undemocratic regime, rather more democracy. This means that Pakistan’s political system does not have the capacity to facilitate the blossoming of democratic culture in the country. The solution to our problems is a democratic culture, not a sham political system, merely using the name of democracy to sustain itself. How could a political system work when there has been unceasing blames from the defeated political parties and groups on the winning parties and groups of rigging elections in connivance with the country’s security establishment? Today, the opposition parties are arguing that the solution to the country’s problems is in snap elections. This is a completely shallow argument. If elections could provide the country with political stability and economic growth, then we have held four national elections in the last 19 years, with three regimes even completing their stipulated five-year tenure. A new election would bring a new party or a coalition of parties to power and this is what they would really like to get. New faces in the government would not at all be a guarantee of addressing the core issues of the state and society.