Pakistan’s Multifaceted Problems: Why Undiluted Democracy Is The Answer
An undiluted democracy is the answer to all our problems and there are plenty of arguments to substantiate this point. It is imperative to spotlight the two major caveats that support this assertion and take a step further toward resolving the issues being faced by Pakistan. Let’s first understand the factors that lead to the buildup of the two caveats.
The myth that religion would prove to be a cohesive force keeping the culturally and linguistically distinct federating units of Pakistan glued together has been shattered to smithereens in the course of our history. Even after the passage of more than 70 years, the centrifugal forces are still immensely strong. Accommodating the middle classes in the smaller federating units, political system and political mainstream is only possible through a free and fair electoral process; not only to broaden the base of Pakistan’s political system but to mitigate the effects of political and social discontent, which is providing fuel to the centrifugal forces.
Moreover, the military’s strong arm tactics are hardly a durable solution to keep the state structure intact in the face of growing discontentment with the state, becoming a hallmark of social and political life in smaller federating units.
Secondly, the geo-strategic and geo-political prisms are poor tools to understand and handle domestic separatist movements at the cost of ignoring social, economic, and political factors developing the centrifugal forces. It is easy to understand that democracy is the only mechanism that can diffuse a potentially explosive situation in Balochistan where denial of political rights is the norm and social and economic discontentment exists highly.
Democracy is the answer, in my opinion, because of institutional imbalance – representative institutions being weak and non-representative institutions being strong, corruption in the ranks of state machinery and corrupt political class, the country’s dwindling status among the nations, lack of direction in the society and economic poverty in masses and the state.
The first caveat to the debate is that it is universally accepted principles of politics and it is also the lesson of political development in the successful democracies that a democratic system cannot succeed where there is no effective administrative machinery or system in place in the society. When democracy was superimposed on a weak and ineffective administrative system, the system didn’t work. Conversely, an effective administrative system at the grassroots ensures service as well as justice and rule of law to the people.
In the Pakistani society, the administrative system at the grassroots either doesn’t exist or exists in very weak form. Unfortunately, our successive military and civilian leaders’ policies and attitudes, treating civil servants as their personal servants, played havoc with our administrative system. The quality of civil servants has deteriorated over the course of our history. Ill-conceived reforms have always reduced the effectiveness of the administrative systems at the district and tehsil level.
The threats to civil order have increased manifold and groups which are posing these threatens have swelled in size and strength. In short, the capacity of the administrative structure to maintain order at the grassroots level and for service delivery has reduced drastically in post-Bhutto era of our history. With the administrative structure in such a bad shape, democracy or any political system, for that matter, could hardly maintain its legitimacy in the longer run.
Secondly, in a economically developing country like Pakistan, democracy cannot continue to flourish for long if the ruling classes don’t share economic affluence with the downtrodden and lower classes. The ruling classes, with only few exceptions, lead very affluent lives in Pakistani society. On the other hand, the classes which form the bulk of the population and which provide social base to our political system are left to lead a life full of economic hardships. Large economic inequalities could destroy the social and political fabric of the society and could prove fatal for the political system.
Democracy is not possible in Pakistan if these lower classes are not given a share in economic affluence. And that is only possible if, either we increase the size of economic pie or we adopt some re-distributive mechanism. In this age of crony capitalism economic redistribution doesn’t seem a possibility. On the other hand, a society where inequalities of horrendous proportion are witnessed as a matter of routine, even transparent wealth creation projects become doubtful for the general public. And, political activism of various hues directed against wealth creation projects become a norm.
The two objectives – strengthening the administrative structures at the grassroots and sharing economic affluence with the lowers classes – hardly find any mention in our political discourse. The political conflicts in our society between the mainstream political forces mainly revolve around tenures of the government or the prime minister, or intra or inter party bickering between loudmouths of major political parties. No one seems to realize that gradually and slowly, we are drifting towards a situation where these so-called democratic institutions will be nailed into the coffins for another 10 years, at least.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.