Pakistan At 74: A Flawed State Of Democracy And Lessons Unlearned
As Pakistan celebrates its 75th birthday, it seems as if all the vulnerabilities—political, social, diplomatic and economic— that had confronted the new born on August 14, 1947 have become even more forbidding.
As a result, the state of democracy in Pakistan has remained largely wanting with three longish direct military rules plus a short one by Yahya —Ayub (11 years), Yahya (3 years), Zia (11 years), Musharraf (9 years) with democratic pauses serving as facades for indirect military rule—three PPP governments (10 years approximately), three PMLN governments (10 years approximately) and one PTI government (three years and counting).
The first 11 years since its birth and Prime Minister ZA Bhutto’s 6 years had remained a contest between the civil-military bureaucracy and the political Pakistan with the latter getting rather patchily the better of the two contestants.
Kashmir remains the major reference point in Pakistan’s relations with India. Islamabad has already fought three wars and innumerable skirmishes with its Eastern neighbour on this issue which has developed into a nuclear flash-point since the late 1980s.
Afghanistan, the North Western neighbour, has become even more uncompromising than it had been on the day Pakistan came into being.
Though Pakistan has fought two full-fledged wars—the first to rescue Afghanistan from Soviet occupation and the second to reclaim it from international terrorism (both led by the US), hosted for almost 40 years three million Afghan refugees and provided for decades safe sanctuary to the Haqqanis, a leading Afghan Taliban faction inside Pakistan, yet a good numbers of Afghans have continued to blame Pakistan for all their real and imaginary troubles. Also, they continue to refuse to recognize the Durand Line as the international border.
What is more worrying is the fact that Pakistan has successfully managed to alienate, through its sheer stupidity, the sole super power, the USA after having remained on its right side for more than seven decades.
Throughout the cold war, Pakistan was the most allied ally of the USA. During the war on global terrorism Pakistan was designated as the non-NATO ally of the US. But today, Pakistan is awaiting a call from the new US President Joe Biden to Prime Minister Imran Khan which does seem to be coming any time soon.
The state of relations with India, Afghanistan and the US which at times had got tangled up with each other have also played a decisive role in keeping Pakistan from making a successful bid for genuine democracy. In fact, all the elections held in the country since the one organised by President General Zia ul Haq in 1985 have been manipulated to obtain results as desired by the establishment—a desire dictated by its security needs of the day. That is why Pakistan is generally known as a security state as opposed to a democratic one.
Another matter which has caused Pakistan’s democratic aspirations to be nipped in the bud all through these 75 years is Islamabad’s tendency, no matter of what kind of government ruled in the capital and of which party, to brand as ‘traitors’ those who would question the official policies, talk about inefficiencies of officialdom, their blunders and their plunder of public money.
No lessons seem to have been learnt from the dismemberment of the country in 1971. Successive governments continue to use the same approach in dealing with the so-called ‘insurgency’ in Balochistan, the disaffection of the PTM in KP and the disillusionment of rural Sindh. Even in the super duper patriotic province, the Punjab, Islamabad has started discovering ‘traitors’, a tag now being attached to the PML-N because it is questioning the political predominance of the armed forces.
And the blunder of blunders, in his latest interview to foreign correspondent, Prime Minister Imran Khan who is a Punjabi has called the Pakhtuns as being ‘most xenophobic.’ Xenophobic means chauvinistic, intolerant, racist and nationalistic. Take your pick.
But to the PM, it means, “They fight each other normally but when it’s an outside [force], they all get together.” If what he is saying is to be taken as the truth, then one cannot avoid a ‘forever’ civil war in Afghanistan if the Taliban finally take over Kabul which is what is expected to happen soon.
The fear is, as a result a new wave of refugees would start descending upon Pakistan from Afghanistan and the like-minded forces within Pakistan would soon be inviting the Afghan Taliban to come in and reform Pakistan in accordance with the objectives of the Objective Resolution passed by our first constituent assembly.
And while we are busy getting converted into the Taliban version of Islam, India would perhaps use the ’pause’ to complete the job of merging the Indian Held Kashmir completely into the Union.
According to Kaisar Andrabi, and Zubair Amin, independent journalists based in IHK (Modi Is Trying to Engineer a Hindu Majority in Kashmir, published in Foreign Policy magazine on August 11 2021) the Indian government has commenced preparations to redraw the electoral boundaries in Indian-administered Kashmir.
The delimitation program envisions breaking up the electoral constituencies of the erstwhile semi-autonomous state into several new voter units in a manner that’s likely to give numerical heft to the southern region of Jammu, where there is a larger concentration of Hindu voters.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has also started to enforce hundreds of federal Indian laws and policies in IHK.
The Indian government has also opened ownership of land in IHK to outsiders, made it easy to acquire domicile rights, and overturned historic land reforms.
This was followed by a move that reduced the share of Kashmiri candidates entering the Indian civil service from 50 percent to 33 percent, which in the future will increase the number of nonlocal officers in Kashmir’s administration.
The federal government has also empowered the Indian armed forces to declare any area in the disputed region as “strategic” and end the 131-year reign of Urdu as the sole official language of the region.
Economy has remained anchored tightly to foreign dole. Pakistan never tried to take economic advantage of it being the most allied ally of the US or being its Non-NATO ally as the East Asian tigers did during the 1980s-90s. What little Pakistan made from its exports and what it earned by way of dole from the rich and the rent it received for fighting the American wars, it wasted on enhancing its defensive capability by purchasing the most sophisticated weapon system available on the market without a thought to the fact that in a matter of couple of years these would become obsolete.
According to the latest figures released by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) India is the second largest weapons importer after Saudi Arabia while joining the race Pakistan could only reach the 10th position.
As long as Pakistan continues to keep its focus on its security capabilities without making any significant attempts to improve its social infrastructure like education and healthcare it would continue to remain dependent on foreign dole for its survival and largely undemocratic.
The author is a senior journalist and editor.