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Pakistan and its Democracy: 

The annual meeting of All India Muslim League for the year 1930 was organized at a big Haveli in Allahabad. When the official proceedings of the meeting began, there were less than 75 people in the enclosure, causing panic among the ranks of party officials. According to the party laws, the minimum requirement for meeting quorum at an annual meeting had to be at least 75 people. As a last resort, a famous Urdu poet was tasked with reciting one of his long poems until new members could be recruited by the officials—a process that took two hours. Finally, the official meeting commenced and the Presidential address was read by a Punjabi poet and politicians. The presidential address contained six references to democracy and all of those arguments were against the democratic system of governance. That particular address has been quoted ad nauseum by right-wing commentators and writers of Pakistan’s textbooks—very often the same people—as the first time that the idea of Pakistan was flouted in public by a politician.

A few years after Independence, a scheme was hatched by one of Pakistan’s top generals to stage a coup and form a military council to rule the country. The coup plan was called ‘Rawalpindi Conspiracy’ and it was hatched in 1949-1951 by Major General Akbar Khan. In his view, one of the compelling reasons for staging a coup was:“The People are not fully ready for a democratic state”. Seven years after the Rawalpindi Conspiracy, General Ayub Khan and Iskander Mirza, commented that democracy is not suitable for warmer countries such as Pakistan. The duo was responsible for staging Pakistan’s first successful coup. Ayub Khan tried to bypass the traditional democratic system by establishing a “Basic Democracy” setup. It was nothing but a salad dressing, strengthening Ayub’s iron grip on the country.

A former dictator, in his latest interview, opined that ‘Western Democracy’ cannot be enforced on Pakistan. For the record, the disgraced dictator is heading a political party that contested the parliamentary elections in 2013. Like most disgraced dictators, Mr. Musharraf seems to suffer from dementia. He probably forgot his role in instituting reforms in the local government system, a bed-rock of “western” democratic systems.

Before questioning the assertion regarding practicality of “western democracy” for Pakistan, one needs to first understand what democracy stands for. Democracy is a form of government that evolved in Europe after the renaissance and evolved differently in the United States and in various European countries. Democracy involves upholding the rule of religious equality, tolerance, rule of law, social responsibility, gender equality and the right to vote. If one charts the history of democratic process in Pakistan, there are multiple skeletons in our closet. For a start, we have been directly ruled by military dictators for much of our history. In the intervening periods, people have been given the right to vote without any concern for human rights or gender equality or social responsibility whatsoever.

In the very beginning, there was the Objectives Resolution, a document that contradicted the principle of religious equality, condemning non-Muslims to second-rate citizens in the eyes of the constitution. Religious elements have hijacked the state since they were empowered by the Objectives Resolution. One might advise the former dictator to take a look at India, a country that has successively nurtured democracy, despite having similar history, norms and troubles faced by Pakistan at Independence. One can be tempted to ask the retired military man about millions of people who have voted in elections over the last four decades and their opinion on ‘western democracy’. The consensus on democratic system has reached such heights that even the renegades(PTI-PAT Dharnistas) had to pepper their speeches with paeans of democracy.

There is a need to identify other elements that despise democracy and are actively working to sabotage the system, apart from our military. It is not a surprise that terrorist organisations such as the TTP and Al-Qaeda share Master Musharraf’s views on ‘western’ democracy. Incidentally, in the same interview, Musharraf admitted that he had given permission for US-led drone strikes in tribal areas(against TTP and Al-Qaeda).
Political Scientist Professor Mohammad Waseem is of the view that Pakistan is the most democratic country in the Muslim World and that Pakistan’s population at large is inclined towards electoral politics as opposed to most other Muslim-majority countries. The evolution of democracy in Pakistan has been a gradual process and because of unexpected intermissions from adventurers like Mr. Musharraf, the train to democracy has been derailed on numerous occasions.

What charlatans like Mr. Musharraf fail to publicly announce, inherent in the opposition to democracy: Quest for Dictatorship. Political Economists agree upon the fact that dictatorial regimes leave behind a toxic legacy and it takes decades to wipe out the after-effects. Pakistan is still struggling with policies instituted during Zia’s regime and generals are pining for a rerun of the same opera. Democracy can be messy, it can lead to demagogues ruling the roost, internecine conflicts among political factions and lack of development. This transient phase can be controlled and progress guaranteed only if saboteurs like Musharraf are kept in check.