DEMOCRACY IN PAKISTAN —PROBLEMS AND PROSPECTS
Dr.RASHEED HASAN KHAN
The problem of a functioning democracy in Pakistan has been a feature of our national life since the birth of Pakistan.Unless the nation correctly analyzes the problem and takes practical measures to resolve it, we will move from coup to coup with interregnums of so called democratic rule.The term ‘so called’ is appropriate because apart from elections and the installation of a parliament,there is no effort to bring about a change in the existing political setup.A callous attitude to the problems of the people and divorcement of the rulers from the masses , remains the order of the day. People participate in elections with great hope and enthusiasm only to be disillusioned within a short period of time.This may be taken to be the growing pains of democracy but it is high time we learned something and grew out of it.
Any student of history knows that every political system evolves from the economic structure of a given society. Parliamentry democracy as we know it ,evolved with the development of capitalism in Europe from the year 1500 to the present day. It was a long journey for capitalism and a long journey for democracy. The landed aristocracy which ruled Europe during the early seventeenth and eighteenth century, arbitrarily distributed privileges and monopolies ,exercised control of trade and manufacturing,and levied taxes at a whim.The new emerging capitalist class found this unacceptable and required a new political and legal order for its growth and the consolidation of its power.The resulting clash with the feudal system gave rise to civil war in England.One king lost his head and another his crown, before the supremacy of the parliament and capitalism was established in England. This is the classic model of parliamentary democracy which Britain’s former colonies tried to adopt. But because of a different social basis, such as the class composition and the co-relation of forces in the society at that historical conjuncture achieved mixed results.
When British Imperialism withdrew from the Subcontinent in 1947 the region that constituted Pakistan was dominated by semi-tribal ,semi- feudal relations of production.Industry was a very small part of the combined figure for the subcontinent and mainly existed in the state sector i.e. railways and port and shipping.The bourgeoisie as a class was weak and consisted of some mercantile capital and professional classes . White collar workers constituted the lower end of the spectrum. The bourgeoisie forged an alliance with the feudal class and the civil and military bureaucracy to rule the nascent nation.This alliance also had the blessings of British Imperialism.Thus the creation of a democratic society, though paramount in the thinking of the founders of Pakistan, was stillborn.It was this unholy nexus that was to blight the future of Pakistan for the next six decades and more . When the civil and military bureaucracy was given land grants in the Ghulam Mohammad and Guddu barrage areas during Ayub’s regime , the door was opened for the creation of a new feudal class .The civil and military bureaucracy benefitted greatly from this policy thus a new stakeholder in the battle to preserve the feudal system was added to the equation.
Feudalism is not only a retrograd system historically but a concentrated expression of its political and economic construct in the form of culture is pernicious , pervasive and virtually perpetual. In many socities, the cultural impact of feudalism can be seen long after the dismantling of feudal economic structure . Authoritarianism ,bigotry, intolerence of dissent and resistance to progress are a legacy of feudalism in Pakistan. Public institutions and even political parties are run like feudal estates to the exclusion of the broad masses of the people.Since the bourgeoisie in Pakistan have lost their historically progressive role and compromised with Imperialism on one hand and the feudal/tribal elements on the other,elections and the parliament constituted as a result thereof are little more than a farce.This does not mean that elections must not be held but that they must not be reduced to a mere ritual on completion of which the new government obtains the right to loot and oppress the people for the next five years.
Today, political institutions and political parties are weak and unable to resist the machinations of an organized civil/military bureaucracy because of three main reasons .First , the programme and manifesto of political parties are of no significance, the emphasis is on personalities, therefore various political parties are in fact extensions of different personalities.This gives rise to the pernicious trend of dynastic politics on one hand and deprives the organization of the cementing force of a common ideology on the other .Second, political organizations are not organized on a broad mass base with active units at the grass root level .The most one can see is the pro forma meetings of the central committee from time to time.Therefore, these organizations are not capable of truly mobilizing the masses and in a crisis tend to become ineffectual and irrelevant. Third, the concept of democracy and discipline within the organization is very personalised, lacking an organizational and ideological basis, it has degenerated into the very opposite of what it is meant to be.Thus,the civil and military bureaucracy continues to remain the most organized political party in Pakistan . Since they embody the coersive power of the state, they cannot be made to function in a democratic system unless the masses are well organized as a counter-weight. No amount of legislation or constitutional prohibitions can alter ground realities and guarentee the continuity of the democratic process unless those who believe in democracy are an effective organized force.Those who hope to build a democratic society in Pakistan must keep this fact constantly in their mind.
Pakistan today stands on the brink of an abyss.Growing American presence and manipulation of government policies directly and through organisations like I.M.F. and World Bank , total economic meltdown,breakdown of law and order and pervasive corruption are making life impossible for most Pakistanis.The people naturally look towards the government which is a coalition of major political parties in the country.The government,however, seems unable to solve the problems at hand .This is not new,we have seen similar situations previously during the tenures of prime ministers Benazir and Nawaz Sharif during the nineties.Gen.Musharraf’s tenure is too recent to forget.The reason is not difficult to see.The leadership of all major political parties comprises of the same feudal,comprador elements and their allies,the civil and military bureaucracy– that has lead the country into the mess it is in , in the first place.This is irrespective of the distinction of a civilian or military regime . Their class interests are identical therefore their policies are also identical.The recent crises in the pricing and availibility of sugar and atta and the helplesness of the government in tackling the problem provides a clear example of this.
From 1970, when the first free and fair elections were held in Pakistan till today,the ideal of a sovereign,free and truly democratic Pakistan is as distant as it was then. The solution does not lie in the removal of this government and a change of faces– civilian or military. For a genuine change the people of Pakistan must assume responsibility for their own destiny.They should unite and make their voice heard.For an end to superpower dictation in our internal and external policies.For a comprehensive economic reform with land reforms and taxation of agricultural incomes heading the list.For a realistic program to end corruption and waste in all branches of the government.Major political parties and their leaderships have been tested and found wanting.They are elected by default for the lack of a better alternative .It is the most important task of the people to create a genuine alternative to the present political parties and their leadership , an institution that is built in consonance with the ground realities of Pakistan. Only then can we hope to move the country out from under the detritus of history.