Thursday, February 28, 2008

Pakistan: Should it celebrate?

Now that the much-awaited elections of Pakistan finally took place and now that the results have clearly positioned ‘democratic’ parties to take power sidelining the much-hated military dictator, Pakistan and its people are in a jubilant mood. ‘Yes, we are once again victorious!’ they celebrate.

But should Pakistan celebrate? Is this change permanent or ephemeral? Will the old habits die so easily?

Pakistan was victorious many a times before in its history. Pakistan, very much like India, is bereft of grand achievements. While Indian media continues to artificially construct achievements for us here, Pakistan’s polity also creates its own achievements that are quite flimsy, which usually shatter within a short period of time at the first whiff of wind called reality.

When the first dictator Ayub Khan came into power in 1958, Pakistanis were victorious too. Pakistanis celebrated it as a victory against unstable democracy that preceded it. And when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto came to absolute power through democracy and started to indulge in some of the most undemocratic ways, Pakistan was victorious once again. It was revenge against the inept military that allowed the humiliating defeat of Pakistan against India (1971) and led to breakup of the country. Pakistan celebrated when Bhutto became an elected dictator.

Later on, when Bhutto was hanged, Pakistan was victorious once again, because General Zia-ul-Haq from the Army had negated the wrongs of the past coming from an elected leader. When Zia-Ul-Haq died in a plane crash after a spell of long Islamic autocratic rule, Pakistan was once again victorious because now they got rid of a wily dictator. When Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto came onto power, Pakistan was victorious once again partly because they were a continuation of experiments with democracy.

But when General Musharraf deposed Nawaz Sharif to install his military regime, Pakistan was victorious once again, because Musharraf’s regime kicked out extremely corrupt democratic leaders, Benazir and Nawaz on charges of blatant corruption.

A good friend of mine, from Pakistan, celebrated when Musharraf came into power. When I asked why Pakistan is welcoming a military ruler, he explained that democratic rulers were really corrupt, and hence they needed a ‘benevolent dictator’ to clean up Pakistan’s system. And he believed Musharraf was the man for the job.

Pakistan has a bad track record of celebrating its victories before the results actually come out.

Another friend of mine, a Pakistani, who was in his teens during 1971 war with India, described his own story of how Pakistanis celebrated their victories. Before the start of this war, owner of a café in a Pakistani city put the total number of Pakistani and Indian planes on a black board, and after each day’s battles he would subtract the number of planes shot down by each side, as reported in their media. Within few days, it was clear that Pakistan was winning every day. India was losing its planes in huge numbers. One day, the total number of planes shot down clearly put India’s numbers in negative, but the war in the air was going on. It was absurd. Something was grossly wrong with those reports. He just erased the whole board that day.

Pakistan was winning all the battles on each day of the war, except the last day, when they lost the whole war in a grand letdown. What followed next was sheer humiliation. They lost East Pakistan, and did not gain an inch in Kashmir. 90,000 of its soldiers were now POW.

Time and again, Pakistanis were left disillusioned. They always celebrated their supposed victories too soon and too early.

Let’s come back to the present

Benazir Bhutto, supposedly one of the leaders of ‘democratic’ parties, has appointed herself the head of her party for a lifetime. When she was killed, a will came out in which she appointed her husband as the leader of the party. Why isn’t anyone finding this funny?

How can a democratic party be a family heritage? How can one appoint oneself its leader for a lifetime? How can she bequeath the power to someone in a will as if it’s her property?

Asif Zardari, Nawaz Sharif, et al, have now come together to defeat and sideline the evil dictator Musharraf. So, in an effort to combat the greater evil in Musharraf, they are ready to ignore the petty differences between them. That’s fine! But then they go overboard. They have dropped all corruption charges against Zardari. Now, is that democracy?

Populist democracy and Constitutional democracy

Many people in Indian sub-continent think elections alone constitute a democracy. They fail to realize that even dictators conducted elections.

They do not realize that elections alone DO NOT have the power to condone genocides, crimes against humanity, murders, corruption cases, plunders, etc.

Indian sub-continent has a funny way of exonerating its criminals. As a criminal, all you have to do is stand for elections. If you get elected, you are automatically pardoned of all crimes. People will say, ‘Look! So many million people cannot be wrong. Accept the results of democracy!’

Nobody stops to bother and ask, do elections alone make a democracy? Is legal recourse subservient to electoral process? Don’t we need a constitution, a legal system, election commission, and other institutions that make it a constitutional democracy?

The reason why Pakistanis keep getting disillusioned is because their fundamentals are wrong. They believe in miracles, quick fixes, and short cuts. They have never spent time to institutionalize democracy.


  1. I stay with Pakistanis and had a most enlightening discussion on why Pakistan has struggled with democracy. One of the points,among others, that came out was the fact that the early founders of Pakistan - Jinnah etc, who all strongly believed in democracy dies very soon after independence. India, on the other hand, had Nehru hat its leadership, who ensured that democracy and constitutionalism developed and thrived in India. As Pakistan quickly lost its founding leaders, it was left with a vacuum of good democratic leadership. Leaders quickly fell into petty power struggles with the governor general dismissing prime ministers left, right and center. The prime ministers in turn began pulling in the military to quell protests and opposition party demonstrations. With the frequent incursion of military in the political arena, they began getting a bigger say on who wields power. Very soon it wasentirely in their hands. Ayub Khan was in as early as 1956, less than a decade after independence. Once the military was in power, it ensured that all the top institutions were led by military people. Thus the military got its tentacles into the veins of the social institutions for good. After that democracy was never to truly return. If Pakistan wants true democracy it has to "demilitarize" its institutions -get rid of all the ex-military leaders in the social institutions

    ~ Vinod

  2. Sujai said:
    They reason why Pakistanis keep getting disillusioned is because their fundamentals are wrong. They believe in miracles, quick fixes, and short cuts. They have never spent time to institutionalize democracy.
    Not only that, Pakistan was a nation formed on the basis of a religion. This is one of the most important reason why the establishment is so unstable. Bringing religion as part of the state and to the public sphere is always disastrous
    as religion itself is an extremely irrational thing and should be restricted to a man's personal sphere.
    Dynasty politics has always been the bane of the subcontinent. In this part of the world democracy has become another form of monarchy whereby a politician's offspring automatically inherits a party as though it is an ancestral wealth. I think that's got to do with the 'celebrated' family system in our country which we are so proud about. I may be drawing the wrong conclusions here but this is what I think is the truth.

    I don't think Pakistan has entered a new phase of life. The people who have been elected are the same old leaders and most of them face corruption charges with Mr.Ten percent leading them. What kind of a resurgent democracy can this man bring about? Benazir Bhutto was an average politician who got extensive media coverage due to her pro-west beliefs though she never actually implemented any of them. It is kind of amazing that some people equate her with a 'martyr' who died for the 'cause' of democracy while she was actually involved in shady deals with Musharaff to absolve her and her husband of criminal charges. Pity that public values have come to this.

  3. "They believe in miracles, quick fixes, and short cuts. They have never spent time to institutionalize democracy."

    I do think this was a petty shot at Pakistanis. India was a bit lucky really. Indians have the same weaknesses - belief in miracles, fixes and short cuts. We just happened to have a slightly more stable political beginning.
    One lesson from Pakistan that one can take away is that apathy to elections and to who comes to power will lead to a complete downfall of democracy in the country.

    ~ Vinod

  4. My house mates tell me that though Pakistan was formed as a "muslim nation" Pakistan has had an identity crises since the day one it was formed. If one were to read Jinnah's speech and to guage his vision of Pakistan, it was one not too different from a secular democracy.

    Till this day, Pakistanis suffer from the identity crises arguing about the role of religion in govt.

    I have realized over the course of years of knowing Pakistanis so well, that Indians have an exaggerated notion of the relgiosity of Pakistanis or even the role of religion in the public life of Pakistan. In my view, it is no different from India.

    ~ Vinod

  5. At the most, religion has kept the society a little bit conservative relative to India- speaking at the broadest level. I know many of us would focus on the niqabis, the mullahs, their weird fatwas and such politicially motivated moves as banning youtube and would turn a blind eye to the large middle class there who are no different than us Indians, carrying their religion in harmony with common sense. Few of us would have taken note of the rallying against Musharraf that lawyers and the chief justice of Pakistan did.

    The public religiousity that one sees in Pakistan depends on the location one is in. There are areas where it is very dominant like the NWFP. But in the major cities and the rural areas around them, one would find it akin to India.

    ~ Vinod

  6. I have realized over the course of years of knowing Pakistanis so well, that Indians have an exaggerated notion of the relgiosity of Pakistanis or even the role of religion in the public life of Pakistan. In my view, it is no different from India.

    My house mates tell me that ...

    A fish that lives in water, does not see anything else but water thinks that is the whole world.

    Dude, you and your "house-mates" are not the whole world - come out of it and you will be able to realize the rubbish that you are writing

  7. I think I have significantly drifted from the point of this blog entry, but I do want to emphasize that there is a huge perception bias of Pakistanis amongst Indians which works its way into the analysis that we "inflict" on them. It works both ways of course.

  8. I would rather be a fish in a pond and comment on fish than be a land animal and do the same

    ~ Vinod

  9. I concede that religion is very important in India. An opnion poll(dunno which one) said that around 90% Indians consider it to be very important in their life. But India was not founded on the basis of one religion. The concept of India was the unification of people belonging to different religions and languages under one banner. Hence our constitution enshrined a secular democracy. However Pakistan was founded on the need for Muslims to have a seperate country for their religion. The middle class might be extremely tolerant in Pakistan but as they raise no voice the extremists always highjack every agenda possible. If it is the extremists who are ultimately going to call the shots then what is the point of the presence of the secular middlclass?

  10. "If it is the extremists who are ultimately going to call the shots then what is the point of the presence of the secular middlclass?"

    Very good point. And there is a lesson in that for India as well.

    Secondly, I tend to think that though the majority are secular-like (not exactly secular though) in Pakistan, they stand in a slightly weaker position than Indian secular voices do in relation to the extremists in the respective countries. in other words, the extremists in Pakistan do have more leg room in the political arena than those in India

    There is definitely a difference in the effect of banking on religion or claiming religious legitimacy in any discourse in Pakistan compared to India.

    ~ Vinod


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