Desperately Seeking Democracy

Quaid-e-Azam, in his address to the nation on the eve of the formation of Pakistan, expressed his dream of seeing a democratic Pakistan, where every citizen would have the fundamental freedom of life, of speech, and of religion. He wanted Pakistan to be a model for all nations. Those aspirations became the basis of the hopes of the thousands of people who crossed the Indian border in search for a better life. Over 60 years have passed since that fortunate day, but Pakistan still stands where it was.


Pakistan essentially has a democratic form of government with the President as the head of state, and the Prime Minister as the Head of the government, with complete power in the hands of the former. Furthermore, there is a bicameral parliament system, comprising an Upper House i.e. the Senate, and a Lower House i.e. the National Assembly. Unfortunately, even with all these maxims in place, Pakistan has experienced democracy for only a short period of time and has suffered considerably due to constant political instability brought about periodic declarations of martial law since Pakistan’s formation.


The most recent imposition of martial law was on November 3, 2007, by Pervez Musharraf, only days before the Supreme Court’s ruling on the legality of his new presidential term. After this very decision, it was very clear that we would not see Pervez Musharraf in power for that long, with his popularity declining considerably due to his proxy war in Afghanistan for the United States, and the Lal Masjid fiasco. His most obvious replacement seemed to be Benazir Bhutto, leader of her father’s leftist party, the Pakistan People’s Party, who narrowly escaped death on October 18th, 2007, after returning from exile after almost 11 years, but unfortunately could not survive the second attempt on her life in Rawalpindi. She died on December 27, 2007.


Benazir’s untimely demise left Pakistan’s most popular political party without a leader. Control of PPP went to her 19 year old son, and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari. Neither was he in a position to command that much respect, nor rally as much support as Bhutto herself did. PPP still managed to secure a vast majority of votes in the February 18, 2008 elections. Most votes were considered sympathy votes, and were not based on any particular agenda or policies. The party is still struggling to sustain itself, with internal politics plaguing the foundations of it.


Not far behind PPP was the Pakistan Muslim League-N, led by Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Sharif has the disadvantage of being viewed by the West as a strong supporter of fundamental Muslims, and an advocate of dialogue with the Taliban.


Just as predicted by many, Pervez Musharraf resigned on August 18, 2008, and the person who replaced him was the widower of Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari. If even five years ago, somebody had said Mr. Zardari would be the future President of Pakistan, the first reaction would have been laughter at the absurdity of the notion, followed by a slight shudder, at the thought of the state of Pakistan if he ever came to power.


Since his coming to power, we have been doing just that – shuddering; which might be partially due to the fact that there is minimum natural gas supply in almost all of Pakistan. Since the PPP’s ascension to power, the financial, economic, and social state of Pakistan has taken a nosedive, with load shedding of natural gas and electricity and a growing food and water shortage, not to mention militant operations in Swat, and American air strikes in Waziristan; PPP’s popularity has decreased considerably.


Add to the deteriorating political situation the Lawyer’s Movement, led by the deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. These rallying lawyers have seemed to form a political party of their own, and this movement has taken attention away from more important issues at hand, such as the food shortage, growing unemployment rate, etc. Pakistan has failed to nurture its democracy, and this is not solely due to military coups. The real culprits are the ruling political elite who have failed to grasp the real concept of democracy. Voter turnout in our last election was only 40%, the reason being that most political parties are ruled by feudal landlords who generate votes through the tribal and caste system. This feudalistic system fuels the hereditary politics.


The main problem in the end is the quality of education and the low literacy rate. The masses are not educated enough to understand that voting in this feudalistic system will never get them true democracy. Achieving democracy in Pakistan will be a tedious process, which will ultimately require a fundamental shift in the mindset of the general population. Only time will that if that ever occurs.


Khadija Ranjha

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