Pakistan’s Unenviable Democracy


Khizar Niazi

Pakistan is alleged to be a democracy. This is the only allegation the country’s politicians don’t deny. Nor do their colonial godfathers, who taught them that the worst of democracies was better than the best of autocracies; and hence, the worst of politicians were entitled to the best of treatments. They must, therefore, be bailed and hailed when they “rob and run!”
Democracy means equality – in every sense of the word. Equality is decreed through the law and guaranteed by the Rule of Law. Law is applied in letter and spirit. In case of ambiguity, it is the spirit that prevails.
The Rule of Law breeds national unity. It transcends regional, ethnic, sectarian, and professional barriers. It provides equal opportunities, based on merit. The genesis of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland illustrates this point. The British kingdom preceded the British nation. The kingdom was created by clubbing England and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland together, through a series of annexations and unions (1706-1801). And the British nationhood was subsequently instilled in these diverse entities through the Rule of Law.
Pakistan defies this very essence of democracy. The Rule of Law was, first, trampled by military dictators and, then, entombed by politicians. Consequently, the state that preceded the nation is without nationhood even after seven decades of experimentation.
Pakistan is probably the only nation in the world, which is bereft of nationalism. It can, at best, be described as a mob, divided into several pressure groups, pursuing parochial agendas. Even their leaders are divided on its very raison d’être – Jinnah’s two-nation theory. They do not have a single national political party, with a notable presence in every province. And, none of the parties, including from the largest province, thinks twice before flaunting the provincial card to blackmail the federation.
A nation without nationalism has no qualms about its leaders. It is like a rudderless ship at the mercy of the current. Everyone at the helm is looked up to as a messiah. Hence, hero-worship of every Pakistani leader: from the father of the nation to the founding father of khaki dynasty; to his successor, who turned the Presidency into a night club; to the populist genius, who rejected the majority’s mandate; to the “invincible” Amir-ul-Momineen, who committed “judicial murder”; to the ardent disciple of Ataturk, who belied himself through NRO; to the accomplished “Penthouse Pirates”, who visit Pakistan to fleece and flee; and, to the legendary player-turned-politician, who has promised Riayasat-e-Madina.
Hero-worship has transformed political parties into political dynasties. They are considered to be above law; even the judiciary. They ridicule, malign and attack the judiciary with impunity. They get “justice” at their doorstep, and without any legal provision or precedent. The relief, granted to them, does not always form a precedent. Precedents, vitiating their claims, are held inadmissible.
Convicts are treated according to their social status, not the nature of the offence. The prosecution is asked to prognosticate their lifespan, which it can’t, obviously. And, this is considered to be a valid ground for granting them bail. They are allowed to preside over political parties, address election rallies, demonize state institutions, and even go abroad for medical treatment.
Retired judges are inducted in Legislature and Executive.
In utter disregard for democratic practices, politicians do not step down when accused of malpractices. They hang on to power till proven guilty. Their parties defend them even on charges of personal nature, like forgery, perjury and graft, even on the floor of the parliament. Preposterously, they defend moral lapses on legal grounds; legal offences with political arguments; and political indiscretions on legal grounds.
The emergence of political dynasties has ruined Pakistan’s political culture. Politics has become business. Corruption is an unwritten item in the manifesto of political parties. Political workers have been reduced to serfs. Unscrupulous entrepreneurs have joined the workforce. Corrupt leaders, known as the Sicilian mafia, Penthouse Pirates, Mr. ten per cent, and Diesel, are leading by example. And, political serfs are hailing them as Robin Hood. Corruption is no more a taboo; it is the new normal.
This brings us to the Establishment. Establishment means civil and military bureaucracy. It is the backbone of the government; custodian of national agenda, embodying bipartisan consensus; the reservoir of institutional memory; and guarantor of continuity. But in Pakistan, it connotes the Army, and its role is scoffed at as interference in governance.
This is because corruption requires teamwork; an alliance between politicians and the Establishment. Political dynasties have, therefore, tamed and divided bureaucracy into their respective civil brigades. Servitude has replaced merit as the criterion of selection, promotion and assignment. In the name of civilian supremacy, they also tried to control personnel management of the Armed Forces but were met with resolute institutional resistance.
The Armed Forces are still the only institution in the country, where induction, promotion and appointment are made on merit. One hardly finds the son of a General or a politician making it to the top, unlike in civil services. Hence politicians’ vexation with the “Establishment”!
Politicians are political animals in every sense of the word. They flirt with the “Establishment” and the public, simultaneously. They eulogize and demonize the “Establishment” in the same breath. One day, they declare that they are on the same wave-length; and had finalized the cabinet in consultation with it, even before the election.

The next day, they come up with clichés like “the invisible hand”, “the elephant in the room”, “power flows from the barrel of the gun”, and, vote ko izzat do. They reject corruption charges as blackmailing tactics by the “Establishment”. Playing victim and appealing to public sentiment, they wail that civilian authority would be possible only when “the Army on its own decides, one fine morning, to go back to the barracks for good, never to return.”

Politicians plunder the people mercilessly and, at the same time, seek their support against the “Establishment” in the name of civilian paramountcy. Gullible people oblige. But, then, politicians strike deals with the “Establishment”; and flee with the loot, leaving everyone aghast. They have the knack for championing the cause of democracy in public; negotiating deals with the “Establishment” in private; and, duping the entire nation routinely.

There is unity amongst politicians on corruption; consensus within the “Establishment” about politicians; and a transactional understanding between the two. But the naive people are fragmented, fighting amongst themselves for those they should be fighting against.

Politicians are bad losers. They have never accepted electoral defeat honourably. They invariably hold the “Establishment” responsible for it, without evidence. The winners and the Establishment always deny the charge. However, when winners of yesterday lose today, they repeat the same mantra. The saga continues.

Accepted, for a moment, that politicians are black-mailed, the question arises for what? The obvious answer is corruption. Therefore, their salvation lies in their own hands. All that they need to do is soul-searching; learning to be Sadiq and Amin; and, enforcing the Rule of Law. Everything else is secondary and will fall in place automatically.