Such doubts are not misplaced. The people of Pakistan have lived through unstable political times since the country’s birth. This brings us to an essential question: why is democracy so weak in Pakistan? Within 15 months of its swearing in Nawaz government is struggling to manage the ongoing civil military tension backed by Imran Khan’s movement against the government and a parallel call for a revolution by Dr Tahirul Qadri. This makes this question more relevant and urgent.
Let’s briefly review a number of factors that set the political, social and economic course of a country. As the British in India moved towards self-rule in the early 20th century, which was based on democratic principles, the Muslims, being a minority, began to fear ‘Hindu majoritarian rule’. Basic demands during the Pakistan movement were secular in nature – demands for a higher share in jobs and assemblies in Muslim minority provinces and more autonomy for Muslim majority areas. These demands evolved and expanded in the claim for a homeland for the ‘Muslim nation.’
The assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan and the dismissal of his successor Nazimuddin are also linked by some to their refusal to join the regional military alliance under the US.
Thus the chronic struggle between the country’s military and civilian governments is basically a conflict between highly developed modern institutions – civil, military and judiciary – and quasi-feudal political forces. Pakistan’s political parties’ growth has been retarded because of long spells of military rule, the dismissal of elected governments before they completed their term, and lack of democratic culture.
All the major parties do not hold fair elections within their parties, so the leadership revolves around a personality or a family. The PTI and JI hold elections, but the former also lives on the cult of Imran Khan’s personality. Even the parties that are led by the urban elite or the middle class have a feudal mindset and so ultimately it is one-person rule.
One key factor in favour of democracy in Pakistan is the people’s belief in it. In the May 2013 elections, 56 percent of votes were cast. If we take the average turnout of the last seven elections – over 43 percent – it shows people’s real interest in democracy and political parties. In spite of these parties’ weaknesses, people prefer to support democracy as it gives them access to the sources of power.
Sixty percent of Pakistanis live in rural areas and vote mostly for quasi-feudal representatives because they have access to them. But the influence of the feudal class is declining as they cannot take their constituency voters for granted unless they are helpful when needed. Contrary to textbook knowledge, the landed classes support the democratic system because it gives them a share in power.
Pakistan’s middle classes and big business are now leading the political narrative – three chief ministers are from the middle class and one is from an industrial family. Similarly, ministers heading important ministries are from this class, and the number of middle class representatives in the assemblies is increasing in every election.
Over this period, major parties have matured and are not willing to derail the democratic system by playing into the hands of the establishment. By and large, the media supports democracy and is against derailing the democratic process.
Another factor which shows that, given a full term, parliament can perform was the major legislative work was done by the PPP government – the18th Amendment changed 101 articles and clauses of the constitution. A big leap forward towards provincial autonomy was taken in the 18th Amendment and the 7th National Financial Commission (NFC) Award – something that has remained a disputed issue in the history of Pakistan.
The national security and foreign policy of Pakistan have failed so far. The country is facing serious consequences at home, and is considered one of the most dangerous places in the world. It is thus evident that a paradigm shift is required to redeem Pakistan, and that is only possible if it can build a peaceful co-existence with India and Afghanistan. This would consequently weaken the military’s control on politics, and strengthen democracy.
Most probable scenario: Nawaz Sharif’s government is tamed to abide by the dictates of the establishment and is allowed to complete its term.
Least probable scenario: an army takeover. At present, it is not in the military’s interest to take over because of internal security threats and increasing regional political pressures.