Why democracy fails in Pakistan

Published: February 10, 2011

We need a party-based political culture devoid of army influence.

Our prime minister stands on the remains of a crumbled democracy. He has approved the expansion of parliamentary lodges so the government can emulate the grandeur of the Capitol Hill.

Perhaps the government thinks this measure will help alleviate the most serious security crisis that the country has faced. They may be right as once the luxury lodges are built, parliamentarians may actually begin to attend assembly sessions!

So far, the current establishment has failed to save the day. Pakistan is now graced with the 10th ranking on the Failed States Index. Wide spread terrorism, a slacking judiciary, embezzlement of state resources, non-availability of public services, mass-weaponisation, astronomical debt figures and the food crisis have contributed to this statistic.

Even if Parliament Lodges draw members back to the National Assembly, the problems will still exist. Most politicians have never really been exposed to political culture. He’s seen the military culture, the Kalashnikov culture, the feudal culture- but never a party-based political culture devoid of the army’s influence.

The failure of the democratic leadership is based on two principal factors.

1) Lack of political culture

Pakistan inherited the British legacy of civil-military relations that entailed the military function in subordination to civil rule. Despite this, it has remained a praetorian state with direct military rule persisting for 33 years of the state’s existence. How and why did the tables turn?

The 1958 coup was a defining event for Pakistan; General Ayub Khan’s over-arching domination in state-affairs and the civil-government’s malfunction led President Iskander Mirza to dissolve the constitution and welcome the coup.

But it would be rather unjust to ignore the shortcomings of Mirza’s government that galvanised the military’s intervention in 1958.

In the 1950’s, Pakistan was in the youthful stages of organising its statehood. The challenges faced by Mirza’s government were foreseeable. Succumbing to military influence so early, went on stunt the slow and gradual growth of democracy.

A vicious cycle of military coups has resulted in a dysfunctional government. As the military has continued to become involved with state administration it has weakened it.

2) Exaggerated defense concerns

It is but true that the security crisis for Pakistan has been dominated by concerns of national defense. Border troubles from India and Afghanistan have merited huge defense budgets for the army and established it as the most preponderant state institution. Party-politics are bound to take a back-seat when national security is a burning issue.

The Indian border concern, though genuine, is also laced with exaggerations. The military has a tendency to Indianise security concerns; be it Afghanistan, Waziristan, Balochistan, Kashmir or even Karachi – India’s behind it. Every problem becomes the army’s problem (this premise is utterly ignorant of the fact that China, and not Pakistan is India’s primary defense threat.)

Domestic unrest is quelled not by paramilitary forces, but the army. Elections are often monitored not by the police, but the army (because RAW officials probably have a habit of lurking behind ballot-boxes.) The domination (and exaggeration) of defense issues widens the military’s sphere of influence cause it to penetrate into every realm of the state’s governance, further incapacitating the non-military regime.

faiza.rehman

Faiza Rahman

A sub-editor on the National Desk at The Express Tribune who has a bachelor's degree in political science from LUMS.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://www.pakspectator.com Sana Saleem

    I would here like to talk on ‘exaggerated defense concerns’. Well I have the livings of the army officers, a big part of the defense budget is spared over the luxurious army life for officers and the Cantts and their homes, offices maintenance and decor.

    So where we talk about lessening of the Government seats of ministries, we should also think once of reducing defense budget. But who can say any thing against Forces ?Recommend

  • chitposh

    the very operating system of pakistani nation has some enviromental virus because a pakistani whoever he is once at home feels a never ending craving for easy money. Pakistanis are not very good in keeping mutual ownerships once they come to know that they own something in common they start finding a way that they can have bigger share than that they actually owe…………Recommend

  • http://www.formerlydelirious.wordpress.com Delirium

    Democracy repeatedly fails in Pakistan because we have the most undemocratic democracy round the globe. How many political parties in Pakistan democratically elect there representatives and office bearers? Only JI as far as I know? What are the rest upto? Endorsing dynastic rules? Reducing democracy to a mere vice to strengthen the grip of the vicious circle upon the authority and power.Recommend

  • Chalo Chalo Nishtar Park Chalo

    Unfortunately, your blog is not meaningful. The first half of the blog talks about the Government’s plan to build the parliamentary lodges and doesn’t discuss democracy in general. The second half of your blog lists two reasons why democracy fails in Pakistan. To me the blog does not flow well and does not make a solid point. There is no conclusion that sums up your rationale while linking back to the thesis statement “why democracy fails in Pakistan.’ I commend you on your effort to write a blog that is really missed the boat by failing to provide any compelling reasons to believe your stand. Don’t get me wrong, I am no fan of the current government either. I think it is the worst government we have seen in history. Recommend

  • parvez

    It has to get really bad before it can get better and I think it is very close to being really bad.Recommend

  • http://raheelaijaz.blogspot.com/ Let us not digress

    I would like to point out here that, inspite of all the military’s wrong doings, indians are as involved in our security issues as isi was involved in the khalistan movement. It is not the military’s over arching might, but the establishment weakness to uphold the more important priorities. Recommend

  • http://India vasan

    I understand the top echelons of the Pak army draw more income than their American counterparts and live luxurious life styles driving Land cruisers and BMWs. If that is true, can a country like India or Pakistan afford it.Recommend

  • ashok sai

    @Let us not digress:

    Can you prove Indian involvement with timestamp ?Recommend

  • hassan

    All said and done even if the military has an oversized budget, the fact is that they are organized, disciplined and perhaps the only reason why pakistan still exists. Im sure the army has corruption, but if the army was as corrupt and as incompetent as the civilian govt, we would not exist today. Fact is that this “Democrat govt” like all democratic govts fails as the political leaders who run this Sham democracy.. have no intention of making it work except for filling their pockets.

    Musharraf’s vision, leadership and governance was far far better than any Democratic govt in the history of Pakistan.

    God Help us All!Recommend

  • SUB

    Education … Education … Education of the masses. That’s the only solution. However it’s not on priority list of the ruling elite, military or the politiciansRecommend

  • retrograde

    Not as convincing as I expectedRecommend

  • http://raheelaijaz.blogspot.com/ Let us not digress

    @ashok: sir I don’t have satellite pictures, voice recording or video footages but nothing else explains the indian base in kandahar and its ‘extended’ functions. plus the pakistani govt has proof of baloch insurgents getting aid from indians. there are some undeniable facts here. plz don’t picture india so pure. it has as dirty ppl in its military and intelligence as pakistan. thats the only reason why we still haven’t gone to a nuclear warRecommend

  • http://India G. Din

    Before Democracy can take hold, the People have to have a relationship to each other. The foundation of any relationship, no matter between which two people, is mutual respect. (This is true for any family or community as well) Everything else is secondary and may enhance it but is not totally necessary to start with. If you do not have mutual respect, you can never make it work. The indicators of mutual respect are patience with, and deference for the other. Trust in, and affection for, the other come after mutual respect has been evident and is no longer questionable. Think about it!!!Recommend

  • Libra

    Democracy as we take in Pakistan is more or less a dictatorship by a group of select people. In a society where masses are deprived of education and even the basic rights the morals of democracy is unfound. Rulers mostly of rural areas do not let their voters to cast votes as per their will. To implement democracy it would be essential to break hegemony of Jargirdars, Waderas and Maliks. In a country where laws are flouted by law makers and custodians of laws; democracy would be a dream. Uneducated parliamentrains, law breakers, cheaters can not build a democratic nation.Recommend

  • http://shemrez.wordpress.com/ Shemrez Nauman Afzal

    So there was a bomb blast in Faisalabad today, but I don’t think you would think of them as “exaggerated defense concerns” as much as “Pakistan’s proxy snakes biting Pakistan itself”, right?
    Why don’t we just do away with the Armed Forces? I mean, if every country in the world is being stupid by having standing armies (even though there is poverty, hunger and inequality in their countries too) maybe Pakistan should not be stupid enough to have Armed Forces.
    So, without the Army, Navy and Air Force, which is the most disciplined and professional institution you have?
    YES!
    The government and the judiciary.
    Aap ka Khuda hee Hafiz hai phir :PRecommend

  • Qasim

    Democracy fails everywhere. The fact that it is a horrible system is logically quantifiable. In the west it brings in Bushes and Blairs, their progress and wealth is not because of democracy.

    Logically, it isn’t neccessary that the majority is always right. Especially in places where the majority consists of illiterate and uninformed people. And I’m not talking about formal education only, even in places with mandatory enrollment into the government’s school system, it does not make it so that everyone is suddenly an Aalim or intelligent person, capable of making intelligent decisions. These decisions – who gets elected and who doesn’t – have huge ramifications and the facinating thing about democracy is that it reduces the decision to the lowest common denominator that could be agreed upon from a very large crowd with wildly divergent levels of intellect, levels of understanding, and even sincerity.

    We look at the west and their oppulence and think that democracy brings that. There have been countless super powers before this one, a few have been democracies most haven’t, and their wealth logically never had anything to do with democracy. Heck – look at the west, political leaders in the US with four year terms make short-term popular decisions that sacrifice long-term sustainability on many, many issues. We need an educated, informed system – our collective psyche is so enamored with the west and we try to copy everything right down to dearly holding onto opinions popular over there. Recommend

  • 007

    its true we lack a political culture…
    that can only come with a prolonged period of democracy(around 50-70 YEARS) to mould pakistan into a true democratic state…
    hell even the USA took almost 175 years to firmly establish itself as a World SuperPower, pakistan is just 63 years oldRecommend

  • hassan

    @Let us not digress:

    Look who is talking !!!!!!!

    Regarding 26/11 Mumbai attacks, India gave ‘satellite pictures, voice recording and video footages’ to your country. You still keep denying that Mumbai happened!

    You want me to remind you what your role model and sports ambassador of your country Afridi said the other day?Recommend

  • Khalid Masood

    It is so easy to criticize Army instead of correcting oneself and incorporating democracy with own political parties first. Pak political parties are not run by elected leaders, instead, they are run by dynasties.

    That is the real problem. Put it right and Army will never take over.Recommend

  • Sayqa Basheer

    Pakistan in her 63 years of Existence had almost 40 years of Army rule and democracy as I would put it was never given any chance and when it was, we labeled it ‘sham democracy\’ without ever thinking of consequences,it took Pakistan at least decades back, back to square one with nothing in hand, having to call foreigners to run our economy with actions that later slit the Economic throat of country herself, having to invite a war which initially wasn’t even ours but we still fought. 63 years of Pakistan’s history is nothing compared to world’s other successful nations, It took America 200 years herself to be where she is today, The history is in front of us, America was never a democracy, was in fact initially the same feudal society where gangs, ethnicities, personal grudges, territorial control of certain regional economic places was everything, followed by the period of Neo-feudalism to which I believe Pakistan is suffering from as well. Now the question is if US took 200 years to gain this status, how we can get in hardly 25 years of trembling democracy. Pakistan needs much more time have a well, strong and dynamic democracy.Recommend

  • http://lonepkliberal.wordpress.com Loneliberal PK

    “Pakistan inherited the British legacy of civil-military relations that entailed the military function in subordination to civil rule”

    ..and where did India, the largest democracy in the world, inherit its systems from? Japan?Recommend