Democracy in Pakistan: Keeping the faith

Published: August 26, 2010

PPP, PML and ANP might not be ideally democratic, but they are part of a system that is going through evolution.

Everyone is criticising democracy and ‘corrupt politicians’. From the media to those who are part of the so-called corrupt government and people in the opposition, everyone wants ‘sincere military generals to save the country from the corrupt politicians’.

I have heard some people argue that the people of Pakistan are not ready for democracy and only a dictator can handle this mob of ‘illiterate and unorganised people’.

I agree with the MQM, Imran Khan and Pir Sahib Pagaro. The present government is corrupt. It is not following democratic norms. Governance is not visible. Prices are rising by the day. Thousands daily circulate messages criticising the present government. And as critics rile against the setup, I start praying for another general who would ‘safeguard Pakistan’.

Yet, I have to ask myself, even if the politicians are corrupt, how much of the country’s finances are they managing? President Asif Ali Zardari and company only control 25 per cent of the country’s finances. The remaining 75 per cent is with the military. The “bloody civilians” might be corrupt, but they at least deserve to be given their five years before we start the accountability.

We also look at Western democracies as case studies. But interestingly, we don’t study their histories. Democracy in the West became strong through an evolutionary process. Our “bloody civilians” have yet to learn. If we want to progress we will have to be patient. Nations are not made in hours and neither can democracy be strengthened and ‘purified’ through military coups.

So just before I fall asleep, I decide to support the “bloody civilians” and their corrupt government. I might not be able to see Pakistan as a strong nation while these corrupt people lead, but I am sure, 40 years from now, my children will see it.

PPP, PML and ANP might not be ideally democratic, but they are part of a system that is going through evolution.

As a case in point, my mother did not let me buy clothes for myself while I lived at home. Since moving to Karachi, I have started shopping for myself. She scolds me for paying too much for what she calls bad quality clothes. I argue that she never gave me a chance to learn.

Fawad Shah

Fawad Shah

Peshawar based reporter for Mashaal Service of Radio Free Europe.

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

  • Isfand

    Nice articleRecommend

  • Syed Nadir El-Edroos

    Lets hope everyone else shares your view, not now, then perhaps in 5, 10 or 20 years….us “bloody civilians” in the mean time should shut up and put upRecommend

  • S.J.


  • Fardad

    Democracy has been corrupted to the hilt and has become incorrigible. Sticking to it stubbornly is sheer naivity. Dictatorship is not the only alternative to Democracy. We must look at new options. ‘Meritocracy’ can replace Democracy as the viable alternative which can steer us out of the morass. Sooner or later the world will adopt it as it adopted Democracy in the 17th century. Why should Pakistan not be the pioneer of this system?Recommend

  • Callen

    If ever there were real democracy in Pakistan.
    1. Burka shall be made must.
    2. Islam will be the only recognized religion
    3. Torture and hate crime will be legalized.
    4. Honor killing would be must.
    5. The taliban version of the sharia would be imposed.
    We donot deserve democracy not until we get our minds enlightened.Recommend

  • Rabia

    what a sensible article! It’s so simple when you look at it this way. Why did our parents’ and grandparents’ generation just not get this simple fact that we need to let the system develop that our generation seems to be getting? One depressing possibility is that the foundational myth of Pakistan contains in it a basically anti-democratic elitist strain. We liberals tend to think of the “good” version of the Pakistan story as the Muslim homeland one rather than the theocratic state. The problem is that this idea of a Muslim homeland where a moderate, enlightened, anglicized elite will benevolently conduct experiments on moderation and modern Muslimness on the unwashed masses is fundamentally undemocratic and elitist. Not only that but it’s designed to give the moral authority to the bureaucratic and military elite to lead the rest of the country (against their barbaric impulses) into the “true” meaning of Pakistan.

    Even Altaf Hussain’s speech contains the same sentiment basically. We need patriotic generals to force us into the ideal version of Pakistan! In the end it’s as undemocratic and even less organic than the “bad” Pakistan narrative (of Pakistan as an Islamic state). Recommend

  • Ahsanullah Mehsud

    You are right.
    Democracy needs time to get mature, not coup d’état. If coup has been the prerequisite for strong democracy, until now, Pakistan would have deep-rooted democratic values than any other country in world.Recommend

  • Adil

    Fawad i believe that there should be a few basic outlines that should be employed before and even after a ‘democracy’ is established. im talking of checks and balances that should be made thoroughly before any party or any person becomes eligible to be voted upon. a very crude example would be that crooks and murderers should not be allowed to stand for any post of the government.
    it is true that the democratic system needs to mature before we start reaping its rewards, but this journey has to be made one step at a time, not abruptly as it has happened right now.
    true democracy is very much like true freedom of speech. it simply becomes impossible to manage.
    i hope we start to evaluate the government a bit more critically than you have done. the crooks need to be put behind bars before they manage to ruin more of our country.
    its easy for people like us, sitting in high chairs, to say that ‘our people need more time to mature,’ but for people who die with every cent that is stolen from our treasury, people who die with every grain of ration taken from our fields, it is not so easy, im sure
    you think we should give them more time? really? Recommend

  • parvez

    Lets be honest here, what we have today in the country is ‘sham’ democracy The people pulling the strings this time,are behind the curtain. Your contention is that ‘answer to bad democracy is more democracy’ reality is and you can see it for yourself today it brings about even worse democracy.
    Look at the caliber of the people in the democratic ‘pipe line’ they are so morally stunted and intellectually dense that it is not even funny.Recommend

  • abid

    can somebody please please tell me how to contribute in the blogs section of this website? i have emailed the tribune quite a few times without any response. how does one write an article and send it to them? please let me know.Recommend

  • Patriot

    wil the country remain to wait for the democracy to evolve…useless pieceRecommend

  • Naveed Alam

    Yup I agree with the blogger.. but my only fear is that will Pakistan and Pakistani people be able to survive in the coming 2.5 years of this government… I don’t know and even if we do, the next regime will again be from the same politicians… We argue that politicians should be given more time, but that is the problem, we don’t have time and these corrupt rulers are not even realizing itRecommend

  • Asad

    Good onne fawad ! Absolutey spot on . Had the military not interferd we would have learnt to use democracy to our advabtage . Keeep writing sirRecommend

  • Aqil


    I am curious as to how you arrived at the figure that the civilian govt only controls 25% of the finances while the remaining 75% is in the hands of the military. The source of this figure etc?Recommend

  • Mehboob

    Rubish article. People are dying and I am afraid there will be no one left if we continue for another three years. Recommend

  • Asif Shah

    true saying fawad….. the word bloody for people of pakistan is very suitable word….. they didnt want democracy, they want danda system…. da awam ala khushala we cha kala paki yao mamoli foji hum sare amm chuki mandi ba bazar ke ao dai warta tamasha kai… Recommend

  • Adeel Ahmed


    While you keep giving them more time… they will sell the country to the dogs, or America, same difference, and go retire in their chateaus in France or palaces in UK. Why should we trust them and give them more time? Who says democracy is the best way to run a country? Why cant we have a selection + election system of Iran? Did Mahathir Mohammed really run the country through democracy? Screw democracy… its the best revenge against people of Pakistan.

    I support the Army takeover, any day, any time. Recommend

  • Fawad Shah

    @Adil: I agree with the fact that the present government is corrupt and “Na Ahel.” I will call it the early stages of democracy. See, After every two years some military ruler comes and claim that the country was drowning and he had to interfere. After passing eight to ten years, he again welcomes those corrupt politicians. We really need to give them time we have no other option. Do you think the poors were empowered during the military rules? Ayub gifted industrialists, Zia gifted Mullahs and Musharraf gifted Feudals more than any political leader. The more our democratic institutions get strength, we will see the positives. Presently we are in a transitional stage. Look at the development of the institutions in the US or even in the UK and India. The even witnessed civil wars during the evolutionary phases but the process continued.
    @ Pervez: We have not yet witnessed democracy. See democracy is a culture a way of life. We Pakistanis are not used to it. Do you think our family structures are democratic? How many students in the government schools are allowed to criticise an analysis of a teacher? Thats what I mean, They are corrupt but have access to only 25 percent of the budget. We should hold them accountable after every five years. We have a constitution. We have chosen these people.
    @ All those who say we dont have enough time. I say, We have more than enough time. Yes, we will go through some really tough times. But at the end of the day poors of my country will start learning how to make their decisions, how to form parties and how to educate their kids. We should also look at the positives of the democratic government. We are trying to reconcille with Baluch brothers. We are at a war in tribal areas and the present government is for the first time really defeating militants. It does not mean they are not corrupt. We lost Siachen during Zia rule, East Pakistan during Ayub and Yahya’s rule. We have almost lost Baluchistan during Musharraf rule. Recommend

  • SadafFayyaz

    well,,,honestly speaking I have been getting against democracy after seeing all this,,,,current scenario of the country….I can only support democracy if we follow it practically and by heart…not only in verbal form….Recommend

  • http://Karachi Farhan Zaheer

    I agree with Fawad. Who says military rulers were the piosed ones? I pitty on those who think that East Pakistan debacle was the result of democracy.

    We often agree with those who want to hang Generals. Would we ever succeed in it? aren’t they all toe their own agenda, and always tell the nation that they will steer out the country from all problems? …of corruption?

    Dear friends, we are all slaves of the Khakis.

    We often question the corruption of politicians. How many of us question the corruption of Generals? You know why? I want to ask you people who always head these enquires? After every enquiry, We are eventually told that Khakis got the corrupt man…..

    Those who enquired politicians are Khakis and they always tell us this politician is corrupt or that one… Does any one of us ever question the role of investigators? the superior beings in our country? Are they accountable to this nation? Who will question them?????????Recommend

  • sidra

    sensibly written.Recommend

  • Farrukh

    “Hopefully, the floods would teach us one lesson. F-16s or nuclear bombs do not provide security but building infrastructure and economic development does and that we must learn from China and other Asian countries and not by sinking deeper into more debt or buying more weapons or fighting wars that we do not need to, or by going back to military rule which led to this mess in the first place.” Recommend

  • Adil

    i think that even during the ‘maturation phase’ of democracy a line should be drawn. this should not give the government a free pass to do any number of illegal acts. i dont believe in the army ruling the country but im equally assertive against corrupt politicians ruining the beautiful thing that is democracy.Recommend

  • Fardad

    I don’t know why are we so obsessed with democracy when all it gives us is Zardaris, Lagharis, Sharifs, Choudhries, Maliks, Pirs, Moulanas, Gadi Nasheens,and the likes. When they fail as is a foregone outcome, Ayubs, Yahyas, Zias, Musharaffs march in with their boots and batons full of sound and fury signifying “more of the same”. The cycle will continue as long as we don’t think out of the box for a new system of governance. The paradigm shift should be towards adopting a system based on merit and capabilities instead of politics. The blue print of the system of Meritocracy can be viewed hereRecommend

  • Imaan Sheikh

    I think this is what every generation has thought and will think – “I might not be able to see Pakistan as a strong nation while these corrupt people lead, but I am sure, 40 years from now, my children will see it”
    I’m pretty sure my parents thought the same and it has only gotten worse. I’m not losing hope or anything, I’m just being realistic. I cannot see Pakistan evolving much in the long run, be it our politicians, the government or the so-called bloody civilians. A system is made from people; people are not, idealistically, made from systems. Democracy or no democracy, Pakistan is already half-way eaten.Recommend

  • parvez

    Fawad your views are Utopian, academic and excellent to make one “feel good”. Here we are talking of the real world “Pakistan” an extremely difficult country to govern. Our problems started from day one 63 years ago and our quality of leadership has deteriorated at an alarming rate. Democracy as you see it will not work, you will have to think “out of the box”.
    Keep writing, best of luck.Recommend

  • Ramzan Kareem

    Out of 50 plus Muslim countries, democracy is in vogue only in a few of them. Why? Probably, it is because a true Muslim believes in the ‘God Model’ of governance. There is one God and he does as he deems fit. We Muslims, therefore, instinctively dream about a similar ‘Unity of Command’ in governance. One Khalifa and be done with it. He shall be our Messiah. The only problem seems to be how to get one. Our attempts to pick military substitute does not seem to have worked. So until we find a way to get a ‘god-like’ Khalifa, we are stuck with this very inefficient system called democracy. Sad.Recommend

  • saher

    good article.. the problem is wen pakistan was created the only strong institution was that of army and unfortunately it never let the other institutions develop. :( we need at least 3-5 consecutive elections held at proper time to actually see democracy. if we dont grow through the correct evolutionary process nothing will come to right..Recommend

  • ayesha

    really a great article….. :)Recommend

  • Abdul Mohsin

    Fawad it,s really a best artical…….:)Recommend

  • nida awan

    this is a very intellectual article.i totally agree with it.why we are running behind democracy?when we dont have our own capabilities. why we are calling for military to rule over us? we should analyse ourselves first then we should demand anything.and our self analysis will work out when we will give chance to our children. here is a problem that we dont give chance to our younger ones. and just want that they follow us in every situation.we are muslims and we have to understand that islam has given freedom to everyone. then why we dont give freedom of thoughts to our own nation for their own survival? there should not be any control of military, political leaders any any foreign policy. but what we need? is actually the indiviual’s thought, one’s own self judgement and patriotism. if we gain our own confidence indiviually then i m sure we will not debate for democracy nad not for military actions. just be patriotic towards your nation then see that how you reach at your destination and if your ideas are refined and full of logics then no one can oppose you to be a free nation. Recommend