WikiLeaks: Democracy undressed

Published: December 11, 2010

Politicians sink deeper into an abyss of corruption PHOTO: OUP

WikiLeaks has now been added to our burgeoning dictionary of new labels of social media but undoubtedly, it is one of the most controversial.

The proliferation of different types of social media from Facebook to YouTube is raising deep questions about public discussion, and the workings of democracy itself.

It is not so much the content that is released by WikiLeaks that is of concern or indeed of any great surprise, since they merely confirmed what many suspected.

Democracy looks like a sham

The great concern is how foreign policy is being conducted behind closed doors, in secret corridors of power where only an elite few are privy and able to influence foreign policy. Foreign policy constructions in democracies particularly like those of the US and EU is troubles me, because you clearly have rational democratic publics, but you have incoherent, simplistic and, quite frankly, appalling policies in the international arena which make you ask the following questions:

1) Do people in today’s democracies actually have any say in how their country should conduct themselves in foreign affairs?

2)  How much input is there from democratic institutions, civil society and citizens in the formulation of foreign policy?

Think-tank elite: monopolising foreign policy

In the US, foreign policy seems to be an affair for the ‘’think tank’’ elite. Policy recommendations to the US government are made by some very questionable and ideologically worrying think-tanks which do not seem to embody the principles of accountability and transparency. There is also of course the touchy subject of military-industrial complex in America and how much of an influence it has on foreign policy.

Indeed, it is perhaps the construction of foreign policy which still needs to be liberated and democratised, since it still seems to be the preserve of an elite shady cohort of think-tanks, and a priesthood of policy makers who enforce foreign policy orthodoxy, to the extent that democracies in the EU and US have little say in this most crucial of policy discussions.

Why do these liberal democracies, which in all respects are societies which place great worth on lofty ideals like human equality, so blatantly betray their own values when interacting with the international community?

Pakistan: A tale of un-democracy

The most depressing story is the Pakistani one, where all types of policy discussion let alone foreign policy are completely removed from the democratic process. Foreign policy in Pakistan is conducted in a most autocratic manner under the auspices of the army, security agencies with the robust cooperation of political parties who claim to be guardians of democracy. The people of Pakistan are duly left in the dark whilst politicians sink deeper into an abyss of corruption, ravaged by their malicious quests for power.

The WikiLeaks may have had many revelations but for me the greatest lesson was the absolutely terrible state of democracies around the world when it came to foreign policy corruption. It seems to me that globally we are still stuck in a pre-modern era, where values of accountability, transparency, equality, rule of law and human rights do not apply to human beings of other nationalities.

Human rights don’t matter

It is perhaps the notion that human rights are only for one’s own citizens and merely a beautiful piece of rhetoric to woo others with, which is most disturbing.

Foreign policy construction should move away from the corrupting influence of generals, ideologues and brought out in the open sunshine of the public sphere where citizens can decide for themselves how their country should conduct itself. Peace today requires not more government meetings and ‘’cooperation’’ between intelligence agencies, since we have had plenty of such stupefying and vacuous ‘’confidence building’’ measures, but requires an open meeting of minds, cultures, creeds and a renewal of trust.

The WikiLeaks episode has taught us of the corrupting influence of unchecked power, and the dangers of mixing the awesome power of government with the sinister spectre of secrecy.


Ahmad Ali

A medical student and freelance writer who tweets @AhmadAliKhalid

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

  • majid maqsood

    Not only democracy but our Army have also been undressed after wikileaks divulge, and you have rightly explained below that Democracy does not deal our foreign policy but it is dealt by Army. It has been open secret now which force controls all institutions of the country. World knows this thing well where power lies in Pakistan so criticizing democracy is tantamount to criticize people of this country. By virtue in our country people have never been empowered. We have name of democracy and it is totally operated by our Army that’s why we always blame to democracy that does not delver well and give the desired result. These Ministers are left loose to make the corruption as nobody can object on real force.Recommend

  • Prof Manzoor Awan

    One only hopes that these disclosures induce caution among our leaders while interacting with foreign diplomats. Recommend

  • Haris Masood Zuberi

    Well all said and done, it all comes down to one simple thing, whether it’s the siyasatdaan or the jaahil awaam or Amreeka haraam.
    Quoting from the title of the very OUP book from which the image above has been used, most certainly,
    “We’ve Learned Nothing from History”.
    Right said the good Air Marshall Asghar Khan.
    And not much would ever change till we start learning from our miseries and strive to rectify them.Recommend

  • Ali Hassan

    Very nice post.
    Every major country has an agenda to pursue- human rights, public opinions, ethics and all such things are secondary to it.Recommend

  • The Only Normal Person Here.

    Wikileaks has certainly changed the dynamics of global politics. However, I am surprised that there isnt any sort of unrest in masses, on our motherland. Perhaps, it was too expected.Recommend

  • Humanity

    WikiLeaks have shredded the royal robes and the dark suits, exposing the butt naked kings and king makers.

    The web of wickedness wraps around Washington, London, Riyadh, Islamabad, Kabul and all the corrupt capitals of capitalism, communism, clergism, and conformism.

    The one and only one ummah is that of mammon lovers including both the infidels and the so-called muslims. The royal keepers of the House of Allah are muslims only in name. In deeds, they are idol worshipers holding dear their pre-Islamic jaahil conduct of tribe mentality, hypocrisy, and hatred for the helpless.

    Pakistan must stand up against its master and reclaim its independence by severing the reins that are held in Riyadh. USA controls Pakistan and the muslim world only through its oil-rich, morally-defunct arab kings empowered by the West. KSA is a willing partner of the West in their divide and rule strategy.

    Even a dimwit can see through the dirty game. What part of the deceit and hypocrisy do the Pakistani moderate masses not understand?Recommend

  • parvez

    The WikiLeaks episode has confirmed that technology can be nuisance factor.
    It has also just reinforced that the shenanigans of global power politics with all its juicy trimmings is alive and doing well. At best technology will re-shape some of the rules this game is played by , which may or may not be a good thing – that has to be seen. Recommend

  • Humanity

    Saudi Arabia and Desperate Housewives:

    Excerpts from

    *But despite the author of the report’s apparent hope that shows like “Desperate Housewives” and “Late Night With David Letterman” would serve as an antidote to some of the more conservative trends in the country, the document makes clear that the government has no intention of ceding control over the message, just tweaking it a little.

    Saudi regulatory bodies, which are beholden to the royal family, have evolved to thrive in a dynamic new media environment, switching to a more subtly coercive and decentralized approach. “Instead of being fired or seeing their publications shut down, editors now are fined [$10,600] out of their own salaries for each objectionable piece that appears in their newspaper,” the cable read. “Journalists, too, are held to account.”

    “Objectionable pieces” can include unapproved Islamic teachings and any criticism of the royal family or the government.

    The primary responsibility for tracking individual journalists has also been transferred from the Supreme Information Council in Riyadh to local committees in each Saudi city, where authorities can keep a closer watch on journalists.*Recommend

  • mir liyaqat

    The great finale of Wikileaks is yet to come. Recommend

  • mir liyaqat

    The great finale of Wikileaks is yet to come and be ready for the big political tremor.Recommend