How Pak­istan is pay­ing for its fail­ures as a democ­racy

The Northlines - - OPINION -

The ba­sis of a demo­cratic state is lib­erty, pro­claimed the Greek philoso­pher Aris­to­tle some 20 cen­turies ago. Since then, hu­mankind has strived to de­fine and re­de­fine democ­racy keep­ing this prin­ci­ple at the very heart of any demo­cratic state.

But why is lib­erty fun­da­men­tally im­por­tant?

The an­swer to this might lie in how the hu­man brain func­tions. Neu­ro­phys­i­ol­ogy has de­ter­mined the brain op­er­ates most ef­fec­tively in con­di­tions of free­dom, where the mind is not lim­ited to one set of data or one in­tel­lec­tual ap­proach cho­sen for it by some ex­ter­nal author­ity: be it an ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, re­li­gion or state ide­ol­ogy. Es­sen­tially at­test­ing free­dom is a ba­sic ne­ces­sity sim­i­lar to food, shel­ter or health. And lib­erty is sim­ply a more col­lec­tive syn­onym for free­dom. Now, with this fact known, how best could any na­tion-state en­sure and cre­ate con­di­tions where in­di­vid­ual free­dom-lib­erty ex­ists?

Be­fore an­swer­ing this ques­tion, it's im­por­tant to see if there ex­ists fun­da­men­tal data to sub­stan­ti­ate the above claim of neu­ro­phys­i­ol­o­gists. As a re­sult, we be­gin by ob­serv­ing the tra­jec­tory var­i­ous na­tions have taken in pur­suit of in­di­vid­ual free­dom and their state of hu­man de­vel­op­ment and eco­nomic progress.

For the pur­pose of com­par­ing ap­ples to ap­ples, we chose Pak­istan and Malaysia - both are multi-eth­nic, mul­tire­li­gious, pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim, medium-sized na­tions that got free­dom from Bri­tish rule in the same decade (1947-1957) and chose democ­racy as the model of gov­er­nance.

Malaysia is home to di­verse eth­nic­i­ties con­sti­tut­ing Malay, Chi­nese, In­dian and in­dige­nous peo­ple where the ma­jor­ity prac­tises Is­lam. The GDP per capita of Malaysia was $10,380 (2012), with its pop­u­la­tion be­low poverty stand­ing at 3.8 per cent (2009), un­em­ploy­ment rate at 3 per cent (2012) and over­all GDP at $303 bil­lion (2012) - of which ex­ports made up $227 bil­lion.

In terms of hu­man de­vel­op­ment, Malaysia's lit­er­acy rate was 92 per cent (2008), with the govern­ment spend­ing 34.35 per cent (2010) on post-sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion. The life ex­pectancy rate of the av­er­age Malaysian is 74 years and the coun­try ranks 26th in the world on the qual­ity of health­care.

Sim­i­lar to Malaysia, Pak­istan too is home to di­verse eth­nic­i­ties con­sti­tut­ing Pun­jabis, Pash­tuns, Sind­his, Mo­ha­jirs and Balochs as well di­verse re­li­gions, with the ma­jor­ity prac­tis­ing Is­lam. How­ever, un­like Malaysia, Pak­istan ranks poorly both on eco­nomic and hu­man de­vel­op­ment in­dices. Pak­istan's GDP per capita was $1,290 (2012), one-tenth of Malaysia's. The pop­u­la­tion be­low poverty was at 22 per cent (2006), six times greater than Malaysia with the over­all GDP of $231 bil­lion (2012), of which ex­ports con­sti­tuted only $24 bil­lion (2012).

The lit­er­acy rate in Pak­istan was 53 per cent in 2008, with the govern­ment spend­ing a mea­gre 2.17 per cent (2012) on ed­u­ca­tion com­pared to the 34.35 per cent in­vested by Malaysia. The life ex­pectancy rate is 65 years, with the coun­try rank­ing 61st on the qual­ity of health­care. Fur­ther, Malaysia spends 1.30 per cent of GDP on R&D in com­par­i­son to the 0.29 per cent spent by Pak­istan. Ob­serv­ing th­ese facts, one won­ders, de­spite sim­i­lar­i­ties, why has Malaysia pros­pered and Pak­istan lagged be­hind? Na­tions are not lim­ited to in­fra­struc­ture or nat­u­ral re­sources or merely a bound­ary; rather, a na­tion is a col­lec­tion of in­di­vid­u­als bound by a com­mon idea within a con­fined ge­og­ra­phy. The idea of Pak­istan, that is nazaria-e-pak­istan, was and has ever since re­mained the nega­tion of why they are not In­dian, why they are not a prod­uct of sub­con­ti­nen­tal cul­ture and val­ues. And this very essence of nega­tion has led it into a neg­a­tive spi­ral of de­nial of his­tory and facts, and im­posed upon it a con­stant strug­gle to prove that the nega­tion is real.

This need for psy­cho­log­i­cal nega­tion, over the years, has been so deeply and sys­tem­at­i­cally in­grained by state that any other idea of state is seen as a threat to the sur­viv­abil­ity of the na­tion it­self, re­sult­ing in the in­tel­lec­tual stunt­ing of its ci­ti­zens by a lim­ited space and ide­o­log­i­cal prej­u­dice that does not en­able them to freely ques­tion, doubt and ex­pose them­selves to var­ied ideas so nec­es­sary for an in­di­vid­ual's de­vel­op­ment and na­tion­build­ing.

And, Pak­istan's army has taken it upon it­self to act as the sole pro­tec­tor and guar­an­tor of the idea of Pak­istan. So much so that only four years af­ter its in­cep­tion, an un­suc­cess­ful coup at­tempt was made against the first prime min­is­ter of Pak­istan, Li­aquat Ali Khan. And, ever since, Pak­istan army has been rul­ing the coun­try di­rectly (three suc­cess­ful coup at­tempts were made in 19581971, 1977-1988, 1999-2008) or in­di­rectly.

Pak­istan army - through its pro­pa­ganda, nar­ra­tive build­ing and ru­mour-mon­ger­ing ma­chin­ery - has suc­cess­fully con­di­tioned the minds of its ci­ti­zens to be­lieve that politi­cians com­pro­mise na­tional in­ter­est and the only well wisher and saviour of this coun­try are its de­fence forces. But the pri­mary rea­son for the army's con­tin­u­ous in­volve­ment in the po­lit­i­cal process of the coun­try and the forces' re­sis­tance to demo­cratic de­vel­op­ment is that it pro­vides the mil­i­tary an es­cape from ac­count­abil­ity. Pak­istan army, in pur­suit of its ide­o­log­i­cal goals, has ini­ti­ated wars - be­gin­ning with the 1948 war with In­dia on Kash­mir, which led to a cri­sis that re­mains un­re­solved, the 1965 war with more loss at hand, the fall of Dhaka in 1971, the Kargil war that led to the loss of hun­dreds of sol­diers just be­cause of the sui­ci­dal plan of an am­bi­tious gen­eral, and its nur­tur­ing of "strate­gic as­sets" who have killed thou­sands of in­no­cent Pak­ista­nis in last 15 years and the coun­try's se­lec­tive war on ter­ror, with im­mu­nity to the "good Tal­iban" that at­tacks neighbouring coun­tries.

The re­cent - not the first dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion of a sit­ting prime min­is­ter (Nawaz Sharif) by the supreme court of Pak­istan on tech­ni­cal­i­ties un­re­lated to the ac­tual scan­dal is a case in point. The de­ci­sion, though con­sid­ered flawed, and a con­spir­acy against the demo­cratic process by most "lib­eral civil so­ci­ety" ac­tivists, hasn't been able to en­cour­age peo­ple to come out on the streets and re­sist Pak­istan army's ob­scene in­ter­ven­tion through the ju­di­ciary.

This says a lot about the ef­fec­tive­ness of its care­fully cu­rated nar­ra­tive over many years of power, be­stow­ing it­self with un­ques­tion­able supra-rights that have stunted the abil­ity of its ci­ti­zens to see the ob­vi­ous.

While the army and the ju­di­ciary are to be con­demned for their roles in de­rail­ing democ­racy, politi­cians also wear the crown of aid­ing non­civil­ian forces against their po­lit­i­cal ri­vals. Both Nawaz and Be­nazir Bhutto top­pled each other's gov­ern­ments in the '90s with the help of se­cret aides. And though the two big­gest par­ties have played into the hands of the es­tab­lish­ment and signed the fa­mous "Char­ter of Democ­racy", com­mit­ting them­selves to stand by democ­racy in the coun­try, the Pak­istan army man­aged to out­wit them by spring­ing a new player Im­ran Khan, thus en­sur­ing democ­racy never takes roots in Pak­istan.

Given Pak­istan's tra­jec­tory, it is no rev­e­la­tion that in com­par­i­son to Malaysia, it fal­ters in all as­pects of hu­man de­vel­op­ment and eco­nomic pros­per­ity.

Best re­course for a brighter fu­ture of Pak­istan

In a fully func­tion­ing democ­racy, peo­ple should have ef­fec­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion in pol­icy mak­ing, con­trol the agenda, have equal vot­ing rights and the op­tion to learn, dis­cuss al­ter­na­tives and con­se­quences of any pol­icy and no in­for­ma­tion must be in­ac­ces­si­ble to peo­ple or their rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Peo­ple have ba­sic fun­da­men­tal rights, be­gin­ning with the free­dom of thought and ex­pres­sion, equal­ity and right to life, which can­not be un­done even by ma­jor­ity rule. Democ­racy nat­u­rally, though chaotic, in the long run strives for "pub­lic good" and fos­ters hu­man de­vel­op­ment in terms of health, ed­u­ca­tion, in­come, et al.

And in a coun­try such as Pak­istan, which is rich in di­ver­sity and where cul­ture changes ev­ery ten miles, a col­lab­o­ra­tory sys­tem like par­lia­men­tary democ­racy is best suited as it pro­vides rep­re­sen­ta­tion to all seg­ments of the so­ci­ety and cre­ates har­mony within the coun­try, em­pow­er­ing peo­ple to thought­fully ques­tion, de­bate and de­cide their destiny with­out fear or prej­u­dice. Pak­istan's smaller prov­inces have long had griev­ances re­gard­ing the share of re­sources; it was only through a demo­crat­i­cally-elected govern­ment that prov­inces were given au­ton­omy and con­trol of their own as­sets. Thus, a cen­trist ap­proach for such an eth­ni­cally di­verse coun­try is per­ilous as it de­prives peo­ple of their iden­tity and rep­re­sen­ta­tion. In an au­to­cratic regime, in­ter­ests of the ruler and not the ruled are taken into ac­count. This is the rea­son why we have the sim­mer­ing Balochis­tan is­sue. Smaller eth­nic­i­ties like Mo­ha­jirs, Sind­his, Pakhtoons and Balochs har­bour a sense of re­sent­ment against the state, thanks to the de­struc­tive poli­cies of dic­ta­tors.

For Pak­istan to un­shackle it­self from this neg­a­tive ide­o­log­i­cal spi­ral and pur­sue de­vel­op­ment, it is very im­por­tant that demo­cratic sense pre­vails in Pak­istani so­ci­ety. That the rights and choices of peo­ple from dif­fer­ent groups are re­spected. That ev­ery in­sti­tu­tion per­forms within its con­sti­tu­tion­ally-de­fined role. Ac­cep­tance and tol­er­ance will turn this oth­er­wise un­der­de­vel­oped so­ci­ety into a mod­er­ate and in­clu­sive one. Democ­racy needs time and con­ti­nu­ity to show fruit­ful out­comes. There is no quick fix, there are no short cuts. Peo­ple need to trust their elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives and if they don't prove them­selves, the same peo­ple re­serve the right to re­place them with bet­ter ones - but only through vote. Peo­ple should stop look­ing for a saviour who will come and solve their problems.

In short, lib­erty and democ­racy is the only an­ti­dote to what ails Pak­istan.

Vive la lib­erte.

(The au­thors are part-time re­searchers and stu­dents of South Asian Peace and Se­cu­rity Stud­ies, with a deep com­mit­ment to bring about change in South Asia, es­pe­cially Pak­istan. They have no po­lit­i­cal, govern­ment, NGO or me­dia af­fil­i­a­tions.)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.