Pakistan was designed as a modern democracy; the whole struggle for accession in Pakistan was based on the fundamental principle of democracy, namely that the people should have a say in government. Although in the early days of Muslim political activism, Muslims in the subcontinent propagated the safeguarding of their rights as a minority, Pakistan’s founding fathers firmly believed that only through democracy can Muslims have their rightful place in the body politic of India. . Allama Iqbal reiterated that the establishment of a Muslim-majority province in northwestern India would be very beneficial for the whole of India, and such a province would protect India from any “ideological” invasion. or bayonet” of the West. After independence, several obstacles were encountered on the way to establishing democracy in Pakistan. Allan McGrath, in his book ‘Destruction of Democracy in Pakistan’, developed all these elements which did not allow democracy to take firm root.
Democracy in Pakistan has never been allowed to take root and function. One of the major factors in this regard is the fact that Pakistan still follows several characteristics of medieval society in its rural areas. It is important to understand that the quantum of rural seats in national and provincial assemblies is much higher than those in urban areas. Feudalism still has a strong existence in Pakistan. In such a political setup, the masses under influence are not allowed to have their own opinion and only vote for those supported by their feudal lords. Although these shackles are being challenged, and in some cases broken, there is still a long way to go before people are completely free to have their opinions and exercise them.
Another major obstacle on the road to democracy is the sardari and tribal system. People practicing the sardari system hardly deviate from the decision made by their sardars and the whole vote bank goes to the candidate of their choice, who can move from one election to another. From an evolutionary political point of view, democracy was introduced by the British to the subcontinent more than a century earlier, in the midst of the shift in education from tradition to modernity. Representatives of modern education at that time were able to imbibe the ideologies of politics and understood their significance. However, the quality education provided by the British was only available and limited to a handful of people living in urban centers, especially centers that had a British presence in them.
Unfortunately, the Muslim majority provinces that became Pakistan in 1947 were mostly ignored by the British which prevented the masses there from boarding the ship of modern politics which is why they are still far from true political democracy. A major proof of this fact is that so far the “elected” have played a central role in the formation of government in the national and provincial assemblies. In the 1937 elections, the first general elections in the region’s history, results showed that independent candidates were able to secure around 30-40% of the total seats in the Muslim-majority provinces. The fact that independent candidates still dominate the electorates against the main political parties in their respective constituencies speaks volumes about the gap between political democracy and the masses of Pakistan.
In addition to these fundamental problems, the standoff between Pakistan’s institutions has further delayed the achievement of true democracy. On the eve of independence, Pakistan was forced to prove its right to exist as an independent nation and faced existential challenges in the form of refugee crises, financial problems, hostility at the eastern borders and Western countries and administrative crises. Quaid-i-Azam appealed to British officers after taking office as the first Governor-General to stay in Pakistan and continue their services. There was a vacuum in almost every occupation, and the most obvious was the complete absence of political leadership that could cater to the whole of Pakistan as a nation and uphold Pakistan’s uniqueness from provincialism.
The vacuum was filled by bureaucracy, immediately after the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951. The bureaucratic elite, made up of capable administrators recruited and trained by the British to work efficiently, took control of the country and pushed the upward political direction. back seat. Their greed for power caused them to avoid democracy and continue their administration. In their attempt to alienate politicians from governance, they brought military into politics by making General Ayub Khan the Minister of Defence. Later in 1958, Ayub Khan gave bureaucrats a taste of their own medicine by removing bureaucracy from politics in the same way bureaucrats had replaced politicians earlier.
Since then, Pakistan has moved away from true democracy. Even the 1962 constitution could offer no hope of democracy and met the contingency at the hands of its creator in 1969. The prolonged rejection of power-sharing and electoral representation based on democratic principles resulted in the bifurcation of Pakistan in 1971. Unfortunately, as a society, we have not learned our lesson and are once again entangled in the same power struggle.
The 1973 constitution came as a beacon of hope for democracy; however, too many clouds were thrown over him by the altercations he endured at the hands of various regimes who ‘amended’ the document to further their cause – to the point that the original constitution was completely mutilated. Major amendments, such as the 8th Amendment in 1985 and the 17th Amendment in 2003, changed the nature of the constitution and promoted centralism and authoritarianism, which were used by their creators to advance their own agendas.
The 18th Amendment, passed in 2010, was an attempt by all political entities in Pakistan to restore the constitution to its original form. It was developed and adopted by consensus in parliament. However, once again, the basis of the constitution – the parliamentary system – is challenged by a major political party, which favors the presidential form. They have launched into the debate and are even hinting at a constitutional amendment once they regain power with a 2/3 majority according to their demands.
Pakistan has gone through a long and difficult evolutionary process as a democracy. We have had three constitutions, several amendments, dictatorial authoritarianism, midterm elections and the removal of popular governments and, recently, the passage of the first successful vote of no confidence against the incumbent Prime Minister. Yet, it seems that in the years to come, a major overhaul is needed to have a stable political democracy. Pakistan, after 75 years of its establishment, is still waiting for its first ever democratic government to complete the full five-year parliamentary term without any problems. If, as a society, we let an elected government complete its five-year term, whether we like it or not, that would go a long way toward establishing true democracy and establishing its legitimacy.
-Dr Moiz Khan is Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Karachi