By Shafqat Mahmood
It seems odd
making a case for democracy in this day and age
but military rule muddles many minds, especially
young impressionable minds. Constantly fed on the
propaganda of how awful the politicians were/are
and impressed by procedural efficiency in certain
areas of governance, young people, and some not
so young, start to believe that dictatorship is
General Musharraf's personality, or whatever of
it is visible to the public, also impresses a section
of our English-speaking elite. He is seen by them
as a nice affable sort and a liberal, whose lifestyle
and personal habits are no different from their
own. This cultural affinity combined with a loathing
for 'dirty politicians' -- drummed into their head
day in and day out -- makes military rule eminently
acceptable to them. What they fail to see are the
problems it creates.
It could be argued that why bother with the elite,
especially the English-speaking kind, when others
less fortunate see the difference between military
rule and civilian dispensation clearly. The proof
of this being the 2002 elections where, despite
official tampering of results, an overwhelming majority
was still declared to have voted for the same 'dirty
Unfortunately, elections or their results have never
mattered in this country. It is the English-speaking
elite which rules in one form or another and elections
to it are a nuisance because they throw up these
uncouth Urdu medium types who have to be pandered
to. It is this class that gets tired of civilians
and of democracy and ends up as an important pillar
of military rule.
History will not wait for them to alter their mindset
and change will come whether they want it or not,
but it would make the transition smooth if this
elite sees that democracy is essential and military
rule dangerous. It would require them to go beyond
the obvious and in some cases overcome ingrained
prejudices, but if we are to avoid labels such as
a failed state, genuine democracy and not its contrived
caricature would have to be seen as the only cure
for our ills.
The merits of democracy are many and entire libraries
are full of books extolling its virtues, but I only
want to mention a few that are relevant to Pakistan.
Democracy is the only system that allows disparate
people -- ethnically, culturally and linguistically
different -- to come together in a common cause.
Why? Because in a democracy everyone feels that
they have a stake in the system. Military rule is
non-inclusive because the will of one institution,
or more importantly of its head, takes precedence
over everything else.
In our case, it becomes even more complicated because
the Pakistani military is largely Punjabi and when
it takes over, other ethnicities and communities
start to feel excluded from any meaningful participation
in power. We lost half the country after 13 years
of uninterrupted military rule and however much
Bhutto or Mujib be blamed, the buck stopped with
the then ruling general, Yahya Khan.
After seven years of Musharraf, we see similar problems
cropping up, though hopefully not of the same intensity.
The troubles in Balochistan are not confined to
two districts only. The Baloch intelligentsia, its
youth and the middle classes, all feel alienated.
It may not be out of place to mention that during
the eleven years of 'bad' democracy there were no
problems in Balochistan.
Sindh may appear to be calm but it is seething within.
The party it favors has been denied power again
and again. Any hasty decision such as on Kalabagh
Dam may set it on fire. The problems in tribal areas
need no repeating but we also have problems in the
Northern Areas and in Azad Kashmir. Democracy is
not a cure-all but it has the ability to co-opt
everyone and make at least some of these problems
The second major impact that democracy has is on
allocation of resources. The people's money is spent
on the people or where they want it to be spent.
This was the original purpose for which parliament
in Britain was created. We are one of the seven
nuclear power states in the world but at number
135 among 190 odd countries in the 2005 Human Development
Index of the UN.
This means that while our military is one of the
finest in the world, our people are among the poorest.
Our cantonments and defense housing societies are
as good as any in the first world while our cities
and rural areas are vehemently Third World. The
people's money has been spent on national security
and allied matters and not on them. This can only
change if there is genuine democracy.
Democracy and accountability through elections forces
the leaders to spend on the people, otherwise they
get thrown out. This happened in India recently
where despite the slogan of India shining, the BJP
was voted out because enough attention was not paid
by it to the rural areas. If we allow unadulterated
democracy to take hold, the people will force the
resources to be diverted towards them.
An important consideration for those that view the
relative vigor of a nation is the strength of its
governing institutions: one reason why we have begun
to fare poorly in this or that index is because
our institutions such as the judiciary, the parliament,
the election commission etc. are seen to be weak
and ineffective. This has happened because frequent
military takeovers have made it necessary for these
institutions to be undermined.
An independent judiciary would not countenance the
abrogation of the constitution, which is the basic
law of the land. It would above anything else believe
in the rule of law. This runs counter to what the
military wants. It wants its takeovers to be legitimized
and that can only happen if it is able to force
the judiciary to accede to its wishes. This takes
away its independence and the respect it has in
Similar is the fate of the election commission.
How can an independent election commission be allowed
if the purpose is to rig elections? Parliament is
also contorted to fit a particular need. The democratic
one is overthrown because without its disappearance,
there cannot be military rule. But, then a dummy
is created to give civilian cover to military rule.
Such a parliament is nothing more than a decoration,
a veneer of wood over hard granite.
Democracy in its essence is another name for competing
power centers. It does not allow the judiciary or
the parliament or the executive to dominate. This
not only ensures freedom and fundamental human rights
for the people, it strengthens the viability of
a state. While London was being destroyed by the
Germans, Churchill is reported to have asked whether
the courts were working. When told yes, he said
we have nothing to worry about.
There is so much more to say. The river of democracy,
to use an Urdu expression, is difficult to gather
in a pitcher. But one last word of caution: democracy
is noisy and messy and does not always throw up
good leaders. But, leaders are less important than
the strength of the system. The cure for bad democracy,
as has been said often enough, is more democracy.
(The writer is a former member of parliament and
a freelance columnist based in Lahore. Courtesy