THE STATE OF DEMOCRACY IN PAKISTAN: CIVIL SOCIETY IN PAKISTAN

CIVIL SOCIETY IN PAKISTAN

Some civil society organizations and human rights organizations and the lawyers movement which have pressed for greater adherence to democratic practices enjoy very limited base of support in Pakistan. Others are civil society organizations that are avowedly anti liberal and pursue an explicitly Islamist agenda. They use the rhetoric of democracy to undermine democracy (Fair, 2011). Others do not even entertain the rhetoric of democracy and explicitly state their goal of Islamizing Pakistan. The types of future of Pakistan these forces are fighting are orthogonal to each other’ (Fair, 2011:96). It can be safely inferred from this that civil society in Pakistan can neither be a countervailing force for democratization nor offer alternative policy paradigms in partnership or contradistinction to the state. If civil society in Pakistan is disparate and disjointed and their agendas are conflictual and does not, as such, have critical mass to be a political force, what other alternatives exist? Is the media or the liberalized media that can take the cudgels for democracy? Reviewing european life

According to Fair, ‘the wild card in mobilizing Pakistanis is the press’ (2011:96). Pakistan’s private media, on the face of it appears to be vibrant and cacophonous and on many measures this evaluation is fairly accurate. However, on issues of national security and contentious domestic issues, Pakistan’s media is guilty of self censorship and is deeply implicated in the establishment with st links to the military and intelligence agencies (Fair, 2011). ‘In some cases they are explicitly paid by the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate. Therefore, their ability to resolve some of these issues may be limited by design’ (Fair, 2011:96). The liberalization of the media in Pakistan thus has an underside (Cohen, 2011). ‘In the contemporary media landscape, both the medium and the messages are ambiguous. Pakistan is being flooded with confusing and contradictory images (Cohen, 2011:33). This leads to incoherence and a sustained message aimed at mobilizing people for liberal values and democracy is lost in the process. And more importantly, ‘any mobilization in Pakistan need not be for greater liberalism; it is likely to be geared towards greater Islamism of the state and society. And whether or not mobilization, liberal or its obverse, can effectively pressure Pakistan’s political and governance institutions remains an important empirical question for the near, mid and even long term’ (Fair, 2011:97). Therefore, both the civil society and the media cannot be a force for substantive democracy in Pakistan, given that both are delimited by the state, are by and large incoherent and their agenda’s are at cross purposes. This cancels them out as a force for democratization and liberalism in Pakistan.

What can be culled from the delineation of political developments in Pakistan is that the current government, even though it , to paraphrase Konstradt, operates in a ‘siege environment’ and the results and consequences of its continued tussle with the judiciary remain an ‘unknown unknown’, has attempted to roll back the changes brought by the Musharaf regime with some success. The energies of the current government have been consumed by this and the security problems that engulf Pakistan and consequently little attention has been paid to rejigging the nature of the state and polity in Pakistan.(Perhaps, this can never be done).. And in the final analysis, these changes amount to tinkering, leaving, in the process, intact the extant power structure of Pakistan.

This is a set of conditions that corresponds to political decay and may well nigh be impossible to reverse. As such, these cannot and should not be held as a harbinger of substantive democracy in Pakistan.

The reasons are manifold. The most salient are the durability, longevity and continued survival of core institutions that have taken root in Pakistan. These institutions validate and replicate praetorianism, patrimonialism and semi authoritarianism and can be said to be path dependent. Unless and until, core characteristics of the Pakistani state change and mutate, it will be ‘plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose ‘for Pakistan. And the state of Pakistan will merely ‘muddle along’ with periods of relative calm punctuated by political instability. This is not merely the case of the democratic transition versus consolidation dilemma but accrues from deeply rooted structural characteristics which we have delineated in the piece. For substantive democracy to take root in Pakistan, its core institutions or the linkages between these, to repeat, have to fracture and a new polity created from the ashes. This has to be both a top down and a bottom up process wherein the first condition to be satisfied is a consensus on the nature and idea of Pakistan. However, this may, in the scheme of things and given Pakistan’s history and its contemporary condition, mean asking for the impossible. The ‘state of democracy in Pakistan’ may then mean a loaded assertion or statement where the answers are known before hand. Should this stop us from assessing democracy and its prospects in Pakistan? The answer to this question is definitive ‘no’. Historical determinism- the locking up of a country into a single path of development-may not bear the scrutiny of history and the historical process. History is not a linear process. It is cyclical and disjuncture’s and surprises are the stuff of history and the historical process. The west’s own political trajectory is witness to this and the same may be true for Pakistan. What seems inconceivable may yet happen despite all the odds. And Pakistan-after convolutions or even revolutions- may morph into a genuine, stable and substantive democracy in the long duree scheme of things. If this is to happen then Pakistan’s transition to substantive democracy will not be linear or sequential. It will be messy, chaotic and uncertain and amount almost to a Sisyphean endeavor.

However, given the potential for transforming Pakistan into a salubrious entity at peace with itself and the world, the attempt is worth it. While, for the immediate and even the long term, we see no substantive change in the polity of Pakistan, it by no means is a stretch that we stop hoping and praying for it.