THE STATE OF DEMOCRACY IN PAKISTAN: PAKISTAN AND ITS DISCONTENTS

DISCONTENTS

Conceived as a homeland for Muslims of South Asia, where they could live safely and securely and reach efflorescence, Pakistan, it could be said, has not lived up to its promise. The reasons may lie in the dichotomy between the ideational premise or the slogan of Pakistan and the nature of the entity(state), that its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah , had in mind. Islam was sought as the slogan and the rallying cry for both the Pakistan movement and the Pakistani state to weld it into a coherent nation. ‘Establishing Islam as the state ideology was a device at defining Pakistani identity during the country’s formative years. Indeed Pakistan’s leaders started playing on the religious sentiment as a means of strengthening the country’s national identity shortly after Pakistan’s creation (Haqqani, 2004-5:5).

However, as Cohen rightly points, out the , the Idea of Pakistan was and has been in flux since it was first promulgated in the 1930’s(2012:22). ‘Different ideas of Pakistan are held by the establishment, the army, different ethnic and linguistic groups and Pakistan’s precariously situated minorities(Cohen, 2011:22).’Pakistan’s unique feature is not its potential as a failed state but the intricate interaction between the physical, political, legal entity known as the state of Pakistan and the idea of the Pakistani nation. The Pakistani state often works at cross purposes with the Pakistani nation (Cohen, 2002:1). ‘From its inception, Pakistan has been fundamentally internally conflicted’ (Cohen , 2002:4). The conceptual morass and confusion that adherence to an abstract yet illusive Islamic state rendered space open for accoutrements and apparatuses of the state to fill in the void left by the state and nation dichotomy.’ As one military leader followed another, the army’s vision of Pakistan began to define the state’ (Cohen, 2002:5). However, even though the army’s vision vies for hegemony, there are competing and contending visions of Pakistan.’

Indeed, the most important conflict in Pakistan is not a civilizational clash between Muslims and non Muslims but a clash between different concepts of Islam, particularly how the Pakistani state should implement its Islamic identity’ (Cohen, 2002:5).

This disconnect between the idea of Pakistan and the state of Pakistan was overlaid by the inability of the Pakistani elite to consolidate the state of Pakistan and craft it according to the preference of if founder, Jinnah, who explicitly favored a secular, democratic and plural Pakistan. This failure led to Pakistan’s still born and warped encounter with modernity and the crystalization of the attendant trajectory and institutional design of Pakistan. ‘Pakistan’s early rulers did not pay much attention to the democratization of the political process because their major concern was how to ensure the survival of the state, in view of internal and external challenges. The fear of state collapse reinforced authoritarian governance and political management’ (www.democracy- asia.org). ‘The history of Pakistan’s politics is one of failure to establish enduring and credible political institutions. This political instability also manifested in Pakistan’s failed efforts to establish a functioning institution or hold regular and consequential elections. In fifty five years, Pakistan has had three constitutions -created in 1956, 1962 and in 1973- and in 1985 when Zia ul Haq fundamentally altered the constitution with his introduction of the Eighth Amendment establishing a president dominated executive. National elections in recent years were held in 1985, 1988,1990, 1993, and 1997 and 2008 but no elected Pakistani government has succeeded another so far-all have been deposed by the military or dismissed by presidential fiat’(Cohen, 2002:4)

The inability to form genuine political parties, which could form and aggregate interests , separately from the power structure of Pakistan was another fatal flaw. ‘The Muslim League that led the independence movement failed to transform itself from a national movement to a national party. The political parties or their coalitions that exercised power since the mid 1950’s were either floated by the establishment (the oligarhical patrimonalian and praetorian elite) or enjoyed their blessings’(www.democracy-asia.org).The repeated assumption of power by the military and its desire to shape the Pakistani polity in accordance with its preferences has undermined the steady growth of democratic institutions and processes. ‘Military rulers either abolished the constitution or superseded it to acquire supreme legislative and administrative powers’(www.democracy-asia.org).

‘They engaged in constitutional engineering either by introducing new constitutions or by making drastic changes in the existing constitutions to protect the interests of the military regime’(www.democracy-asia.org). ‘On four occasions, despite the constant rewriting of its constitution ostensibly to pave the way for sustained democracy , generals seized power directly, claiming that civilian politicians were incapable of running the country. Even during periods of civilian government, the generals have seized political influence through the intelligence apparatus (Haqqani, 2004-5:3). ‘Pakistan continues to be governed by a civil military oligarchy that sees itself as defining and also protecting the state’s identity, mainly through a mixture of religious and militant nationalism’(Haqqani,2004-5:5).

The picture that emerges from this chaotic and conceptual morass is not salutary and has contributed to state weakness and more importantly crystallized a hybrid regime that displays semi authoritarianism, praetorianism and patrimonialism. The question that arises now is whether developments in the recent past- the departure of Pervez Musharaf, the 2008 elections, the activist mantle adopted by the judiciary and the longevity and survival albeit hobbled of the present regime, vigorous media -will restore equilibrium to Pakistan’s polity. That is to say, can these developments break the warped linkages that comprise the state of Pakistan? And will these set it on the path of substantive democracy and democratization. The answer to this question, by its very nature has to be tentative and hesitant. The embeddedness and endurance of semi authoritarianism, patrimonialism and praetorianism and historic institutionalism- institutions, beliefs and actions of the past constrain the choices of actors in the present- in the Pakistani polity give reasons to pause and err on the side of caution. The power structure is so structurally embedded in Pakistan that is it may be well nigh impossible to dislodge it short of a cataclysmic event or a set of events in combination. However, for academic purposes and scholarly interest, it may be prudent to lay out the developments that have taken place in the recent past and tease out their implications.