The nature, evolution and trajectory of Pakistan are critical to global security and even world order. A nuclear armed state that has been deemed by many on the edge of state failure or tottering on the verge of collapse, at odds with some of its neighboring states and pursuing a foreign policy that redounds negatively to itself and the world constitute reasons for alarm for both Pakistan and the world at large. It can be contended that these set of conditions or state of affairs accrue from the nature and ideational premise of Pakistan, its convoluted and torturous history and trajectory, institutional morass and confusion, state formation, the warped nature and wielding of power, the dysfunctional civil military relations, misaligned state society relations and the attendant, lack of pluralism and social, political and economic apathy.

The critical variable or lacuna that undergirds these is the lack of democracy and democratic governance in Pakistan. The void generated by this is filled intermittently by what has been held to be the real power in Pakistan: the Army and the Intelligence agencies. On account of these structural anomalies, it could be asserted that Pakistan has gradually and inexorably morphed into what Samuel Huntington called an ‘oligarchic patrimonial state’ where the army developed institutional interests of its own and becomes a political elite in collusion with other social elites or interest groups like the bureaucracy, feudal lords and technocrats(Huntington,1968). This form of authoritarianism goes against the gravamen of democracy and democratic governance and among other things fosters instability, chaos and even violence. Cumulatively, these set of conditions point out to a condition which Francis Fukuyama has called political decay (Fukuyama,2011). ‘Political decay occurs when political systems fail to adjust to changing circumstances and is caused by the disjunction between existing institutions and present needs’(Fukuyama,2011:7). Pakistan may also be said be suffering from the democracy transition and consolidation dilemma. That is, a state of affairs where its transition to democracy has never been consolidated. As such it occupies, what Thomas Carothers has called the ‘gray zone’- a condition where a country is neither fully authoritarian nor meaningfully democratic (2002:5-21).It then stands to reason that delineating the state of democracy in Pakistan be carried out not only for the consequences of potential of Pakistan’s democratization on global security and world order but for intrinsic reasons as well. It is to this ‘stock taking’, that this paper devotes itself to.

The main hypothesis and central assertion of this paper is that Pakistan’s morphing into a substantive democracy faces immense structural obstacles and that this accrues mainly from the nature of the Pakistani state- a weak state whose encounter with modernity has been warped and immense structural anomalies largely flow from this condition Pakistan given the contradictions that define it may never evolve into a substantive and mature democracy given that the antidotes to its structural anomalies – patrimonalism, praetorianism which accord it a semi authoritarian character- are so structurally embedded that its core institutions may be indelibly colored by these features. Add to this the competing and clashing ideas of Pakistan, the picture that emerges is not salubrious, to say the least. Any change-especially of the democratic variety- requires comprehensive rejigging of core institutions. ‘Institutions are stable, valued and recurring patterns of behavior’ (Huntington, 1968:12).

The break up of the erstwhile Soviet Union may be a classic example of this. Unless and until these core institutions and the linkages that bind them together break up or fracture, a polity may never change. Superficial change, which is of the nature of tinkering merely affects the texture or politics not its gravamen. It is our contention that the changes that have occurred in Pakistan over the last decade or so are indeed superficial. The core institutions remain untouched. As such, Pakistan merely enjoys a facade and patina of democracy which can, on account of stresses, like, for instance, the institutional clash going on these days may once again lead to intervention of the army in the polity. Even if, the various stresses and strains accruing from institutional clashes may not overwhelm Pakistan, the military and its ancillary intelligence agencies continue to loom large over Pakistan and its politics. This, to repeat, is a structural feature that binds the idea and state of Pakistan. And among other things, it may explain the United State’s implicit support for dictatorships in Pakistan over the course of its history. So is the exercise for assessing the state of democracy in Pakistan a vain one? Is it a mere academic exercise that accrues from interest in a pivotal and strategic state like Pakistan? Or can we hope against hope and believe that sometime in the undefined mists of the future; Pakistan may indeed morph into a substantive democracy? The answers to these questions may not be definitive. The exercise of peering into the future of Pakistan is a fraught one and may be akin to peering into the Nietzschean abyss. The skeptic’s or perhaps even the cynic’s view and note is very obvious here and an astute reader will gauge the thrust of this paper from this very assertion. However, all said and done, the assessment and stock taking is well worth the endeavor. If nothing else, it may shed some light on the current state of affairs of Pakistan and help formulate policy and direct scholarly attention to an area where it may be needed most. It is to this that we devote the rest of the paper.

It becomes exigent towards this end to first illustrate and highlight the meaning of democracy and then counterpoise it against the ‘real and existing’ nature of democracy in Pakistan. The aim is highlight the divergence between the two, tease out the reasons for this divergence and draw concepts and terms that could be said to represent the nature of democracy in Pakistan. A conceptual and chronological tour into the nature of Pakistan is then taken, followed by a brief narrative that lays out the torturous political and institutional trajectory of Pakistan undertaken.(The focus here will be on the developments in the last decade or so). A brief detour is also taken into the nature, existence and dynamism of political parties in Pakistan, their links to the Pakistan’s power structure, independence and their role in either consolidating the status quo or potential change in the state’s power dynamic. Terms and concepts like praetorianism, semi authoritarism and patrimonalism and their relevance to Pakistan may hopefully become clear here.This is then overlaid by political developments that occurred in Pakistan after the defining events of 1999-the bloodless coup led by General Pervez Musharaf and overlaid onto the contemporary state of politics and democracy in Pakistan. The nature of Pakistan’s civil society is also attempted to be understood and put into perspective. In the final analysis, an attempt will be made to understand the power structure and more importantly the state of democracy in Pakistan given these conditions and structural anomalies. The analysis will be concluded by some prognostications- an exercise fraught with peril- over the nature and trajectory of democracy in Pakistan.