Fragility of democracy?

Seventy years of playing with democracy cannot be undone in a quick fix solution. Democracy is not only about rights but it also means responsibilities so that rule of law and justice system can put a curb on those who misuse their elected position

The concerns expressed by the speaker of National Assembly Ayaz Sadiq about the fragility of democracy and the completion of term of national assembly needs to be seriously examined. Insecurity, intrigues and insanity seem to have become an integral part of Pakistan’s political culture because doubts and suspicions about the completion of term of assemblies are raised from time to time. Likewise, putting a question mark about the future of democracy in Pakistan is also bitter reality.

Why democracy is always at risk in Pakistan and why its fragility is so common? Why political parties lack maturity and prudence to ensure political stability? How the fragility of democracy can be replaced with stability and consistency and what are the measures which the political parties must take in order to ensure good governance and the rule of law?

Pakistan’s predicament since its emergence as a new state on August 14, 1947 till today is two-fold. First, the unprofessional and imprudent handling of things by the majority of political leaders and second, the culture of intrigues, sycophancy, corruption and nepotism which has permeated deep inside Pakistani society leading to criminalization of politics. If no Prime Minister has been able to complete five years in office it is not because of the fault of democracy but the failure of political parties to ensure political stability by unleashing a process of tolerance, accountability, rule of law, better justice system and the mode of governance.

From crisis to crisis, Pakistan in the last seven decades experienced back to back issues which not only derailed the nascent democratic process but also led to the disintegration of the country. The vacuum caused by the fragility of democracy was filled by the nexus of military-bureaucracy, feudals and clergy. Pakistan which came into being as a result of a political movement was hijacked by non-political forces who changed the very structure of state and promoted mediocre and below mediocre politicians having neither political wisdom nor integrity. As a result, all the major tragedies which struck Pakistan namely the fiasco of ‘Operation Gibraltar’ before the outbreak of September 1965 Indo-Pak war; the disintegration of Pakistan in December 1971 and the failed Kargil operation took place when the military was at the helm of affairs. The major part of Siachen Glacier was also lost to India in 1984 during the martial law regime of General Zia-ul-Haq.

Pakistani democracy is fragile by default because of an authoritarian political culture. Invisible forces pull strings to destabilize civilian governments. They succeed because political parties lack the maturity to snub such forces

Democracy is always at risk and its fragility is obvious in Pakistan because of four main reasons. First, when politicians of yesterday and today, instead of serving people possess lust for power and money, the fruits of democracy cannot reach common man. When majority of elected representatives at the local government, provincial or federal level ditch their voters and are involved in corruption and nepotism the very existence of democracy as a better mode of governance is at risk. When the priority of governments coming through votes is not to strengthen democracy by establishing the culture of tolerance, accountability and good governance but plundering tax payer’s money and the misuse of authority, one cannot expect democracy to flourish and strengthen. Second, it is not only politicians who are at fault and can be held responsible for derailing democracy from its path, people are also to be blamed for their lack of political acumen while electing their representatives in elections. When the turnout of voters is less than 30% in general elections and acts of rigging are common, how can one elect honest and law abiding candidates? As a result, majority of the elected members of parliament, provincial assemblies and local governments are those who neither possess caliber not integrity but are elected representatives.

People will elect right kind of candidates when they possess political consciousness and wisdom to first judge the honesty, caliber and integrity of person before casting their votes. And it is a dilemma that people render their support; give their lives and face imprisonment for those politicians who are known for their cruelty, intolerance and corruption. But, in a society where illiteracy, social backwardness, corruption and nepotism are at their peak, one cannot expect fair judgment of people in elections. Third, the so-called educated elites also tend to add to the fragility of democracy in this country because they are the ones who look the other way when non-political forces intervene and usurp power or when political governments are involved in loot and plunder. The surge of anger, antagonism, intolerance, radicalization of youth, violence and terrorism in Pakistani society is a sad reminder of the failure of ruling elites to eradicate corruption, nepotism and misuse of power. If 25 million children are out of school and around one-third of population lives below poverty line, the outcome is frustration and anger particularly among the youth which promote the forces of extremism in society.

Finally, fragility of democracy in Pakistan is by default because of an authoritarian political culture. Invisible forces pull their strings from outside and try to destabilize civilian governments. They succeed in their objective because political parties lack the confidence, maturity and courage to snub such forces. In fact, the fragility of democracy in Pakistan began to take place soon after the assassination of Pakistan’s first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan as palace intrigues and conspiracies to destabilize civilian rule got an impetus. Nexus between bureaucracy and military succeeded in penetrating in different political parties thus weakening the democratic process and causing its rupture. As a deep state, Pakistan provides a fertile ground to galvanize authoritarian culture and keeping political institutions weak. When conspiracies are hatched with the connivance of so-called political leaders to destabilize a particular civilian government, the outcome is the rupture of political process. The prevailing political crisis in Pakistan is a vivid example of how irresponsible some political leaders are for seeking power by non-political means.

Seventy years of playing with democracy cannot be undone in a quick fix solution. Democracy is not only about rights but it also means responsibilities so that rule of law and justice system can put a curb on those who misuse their elected position. Otherwise, a makeshift democratic system in which the wielders of real power pull strings from behind and keep the democratic process at risk and fragile would continue. In order to prevent the further fragility of democracy in Pakistan political parties, civil society groups and public opinion must adhere to accountability, rule of law and justice system. Professionalism, coupled with commitment and dedication for the country instead of seeking personal benefits can certainly reverse the fragility of democracy. Training of political workers and leaders managed by professionals can also create a critical mass which can deal with crisis and conflict in a wise and prudent manner. Innovation and creativity among political leaders to prevent non-political forces from derailing the democratic process and putting the country on the right track is the need of the hour. Otherwise, the alarm, concern and fear expressed by the speaker of National Assembly about the completion of National Assembly’s term would continue thus deepening the fragility of democracy in Pakistan.

The writer is Meritorious Professor of International Relations at the University of Karachi and can be reached at:

Published in Daily Times, December 22nd 2017.