Democracy and peace

The west has utilised this form of government to sustain its prosperity; developing societies are increasingly accepting it as a means to sustainable socio-economic development. For multi-ethnic societies like Pakistan, democracy can mean more: it provides a mechanism to resolve conflicts and create conditions for the socio-economic growth of the people

There is a correlation between social inequality and the scale of violence in human society. The powerful sections patronise gangs and use their influence on police and courts to retain their power and position. Professionals, bureaucrats, and traders look towards stick-wielding generals to put an end to chaos and anarchy: they are ready to exchange their liberty with the security of life and property.

Democracy’s worth for the state is well recognised. The west has utilised this form of government to sustain its prosperity; developing societies are increasingly accepting it as a means to sustainable socio-economic development. For multi-ethnic societies like Pakistan, democracy can mean more: it provides a mechanism to resolve conflicts and create conditions for the socio-economic growth of the people.

It is true that democracy needs an appropriate culture to grow and thrive. The very belief that peace is the most valued commodity for the socio-economic growth of the entire community makes traders, businessmen, industrialists and landlords, and labourers tolerate each other’s views. Had Pakistan not been so unscrupulously divided into ethnic and sectarian lines under the compulsion of topography and climate, and also due to the forceful currents of history and time, assailing democracy would have been treason — not a mark of freedom of expression.

Democracy in a sense is a conflict resolution mechanism, whereby people rely on the institutional mechanism, not gangs and private armies, to carry their affairs forward. When the state enjoys a monopoly over means of violence and allows none to take law and order in their hands, democracy just prevents it from acting blindly.

What if democracy can’t prevent anarchy taking its course in the society? Cynics would suggest a solution, however, what they fail to understand is that the deep state cannot do this, for the very reason that they are trained to deter foreign aggression, not home-grown militancy.

Those who claim to be champions of democracy, but are not concerned with peace and stability, are then grossly mistaken in insisting that democracy is the cure to every disease in the country. Without recognising democracy’s worth as a conflict resolution mechanism to meaningful economic growth, it just becomes a tool to sustain inequalities and social injustice.

Democracy, of course, is not entirely about holding elections, making rosy promises to the poor and delivering sermons about its advantages in the global age. What matters is that democracy should make a difference for the people who stand in long rows to cast their votes on the eve of elections. It is not America or the European Union that needs to be convinced that Pakistan is a democracy, but the people who want nothing but fair taxation systems and a rational distribution of resources.

Of course, a society dominated by feudals would not like to see farmers, labourers, herdsmen, fishermen etc, sitting in the assembly and making laws to their own advantage. Why would privileged people want to rationalise the taxation system and allocate funds to uplift commoners? Why would feudals impose taxes on their own incomes?

There is a correlation between social inequality and the scale of violence in human society. The powerful sections patronise gangs and use their influence on police and courts to retain their power and position. Professionals, bureaucrats, and traders look towards stick-wielding generals to put an end to chaos and anarchy: they are ready to exchange their liberty with the security of life and property

The most puzzling attitude of the so-called democrats is that they object to the army’s role in politics but they do not insist on sending the mullahs back — to engage in education and social work. The political parties which claim to make huge sacrifices for the cause of the people and democracy must be questioned as to how many tickets they have allotted to the unrepresented sections of the society. Of course, to have a genuine democracy in Pakistan, we need to raise genuine questions as well.

Pakistani society is full of contradictions that have been sustained through an authoritarian governance structure, presided over by both the generals and civilians alike. What has the judiciary done? What about the police and the patwaris? The fact of the matter is that the rich and the powerful, including the landed aristocracy, are responsible for the chaos and anarchy in the society. Anarchy hurts everyone, from the top to the bottom equally. We need to learn something from the fate of Afghanistan and the ongoing mayhem in the Middle East.

An independent judiciary is necessary for democracy to work. Anarchy can be checked only when justice is available to the people free of cost. This is not only incumbent upon lawyers and judges, but also the administration. Devolution of power to the grassroots level is a viable means of restoring peace in the society and kicking off the process of sustainable economic development.

As mentioned earlier, democracy does more for society than the judges whose duty it is to interpret laws and pass verdicts. Freedom of expression allows people to let their grievances be known without any fear of repression. Democracy keeps the soul and conscience of the society alive by acting promptly to heal the wounds of the injured souls.

Can democracy change the socio-economic structure of the society? The answer is yes, but over a long period of time. Democracy functions as a conflict resolution mechanism that renders justice to the society. The rule of law and the freedom of expression help to eradicate the causes of violence. Due to this, a few sections of the society have been afraid of it since it was introduced in the subcontinent, and have been engaged in a relentless propaganda against it.

Dictatorship has wounded Pakistan, it is time to give the polity a healing touch. We have welcomed the US pledge to not accept dictators, and we should welcome such a pledge if it comes from India as well. However, the most crucial is the support from within, each individual and every social group needs to stand up for democracy. Remember, it is about justice which should be available to all.

The Islamabad-based columnist reads in signs and narratives

Published in Daily Times, September 11th 2018.