“Democracy must be built through open societies that share information. When there is information, there is enlightenment. When there is debate, there are solutions. When there is no sharing of power, no rule of law, no accountability, there is abuse, corruption, subjugation and indignation.” Atifete JahjagaDemocracy is construed as a system that would advance the interests of a people and the state and not allow any expediency to impede the way. In Pakistan, it has degenerated to being used as an umbrella to hide under and escape the lashings of accountability. Imagine the latest bonhomie among the Sharifs and the Bhutto/Zardaris! Not in the too distant past, they were hurling invectives at each other which can’t even be repeated in print. Now, we hear reiterations of undying resolve to work together – not for advancing the cause of democracy or the state, but to save their skin from punishment for their loot and plunder.And watch other members of these mafias lined up like slaves, parroting sickeningly stale lines in defence of their criminal masters. This marks a new degenerative low for Pakistani politics where every crime is justified as a brave new bid in the grandiose cause of saving democracy. People of this country have witnessed democracy being used as a tool for promoting the personal agendas of its perpetrators across divisions and divides. Whoever ascended the throne started with unleashing countless steps to perpetuate their hold on all levers of power so that their rule could continue to eternity! This boiled down to appointments even at the lowest rungs on the basis of loyalty rather than ability or merit and holding the institutions hostage in the throes of executive authority. This is how they were able to garner the allegiance of battalions of personal servants and captive institutions to ensure their victory at election time.Democracy is the offspring of democratic thinking and values. The political parties are the nurseries of such learning. In Pakistan, these parties are run not as democratic institutions, but as family oligarchies. No outsider can even dream of ascending to the top. They begin and must continue to remain just menial bootleggers responding to every crappy call of their mastersIn this country, we are constantly talking about democracy, but never talk about what kind of ‘democracy’ it is that we desire to have. The democracy that we have created is not rooted in any deep-set faith, be that at the personal or the institutional level. Can one imagine that the leaders, who have ruled the country not once but many times, would degenerate to using democracy in the manner they do – to keep themselves beyond the domain of law? And, while the ordinary people of the country may rot in confinement, these leaders, even when they are accused of mammoth corruption, plunder and pillage, should continue to reside in the comfort of their palatial abodes? Democracy is the offspring of democratic thinking and values. The political parties are the nurseries of such learning. In Pakistan, these parties are run not as democratic institutions, but as family oligarchies. No outsider can even dream of ascending to the top. They begin and must continue to remain just menial bootleggers responding to every crappy call of their masters.This is also contrary to what is contained in the Political Parties Order (PPO). Under the head of “Elections within the Political Parties”, it is stated at Number 1 that “the party leader and other office-bearers at the federal, provincial and local levels shall be elected through secret ballot based on a democratic and transparent system”. It is further stated in the PPO that “every member of the political party shall be provided with an equal opportunity of contesting election for any party office, including that of the party leader” and “all members of the political party at the federal, provincial and local level shall constitute the electoral college for election of the party general council at the respective levels”.Now, is there even one political party that holds proper and transparent intra-party elections on a regular basis as per the provisions of the PPO? The answer is in the negative. It is a fake process which is conducted on paper only for the sake of completing a formality for submitting to the Election Commission (EC). The key question that arises is why the EC has remained silent on this, and why are the political parties that don’t subscribe to the provisions of the PPO allowed to participate in the national elections? It is so because these institutions have been criminally integrated into an excessively corrupt and dysfunctional system and, therefore, they have to abide by the dictatorial directives from the top rather than going by the laws as enunciated in the statute books. The moral premise of these leaders who have the audacity to keep talking about democracy is also highly dubious. What right are they left with to do so after plunging so low in conducting the affairs of their respective political parties? And what lessons are they passing on to the future generations regarding their role in promoting an equitable democratic dispensation?When the very foundations have been criminalised and rendered exclusively self-interest-driven, what space is left for democracy to flourish in a country? If ever democracy is to be nurtured as a credible system of governance, it must begin at the base – in the conduct of the political parties and their leaders, and it must always be along the most quintessential and inclusive democratic lines.It is absolutely essential that the leaders who have wrongfully assumed the charge of running political parties should espouse a democratic thinking and transit to introducing a democratic culture at the grassroots levels. Unless that be so, political parties cannot be transformed into democratic structures, hence there can be no democracy in the country. Let’s stop deceiving ourselves and the world that we are the followers of a democratic dispensation. We are not. We only have a system promoting corrupt family oligarchies which are wedded to protecting and perpetuating myopic and hideous personal agendas which is always at the cost of the state and the people.This sham must end. Pakistan is no democracy. It is a regressive and degenerate dictatorship managed by a bunch of crooked manipulators who hold the state and its institutions captive in the stranglehold of their selfish and macabre motives.The ultimate responsibility for choosing their leaders rests with the electorate. That cannot be denied. As Montesquieu once said, “the tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not as dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy”.The people, the ordinary people of the country, must have their right to choose their leaders, both within their respective political parties and the country, in a transparent and accountable manner. The system can no longer be left at the discretion of corrupt individuals. Properly empowered institutions must take over and start exercising their writ in strict conformity with the word in the statute books as interpreted for the benefit of the state. Safeguarding the interests of an individual, or a group of individuals, no matter how powerful, should not be the basis of judgments and interpretations. That must end. The state is supreme, and the individual but an instrument.Let’s have the basics right. It is only then that the state shall move forward. Otherwise, let’s stop talking about democracy and accept what we actually have: a petty, brutal and oligarchic dictatorship meant to benefit the crooks, the corrupt and the criminals.Let’s be honest, at the least!The writer is a political and security strategist, and heads the Regional Peace Institute – an Islamabad-based think-tankPublished in Daily Times, January 20th 2019.