Why has Democracy failed in Pakistan

by Apr 6, 2022Blogs0 comments

Imran Khan is yet another prime minister (PM) of Pakistan who will not complete his five year term. Only Allah, Army, America (Sanjaya Baru tweet) know what shall happen next. This time the Supreme Court has a role.

The moot point is, why has democracy failed to take root in Pakistan.

A former diplomat who was once posted in Pakistan summed it well, “Pakistan sought “Unity in Uniformity” whilst “India respected Unity in Diversity.”

Since the answer is complex so let us start with reasons for birth of Pakistan.

Former foreign secretary J N Dixit wrote in Anatomy of a Flawed Inheritance, “The partition of the sub-continent, in a manner, has its roots in Islamic ethos. It goes back to the Prophet’s journey from Mecca to Madina in 622 A.D. in the face of persecution and harassment, known as Hezira. The concept of Hezira is generally acknowledged as a norm, to the effect that Muslims do not live in tyranny or oppression from peoples of other faiths. They must remake their lives in order to practice their faith. Where Islam is not dominant, it is Dar-ul-Harb. It is necessary to move to Dar-ul-Islam.”

Ambedkar said in 1940, that the Muslim leadership of India desired a separate geo-political existence because social stagnation, communal aggression and ethno-religious frustration of the Muslim masses.”

Thus the reason for the birth of Pakistan, was dislike for the Indic civilization and frustration of the masses, not love for the new nation. Just like if you love yourself it reflects in your behaviour and thinking so also if you love your nation your actions are not driven by ego and self-centeredness, you are willing to accept change and make sacrifices. Just like if a man loves his wife, he will change for her sake.

After getting Pakistan Jinnah was unhappy about not getting the whole of Bengal and Punjab. He complained of getting a “moth eaten and truncated Pakistan.” It is not known if Jinnah had read Ambedkar’s 1941 book, who justified partition because the Pakistan area contributed little to the exchequer but was the main recruiting area for the then Indian Army. The main revenue contribution came from Hindustan. However, the Pakistan provinces received a great deal courtesy revenues of Hindustan.

British policy contributed to the Army playing a dominant role in pre-partition Punjab?

The seeds for a dominant role were sown by the British. But why did the British have so many Muslims (mainly from the Northwest) in the Army?

Ambedkar gave an answer in his 1941 book. He quoted Mr. Chaudhari’s study (see his articles on ‘The martial Races of India’ published in the modern Review of July-September 1930, Jan-Feb 1931) to show that the predominance of the men of the Northwest took place as early as the Mutiny of 1857 some 20 years before the theory of martial and non-martial classes were projected in a distinct form in 1879.

Those from the Northwest helped the British suppress the 1857 Mutiny in which the Bengal Army was involved. The Bengal army was replaced by a Punjabized army. No wonder the British changed the composition of the Indian Army between 1914 and 1930.

The British believed that a Muslim dominated army would counter the forces of Hindu agitation for wrestling political power from the British. Also Punjab became a buffer state between British India and Afghanistan and a base for British operations in Afghanistan so need for a Punjabised army.

What this did was to give the Army a pre-dominant place in Pakistan area whose impact is seen even today. It was financially lucrative too. Those recruited got a cash wage, award of land and pension.

Two side effects. One, this increased importance of army led to the masculization of the economy according to Veena Talwar, author of Dowry Murder: British Origins of a Cultural Crime. Two, the colonization of West Punjab in the 19th century increased canal irrigated lands in Punjab almost fivefold from 3 to 14 million acres and created a feudal system that exists even today. Feudal simply means Zamindari system.

Now what were reasons for Pakistan’s frustration post-independence?

During period 1946 to 1950 Pakistan expectations in Hyderabad, Jammu and Kashmir, Junagarh were unfulfilled. Also, they saw India taking shape due to Sardar Patel’s success in integrating the princely states.

India adopted its Constitution in 1950 and India’s general elections were held in 1951. Conversely, Pakistan’s constitution came into being six years later, in March 1956. This resulted in political instability.

Pakistan’s first Governor General was Jinnah, India’s was Mountbatten. Jinnah’s death in September 1948 plunged Pakistan into uncertainty. Mohajir Liaqat Ali did not have Jinnah’s stature to deal with local satraps. Conversely, Mountbatten remained in office till June 1948. The towering C Rajagopalachari took over from Mountbatten and held office till 26/1/1950. This provided stability initially, so important.

Post India becoming a Republic in 1950 Dr Rajendra Prasad became its first President. Conversely, Major General Iskander Mirza became the first elected President of Pakistan, six years later, in 1956.

Nehru’s was India’s Prime Minister from 1947 to his death in 1964. Pakistan’s first PM Liaqat Ali Khan was assassinated in 1951. Khawaja Nazimuddin became PM in 1951 and Muhammad Ali Bogra in 1953.

Whilst India succeeded in completing process of territorial integration, making of a constitution and consolidation of democracy Pakistan floundered. Its failure to wrest Kashmir added to the frustration.

Successive Pakistan attempt to disrupt India’s democracy failed. Further, the formation of Bangladesh destroyed the myth that religion unites.

Zulfikar Bhutto’s mother was a Hindu convert. She and her son were never allowed to forget their infidel origins and lesser social background. This was a cause of personal frustration.

Here are some reasons why democracy in Pakistan floundered

1. The Muslim League was never a party with roots amongst the people of Pakistan so had little connect with ordinary people and did not have bench strength of leaders like the Indian National Congress. So Jinnah’s death in 1948 and Liaqat Ali’s in 1951 created a leadership deficit.

It was left to the armed forces to deal with internal security and rehabilitation of immigrants. This made the army important. However, creation of a parallel power centre weakened democracy and Parliament.

2. The reason for Muslim League’s existence (founded 1906) was getting Pakistan. After getting it what? Conversely, the Congress (founded 1885) fought for India’s independence and was part of the governments during British rule. So it had experience of governance.

3. Dixit wrote, “Had democratic institutions evolved in the natural course in Pakistan its policies would have been tempered by the collective aspirations of the masses i.e. peace and development. This would have inhibited its involvement in western strategic alliances and controlled the military orientation of its worldview. Pakistan and the U.S. signed the first of their defence cooperation and supplies agreements in 1954. Thus, Pakistan was first taken over by bureaucrats, then by military dictatorships and ultimately by political parties with elitists’ leaders who depended on the military establishment between 1952 and 1977.

4. MD Fazil wrote in Diplomat.com, “The deterioration of the civil services is also a reason behind military involvement in Pakistani politics, since people believe that the armed forces are professional and act based on state priorities.”

Since elected governments failed to provide good governance and be people oriented, the men in khakhi were thought of as an option. The belief that only they could clean the country up is a myth! But we live on hope.

5. Rita Skeeter wrote in Express Tribune, “Exaggerated military threat-Border troubles from India and Afghanistan have merited huge defense budgets for the army and established it as the most preponderant state institution. Party-politics are bound to take a back-seat when national security is a burning issue.” People of Pakistan failed to note that India’s enemy number one was and is China with Pakistan being a Chinese pawn to keep India tied down to the Sub-continent.

Pakistan has horizontal width of only 427.52 kms so is obsessed with having strategic depth in Afghanistan in case of an Indian attack or domination of air space. This, Kashmir and adverse relations with India gave Army a dominant role in Pakistan. Basically the army has gained from people’s insecurity on national security.

6. A perception was created that Pakistan’s existence and identity (Islamic) could be protected only by the Army. The West supported the Army to meet its geo-political objectives.

7. It again boils down to hatred being the reason for Pakistan’s creation. Crisis of identity meant that Pakistan’s national language is Urdu because it is the language of the sub-continent Muslims although it is hardly spoken in Pakistan.

8. While India struggled during and after post Nehru it remained a democracy at all times.

Conversely, Pakistan was under martial law in 1958, 1969 and 1977, no PM completed a five year term, PM’s Liaquat Ali and Benazir Bhutto were assassinated and Bhutto hanged. Four Generals assumed power Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia-ul-Haq and Musharraf. How could democracy take root?

9. Whenever the elected government floundered the Army intervened. Gen Ayub Khan’s first coup in 1958 set the tone. Governments in India too have floundered but Army takeover is unthinkable. This has to do with political and social culture.

10. Retired Lt Gen respected Talat Masood wrote in Express Tribune, that when military rulers (Generals Zia and Musharraf) sought legitimacy from foreign powers national interested were bartered for personal gains. Institutionalised decision-making at the national level could have improved things for Pakistan for which it needed a democratic structure that it lacks.

11. Mr Masood also wrote that for democracy to be successful, “political leaders have to adhere to the essentials that the process demands: the strengthening of parliament and parliamentary committees and taking legislation seriously. Democratic culture has to be acquired that requires the ability to listen to views with which one may not necessarily agree. Our volatile politics have to be stabilised and the culture of hate and populism should be discouraged.”

He added how could Pakistan’s democracy or economy improve where there is such a high percentage of uneducated people? The reality is few Islamic Republics, in today’s world, give importance to education and are democratic.

12. Pakistan is obsessed with religion and Islamic identity. Thus, economy, development and democratic institutions took a back-seat. Islamization is seen as a unifier. The creation of Bangladesh proved it is not. To realize this one must have an open mind and not be driven by assumed superiority. The root cause lies elsewhere.

Islam wishes uniformity through control over religious teachings to ensure conformity of practice to achieve God. In this approach diversity is a casualty. Conversely, due to their inherent nature, Indic Faiths believe there are multiple paths to the Divine.

13. For decades politics was dominated by the families of Bhutto and Sharifs.

14. For a country to survive and prosper its people must have role models to look up to. So do Pakistanis look at up to their founder Jinnah. Using contemporary templates questions asked could be, Was he a conservative Muslim? Did he want Pakistan for Muslims only? Did he consider Ahmadiyyas to be non-Muslims? Would he have made export of terrorism an instrument of state policy? His grandfather, Poonja Gokuldas Meghji, was a Hindu so why did they convert? Similarly, the grandfather of Allama Muhammad Iqbal, who inspired the Pakistan Movement was Kanhaya Lal Sapru, a Hindu.

Has this been written about extensively or are people afraid to explore answers to uncomfortable questions. It is only when people openly debate will there a new way of looking at things, perhaps a contemporary way.

8 Sanskrit words found in Indonesian language-Bhasha.

15. A country’s achievements in development, science, sports etc unites and creates a common sense of purpose. But Pakistan’s, elected government or army, are devoted to the Ummah more than betterment of its people.

16. Pakistan has inherited feudal system (Zamindari) from “British India”. Feudal land lords have a major role in forming policies and they would never like to formulate those policies which are against their interest or are beneficial for the people.

Shreya Kashyap wrote in CLAWS, “Hamza Alavi (1972) believes that a nexus of power exists in Pakistan between the landlords, the military, the bureaucracy and what he calls “the Metropolitan capital”, which based on Pakistan’s colonial legacy and evolution has results in an “overdeveloped” postcolonial state presiding over and underdeveloped society.

If you love your country, you will fight status-quoists and try to change the present. How long can we blame the British, be it in India or Pakistan?

17. Secularism in India has meant that the importance of Indic Civilization as the reason for India being democratic is rarely spoken. V.I. Sreenivas wrote in the Bhavan’s Journal (31/3/2021 issue), “Although democracy has gained ascendency in modern times, the principles of rule of law (an important part of democracy) was extolled by our sages since antiquity. Dharma shastras made it clear that the king exists for the welfare of the people and not the other way around. In other words, the ruler was not sovereign but the law was.”

Surely there would be different viewpoints on why democracy failed in Pakistan. This is not the last word on the subject. Having said that, the people of Pakistan and its elected/un-elected representatives need to ask themselves tough questions.

I am grateful to my father for moving from Lahore or I would have to change my name, like Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien’s cousins did, to say, an Abdul Hameed Nayyar. Nevertheless, pray that peace and stability return to Pakistan because it is where my mother’s family hail from.

(Courtesy – eSamskriti.com)

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