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 DEMOCRACY IN PAKISTAN

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PostSubject: DEMOCRACY IN PAKISTAN   Tue Nov 27, 2007 1:06 pm

First Pakistani Newspaper on the Internet since 1994
Tuesday, November 27, 2007



Is Pakistan Ready for Democracy?
By Dervaish Lashkari, MD
US


Despite all of the assertions to the contrary of late, as a frequent visitor to Pakistan, my sense is that by and large the minuscule bourgeoisie of Pakistan are relatively happy with what's been achieved under Musharraf's rule, and not nearly as unhappy with the recently imposed emergency as the media would have us believe. And across the spectrum of economic achievement one does not see anything of the sort of disillusionment today that one saw towards the fag ends of Zulfiqar Bhutto's, Zia's, Nawaz's and Benazir's terms.
Could it then be that Musharraf is the least of all the evils that Pakistanis have to pick from at present? Consider the options: Benazir? A corrupt to the core, self-serving, undemocratic (Chairperson for life of PPP!) tyrant, who runs a 'peoples' party staffed almost exclusively by feudal lords. Nawaz? An unintelligent Islamist buffoon, who had brought the country to its economic knees both times he was Prime Minister. Imran? A born-again, reactionary hypocritical fundo who's ideal government would mimic a Pathan jirga. The Mullahs? The entire class is now in the hands of the Pushto-speaking tribal types who, funded by Saudi Petro-dollars, want to suicide-bomb the country back to the Stone Age. MQM? The less said the better. The Chief Justice? A third rate opportunist who has taken every short-cut available to him to rise up the ranks and who saw it fit to re-instate the Peshimam of Lal Masjid just to settle scores.
Pakistan's crisis stems from such monstrosities as the feudal/tribal system, illiteracy, Saudi-funded religious fanaticism, the quota system and the very small size of the middle class. The politicians have steadfastly refused to tackle these matters. I do rather believe that it would eventually take a benevolent dictatorship to stem the tide of this madness. A strongman to bring about the type of land reforms that India so successfully implemented in the 1950s, to bring agricultural income under the tax umbrella and empower the poor, to enforce family planning ala the communist Chinese model (could a democratic government have instituted the one child per family law in China which has effectively halted China's population explosion?), to do away with the hideous quota system, to ban the teaching of religion in schools, etc. Many etceteras here.
Contrary to the assertions one usually witnesses on many fora, democracy cannot be made to materialize out of thin air. It just cannot exist without a large taxpayer base that only exists when capitalism is flourishing. By and large Musharraf's rule has seen the country inch in that general direction, arguably much more so than during the times of any of his predecessors. Are there lessons to be learnt then, say from the autocracies in Chile and China, where dictatorial rule of the benevolent kind has resulted in tangible benefits that now have both countries stand on the threshold of achieving durable democracy?
Once the customary beating of breasts over emergency rule is done and over with, it might be in Pakistan's interest for us to reassess the gains made during Musharraf's relatively benevolent dictatorship in terms of such social parameters as per capita income, outlay for education, press freedom, etc. Or more specifically, given that economically challenged nations seem to not have a snowball's chance in hell of achieving meaningful democracy (consider today's Bangladesh), is it really in Pakistan's interest, at this stage, to weed Musharraf out?
Would it be in our interest to focus our attention on the eradication of the feudal system, the influence of religion on government, run away population explosion, petro-dollar funded religious vigilantism and general social chaos before we go baying for Musharraf's blood? Or would we be serving the nation somewhat better by collaborating with its existing government, warts and all, to achieve social change? My vote is for the latter.
The fact that every attempt at democracy in Pakistan has failed miserably can be explained through observation of what happens in the larger world. And poverty stands out as the main culprit. There are two distinct reasons for there to be a relationship between per capita income and the durability of a democracy. One is that countries with higher incomes are more likely to become democratic. And the second reason is that if democracy emerges for whatever reason in a wealthy country, it is more likely to survive than if it appears in a poor country. Which is also to say that if by chance democracies do occasionally spring up in poor countries, they are extremely fragile, while in wealthy countries they are impregnable.
Hence, poor people are much more likely to be ruled by dictators. And Pakistan is still a very poor nation.
In fact there appears to be a 'magical' economic threshold for the existence of a durable democracy. Seminal work on this subject, done by Fernando Limongi and Adam Przeworski, places this threshold at approximately $6000 per capita in today's figures. And with India's exception, no country has managed to escape this seemingly insurmountable reality. So whence the optimism for democracy in Pakistan? Blissful ignorance, foolhardiness, or both?
A relevant question here is whether democracies emerge as a consequence of economic development only. Or is there more to the dynamic of political regimes? In this regard we cannot ignore factors such as religion, colonial legacy, position in the world system/globalization, income distribution, or diffusion all factors that have been found to significantly influence the incidence of democracy.
It would then appear that Pakistan's democratization prospects are further doomed by its feudal/tribal system and its "official" religion, neither of which allow for the basic human rights that are so absolutely necessary for democracy. There should be no doubt in any one's mind that non-secular countries are incapable of achieving modernity. In fact, the very basis of the European renaissance that led to the flowering of human intellectualism and attainment over the last 200 years, and then led to the democratization of wealthier communities was on the back of the concept of separating religion from state. Unfortunately, Muslims in general -- Pakistan's bigots included -- have completely failed to learn the benefits of this wonderful notion. Could it then be that Pakistan's protestors are barking up the wrong tree? Besides, for all you know, the so-called lawyers protesting on the streets may simply be Nawaz Sharif's hoodlums wearing balck jackets obtained from the lunda market, where it turns there are none left to be bought.
Yet the future is not completely bleak for democracy in Pakistan. Whereas it appears that dictatorships are needed to generate development, they self-destruct as a result of their own success. According to the dominant intellectual canon of our time, democracy would naturally emerge after a society has undergone the necessary economic and social transformations. This is the basic tenet of the modernization theory: societies undergo a universal process of development, of which democratization is but the final facet. Industrialization leads to urbanization, differentiation of the social structure, education, emergence of the middle class, attenuation of class cleavages, and eventually political participation. As a country develops, social structure becomes complex, new groups emerge and organize, labor processes begin to require an active cooperation of employees, and, as a result, society can no longer be run effectively by authoritarianism alone.
I daresay, in this regard, that Chilean General Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship is the paradigm of successful economic reforms.
It is also worth mentioning here that democracy in many instances is not quite the panacea it is made out to be. Hitler after all was democratically elected. As was Bush, who over the last seven years has presided over the stripping away of our civil liberties like no one else in US history, through, as it turns out, the enactment of -- you guessed it -- emergency laws. And yet he deems it appropriate to lecture Musharraf on the restoration of democracy. But that's a lament for another day.
(The author, originally from Karachi, is currently in academic medicine in Philadelphia, PA. He can be reached at dervaishbaba@hotmail.com)


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PostSubject: RE:DEMOCRACY INPAKISTAN   Fri Nov 30, 2007 2:27 pm

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Where liberals love a dictator


Pakistan's experience of democracy as a kind of elective feudalism is a reminder that the ballot box by itself is no panacea

William Dalrymple
Tuesday May 17, 2005
The Guardian


If it has achieved little else, George Bush's "war on terror" has at least succeeded in mating some unlikely bedfellows. Who, a few years ago, could imagine the strange coupling of the Labour party and the neocons? Or the love-in between the House of Bush and the House of Saud?
An equally bizarre alliance is now to be found in Pakistan. The liberal elite, somewhat to its astonishment, has suddenly found a new affection for the military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf. Travel through the country today, talk to the journalists and opinion-makers, and you will find surprisingly little enthusiasm for the resumption of full democracy, which - under US pressure - looks likely to take place in 2007.


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It is not that Pakistan's liberals approve of military dictatorships. These were the people who took to the streets to resist General Zia ul-Haq. But the democratic politics of Pakistan throughout the 1990s proved so violent, so corrupt and so socially and economically disastrous that Musharraf's rule is now widely regarded as the least awful option. Pakistan provides a depressing, but highly significant, example of just how flawed a democracy can be in a developing country - and a useful reality check at a time when Bush and Tony Blair seem to have persuaded themselves that democracy is a magic wand that can provide an instant solution to all the ills of the Islamic world.
Certainly, few middle-class Pakistanis have much relish for the return of Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif, the leaders who took Pakistan to the brink of collapse in the 90s. There are good reasons for this. Ten years ago, at the height of Bhutto's rule, the corruption monitoring organisation Transparency International named Pakistan as the second most corrupt country in the world. At the same time, Amnesty International accused the government of massive human rights abuse, with one of the world's worst records of custodial deaths, extrajudicial killings and torture. Moreover, Bhutto and her husband were charged with plundering the country to buy European estates and townhouses.

It was difficult to imagine Bhutto's successor, Nawaz Sharif, making a bigger hash of things, but he quickly succeeded, harassing his political opponents, dismissing judges and threatening journalists. The Friday Times editor, Najam Sethi, was abducted from his home on Sharif's orders; the police denied all knowledge of his arrest until a series of demonstrations eventually forced them to release him. Such was the harassment suffered by the leading newspaper, Jang, that it was able to produce editions only one page long. Sharif and his brother bussed in hundreds of thugs to ransack the supreme court. Soon afterwards the chief justice was forced to resign under a barrage of threats.

Sharif also moved Pakistan closer to Islamist policies, entrenching sharia in the legal system. Meanwhile, Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency presided over the growth of jihadi groups, believing them to be the most cost-effective way of tying down the Indian army in Kashmir and exerting Pakistani influence in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the economy teetered towards collapse.

Behind this succession of crises lay the bigger problem of a fundamentally flawed political system where land-owning remains the only social base from which politicians can emerge. The educated middle class - which in India seized control in 1947 - is in Pakistan still largely excluded from the political process. As a result, in many of the more backward parts of Pakistan the local feudal zamindar can expect his people to vote for his chosen candidate. Politicians tend to come to power more through deals done within Pakistan's small feudal-army elite than through the will of the people.

In contrast, Musharraf's record in bringing the country back from the brink has been impressive. Under the urbane eye of Shaukat Aziz, formerly the vice-president of Citibank and now Musharraf's prime minister, Pakistan is enjoying a construction and consumer boom, with growth approaching 7% - although some of this has been generated by the mass repatriation of Pakistani drug fortunes after the tightening of money-laundering regulations in the US and the Gulf. Sectarian violence is down, the jihadis have been restrained and the ISI, which encouraged them, has been partially reformed. Press criticism has been tolerated and the airwaves freed up.

It has certainly not been an unblemished record. Musharraf has made many unwise compromises with the Muslim ulema, and in two provinces has entered into an alliance with the hardline Islamist MMM. Musharraf has failed even to attempt sorting out the country's disastrously inadequate education and health system; instead the army is spending money on a fleet of American F-16s. The Pakistani human rights record remains abysmal. But few can really dispute that Musharraf's rule has brought Pakistan better economic governance and a greater degree of stability and press freedom than it has enjoyed for many years.

The wider lesson to be drawn from this is that while US support for democracy is preferable to its previous policy of bolstering client autocracies, electoral democracy is not on its own an automatic panacea. As Pakistan shows, rigged, corrupt, unrepresentative and flawed democracies without the strong independent institutions of a civil society - a free press, an independent judiciary, an empowered election commission - can foster governments that are every bit as tyrannical as any dictatorship. Justice and democracy are not necessarily synonymous.

In Pakistan, democracy has meant a kind of elective feudalism. In Lebanon, the eccentric electoral system, rigged in the Maronites' favour, has made it impossible for the majority Shia community to achieve power. In Iraq, the electoral system fails to reflect the popular mandate, and the means by which it was imposed - down the barrel of an American gun - has led many of the Sunni community to disfranchise themselves.

It is a similar situation in Afghanistan, where the elected government of President Hamid Karzai has as bad a record of torture and custodial deaths as any of its predecessors (although much of the worst torture is taking place in US bases, outside Afghan sovereignty). As Dr Sima Samar, the leading human rights activist in Afghanistan, put it in the New York Review of Books, "democracy and freedom are simply meaningless without justice and the rule of law".

William Dalrymple is the author of White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in 18th-Century India

www.williamdalrymple.com





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