It’s axiomatic that the United States has kept its gaze focused on the Muslim world, in general, and Pakistan, in particular since the cataclysm of 9/11, for understandable reasons. The spotlight on Pakistan has gained added intensity in the context of American entanglement in next-door Afghanistan.
Opinion surveys and polls is one convenient litmus test for governments to gauge and assess the moods of the peoples concerned in countries of specific interest. The Washington-based Pew Research Institute is a think-tank that has been visiting Pakistan frequently and whose findings are taken with a good degree of credibility by the Pakistanis. Pew recently surveyed six Muslim countries to take the people’s pulse in relation to their views on democracy. Turkey and Pakistan figured prominently among the countries surveyed and the outcome there has jogged political pundits out of their slumber, especially on Pakistan, seen as a problem case by Team Obama.
Interestingly, whereas 71per cent of the Turks favoured democracy as the form of government, only 42 per cent of their Pakistani counterparts thought so. The margin of difference — 16 percentage points — between those Pakistanis disapproving of democracy and those giving it a thumbs-up, understandably prompts the question why an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis look down upon democracy and denigrate it?
Related to this is another equally weighted and relevant question: are Pakistanis allergic to democracy by nature or is it a reaction to what the prevailing so-called democratic dispensation in Pakistan has presented them with?
To say that Pakistan’s experiment with democracy has been like a roller-coaster ride may seem risible at its face value. A country 65-years-old should’ve been done with experimentation a long time ago and decided what form of governance it wants. It’s like saying that a sexagenarian hasn’t yet been able to decide what career he should’ve adopted for himself and has just sleep-walked through his life.
However, it’s a fact, no matter how risible, that Pakistan’s experience with democracy has been horrible. With the early passing away from the scene of its founding fathers, Pakistan’s state-craft became bereft like a rudderless ship at the mercy of choppy and hostile waters. Governance became a play-thing in the hands of demagogues, autocrats and charlatans masquerading as its democratic leaders. The first Constituent Assembly was sent packing within five years. It took the country more than eight years to complete the writing of Pakistan’s first constitution, while next-door India had accomplished the task in less than one-fourth of that time.
The hobbling faith of Pakistanis in democracy as a workable and pragmatic system of governance was dealt a very severe, if not fatal, blow by the first military coup d’etat that benighted and blanketed the country after just 11 years of is sovereign existence.
General Ayub Khan’s martial law not only made short work of the constitution but also shook the people’s faith in a democratic polity down to its roots. Even those among the civilian leaders who presented themselves as alternative to military rulers didn’t offer much to instil confidence in the people about democracy being the panacea to cure the ills inflicted upon the country’s body-politic by military dictators.
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who’d hawked his credentials as a democrat-incarnate proved as much of a demagogue and autocrat as his military precursors, if not worse. He ruled the country under an emergency law that outlasted him; made a hash of the very constitution with whimsical amendments tailored to suit his autocratic ambitions. He was — even to his kowtowing minions — a personification of Machiavelli’s ‘prince’ in the 20th century.
Pakistanis suffered at the hands of ‘democratic’ rulers as much as they did under military dictators, if not more. Is there a sociological explanation for this oddity of behaviour and conduct? Yes. It’s a case of double jeopardy: feudalism and over-exposure to religious fanaticism — a deadly combination.
Feudalism has undeniably deep roots in Pakistan. It’s the feudals who’ve hogged its political landscape from its very inception as a state. Democracy has always been in imminent danger of becoming a hostage in the hands of the feudals; that danger has translated into reality with unfailing regularity in Pakistan. Putting the feudal barons in charge of overseeing democracy is akin to putting a herd of sheep under a wolf. These feudals have also been the backbone of military autocrats and served the Bonapartes with absolute and unquestioning fealty. Combined with the powerful hold of the clergy over the minds and psyche of the people, the feudal hogging of politics puts democracy in peril at its very roots.
The Pew survey also found 82 per cent of Pakistanis in favour of pegging their country’s laws on the Quranic injunctions. Interestingly in Egypt, which has just elected a former Muslim Brotherhood member as its president, only 60 per cent of Egyptians favoured Quran as the source of lawmaking.
Another Pew survey provides the answer to the question why Pakistanis are so disillusioned about democracy providing the panacea for their problems. According to this latest opinion poll, 95 per cent of Pakistanis believe that they are in dire economic and financial straits and blame their corrupt and thieving rulers for this predicament.
Only five years ago, 59 per cent of Pakistanis had an optimistic perception of their economic fortunes and looked up to the future with confidence; today, according to Pew, that figure is just 9 per cent. This is a truly damning denunciation of democracy as the vehicle to progress, as well as a cascading loss of faith in the ability of the current ruling elite, or clique, to deliver the goods to their people.
Alexander Pope, two centuries ago, had his finger on the pulse of the people when he’d intoned: ‘for forms of government, let fools contest; whatever is governed best is best.’
The people of Pakistan have been dealt out a very poor hand on the watch of their current rulers. Instead of addressing themselves to alleviating the suffering of the people who’ve elected them, they’ve been busy in larding their own nests with pelf, besides picking up fights with a judiciary. The recent amendments to the court defamation laws passed by Pakistan’s rubber-stamp parliament is proof of the deadly pudding served to the people.
Pity the people of Pakistan saddled with rogues and scoundrels for rulers.
Karamatullah K Ghori is a former Pakistani diplomat.