The Pakistani experience of democracy has been a troubled one at best: twice the country’s constitution has been abrogated (1958 and 1969) and thrice suspended (1977, 1999 and 2007). No prime minister has yet completed his or her tenure â€œ in fact, more of them have been assassinated than voted out of office. Parliament in Pakistan has seldom, if ever, been its own master, and for most of us the thought ofÂ ‘democratic’ rule conjures up bad memories of shameless corruption and crippling inefficiency. No wonder so many are now disenchanted with the whole idea.
So obviously, something somewhere has not been working quite right. Having a democratic system (though exceedingly important) has proved to be insufficient on its own, for it does not guarantee the preservation and growth of the democratic order. What’s missing is a political culture with strong democratic institutions that are able to withstand military onslaughts, guaranteed freedom of speech, assembly and belief, and respect for the law’s principles that lie at the very heart of the democratic dream.
Of course, the whole point of this in the first place is to make the system work for the people. That’s why land reform is so important, as is transparency and accountability. It’s the only way the common man or woman will have a stake in the continuation of the democratic process and will actually care to exercise his or her right.
But such an order can only exist when society and political forces alike form a consensus against authoritarianism â€œ of both the religious and the military kind. Irrespective of the number of parties vying for power and regardless of their political leanings, they must all agree that democracy is the only acceptable option. And this is an idea not alien to Pakistan: a country that was not only founded on the principles of democracy but where no dictator, whether in the name of religion or “national interest”, has been able to sit in power comfortably for too long.
The recent NFC award and the passing of the 18th Amendment to restore the powers of parliament and to grant greater autonomy to the provinces are encouraging steps in the right direction. However, we must remember that we have “miles to go before we sleep”, for nowhere is democracy born perfect; it is by definition a process that continually evolves, at once standing firm to the principle of collective decision-making while constantly adapting to the needs of its electorate.