DailyTimes | More, not less, democracy

More, not less, democracy

The masses, on average, are conceptually obscure on the origination, evolution, meaning and utility of democracy in the post-colonial states from Africa to Asia. There are multiple factors and forces at play behind such ambiguity. The authoritarian state structure, for instance, in the post-colonial state of Pakistan, dominated popular aspirations for freedom, justice and democracy and on the other hand, the collusion between state and clergy compounded the puzzle by presenting a singular nationalistic and ideological narrative through structured curriculum and controlled media.

Consequently, concepts of constitutional rule, equity, justice and democracy were branded as “corrupt” ideas of the Christian and colonialist west. In addition, the pan-Islamist (post-) colonial movements and their ideologues vowed to return to the “pure” and thus, decreed democracy, among others, to be un-Islamic. Unsurprisingly, the pro-religion political parties in Malaysia, Indonesia, Egypt and, of course, Pakistan view democracy as un-Islamic and the electoral exercise, as a lesser evil, which they have accepted as means to gain power to establish Islamic state in its purest form and frame.

Interestingly, the religious political parties such as JUI-F remained unable to outdo its rival parties, i.e. Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), at the national level throughout the country’s electoral history. Since such parties and forces found it hard to gain state power, they supported coups and martial laws. The military dictators, always in need of political and electoral legitimacy, embraced these elements who, in ideological unity with the regime runners, presented democracy in derogatory terms. Moreover, the dictator-cleric nexus demoted mainstream politicians and political parties for being corrupt and incompetent.

PML-N won the 2013 general election massively and formed government in the centre. However, the PML-N’s arch rival, Imran Khan and his party refused to accept the electoral results because PTI failed to win enough seats to form government on its own. It instead alleged the elections to have been rigged by Nawaz Sharif and his party. In order to pressure the Prime Minister to leave office, Khan staged a long sit-in in Islamabad in 2014. He along with a cleric, who heads a small pro-religion political party (PAT), urged the then army top brass to topple the government.

Since religious parties and forces found it hard to gain state power, they supported coups and martial laws

The vast majority of the pseudo TV-based political analysts, whose majority is pro-PTI and anti-democracy, made false arguments to discredit democracy and the civil government. The anti-democracy televangelists and the their social media cohorts, in summary, argued: 1) democracy is not the solution to problems Pakistan is mired in, 2) our democratic system is controlled by the corrupt, incompetent and cruel politicians such as Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari, 3) democracy is a western concept and thus unsuitable to Pakistani culture, 4) democracy is against the spirit of Islam, 5) Pakistan comes first and the constitution and democracy come later and 6) there is no harm in removing the government through unconstitutional means since corrupt and cruel politicians have ruined the country and make it vulnerable to (external) threats.

Since the majority of our populace prefers TV to newspapers and books, such attacks on constitutional rule, fundamental human rights and democracy do influence them, and indeed our youth seems to have accepted this otherwise unconstitutional and illogical rhetoric.

Pakistan came into being as a result of a democratic struggle pioneered by constitutionalist Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Indeed, the 1945-46 elections and subsequent referenda in various places mark the democratic and constitutional foundations of Pakistan. The 1956 and 1973 constitutions strengthened parliamentary form of government. It was the Ayub, Yahya and Zia dictatorship, the 1990s subjugation of democracy by the non-elective institutions and ultimately the Musharraf martial laws (1999 and 2007) that further de-shaped democracy in the country. Secondly, corruption is a relative term and to prove someone to be financially corrupt, one has to empirically prove so in a constitutionally constituted court of law, where law is applied fairly and squarely.

Thirdly, what we call Pakistan becomes Pakistan through the 1973 constitution. In the constitution, no person, group or any entity has the right to abrogate or suspend the constitution and remove/topple the government. Indeed, such an act amounts to “high treason” and this is why the “doctrine of necessity” was coined by the Dogar courts and the illegal and unconstitutional acts of martial law regimes were provided with “indemnity” by the controlled parliaments and compromised political parties, i.e. PML-Q and MMA.

An arbitrary rule of any kind is exploitation of human rights. It is also immoral to rule over a person or a nation without their willingness. Finally, democracy has been arbitrarily projected as un-Islamic by various Muslim monarchs, colonial-era Muslim liberationists and modern-day mullah, military and bureaucratic mindset.

But in fact the Qur’an says, “Their affairs [political order] are based on their mutual consultation” (42:38) and “there is no compulsion in faith” (2:256). Thus, in Islam, it is a big sin (gunah-e-kabira) to violate the will of the people, which is summarised in our constitution, by either toppling a government through unconstitutional means or imposing a system on them without their genuinely ensured consent.

Lastly, to survive as a viable state and society, the panacea for all post-colonial authoritarian states lies in more, not less, democracy – and Pakistan needs it in large quantity now than ever.


The writer is Head, Department of Social Sciences, Iqra University, Islamabad. He is a DAAD, FDDI and Fulbright Fellow. He tweets @ejazbhatty



Published in Daily Times, July 1st , 2017.