Saturday, July 02, 2005

Is Pakistan a democracy?

Dear Friends,

In my mind, this is the question of the day. People around the US are celebrating the continuation of America's strong democratic traditions on the July 4th holiday. It is time to ask why America's strongest ally in the war on terror is not an equally strong ally in the battle for democracy.


Daily Times - Site Edition
Saturday, July 02, 2005
VIEW: Is Pakistan a democracy? —Ahmad Faruqui
The “boots on the ground” all wear khaki. The best that can be said about those boots is that they tread softly. Under a post-modern military dictator, Pakistan appears to have perfected the art of enlightened militarismMy friends in America often quarrel with me when I say that Pakistan is not a democracy. Our discussions quickly devolve into one of three arguments. The first one is that Pakistanis don’t want democracy, since they have had uniformly bad experiences of it. The second one is that General Musharraf is an enlightened ruler so why bother looking for anyone else. Finally, I am told that Pakistan is already a democracy. The first argument implies that because Pakistanis have had bad experiences in the past, they have given up on democracy. That is surely not the case. The University of Michigan survey cited in an earlier column showed conclusively that Pakistanis want the right to choose their own rulers and to get rid of them if they don’t like them. Some argue that Islam does not allow for democracy. This is clearly false since Pakistan is governed by a constitution that calls for parliamentary democracy and many other Muslim nations including Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia and Turkey have democratic governments. Still others have argued that poor and illiterate countries cannot be democracies but the presence of democracy in India belies this thesis. All this does not mean that democracy is a panacea. There is no dearth of bad democratic leaders in Pakistan or elsewhere. But if democracy lets in bad leaders through the ballot box, the same mechanism also provides for their removal. The ballot box is a much better means for removing bad rulers than a coup d’etat.The second argument overlooks the fact that a military dictator, regardless of how benevolent and competent he might be, is a ruler with no checks or balances on his or her powers. History has shown that most such rulers ultimately become despots and tyrants and as witnessed in the case of Pakistan, none leave their post voluntarily. Moreover, there is no guarantee that future military rulers will be benevolent or competent. This too has been discussed in prior columns. Thus, in this column, I focus on the third argument, that Pakistan is a democracy. To settle the debate, we need a definition of democracy. Perhaps Abraham Lincoln said it best, when he dedicated the national cemetery at the battlefield of Gettysburg on November 19, 1863 and said that democracy was a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” In the fifth century BC, Greeks coined the word by combining demos (people) and kratia (to rule). To them, democracy simply meant “rule of the people.” The earliest democracies were practised by small city-states such as Athens where each citizen participated in the law-making. Today, a democratic dispensation includes political parties that contest elections and a polity in which individuals are treated equally and enjoy constitutional rights and freedoms as well as duties. Thus, democracy is a form of government in which supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation that usually involves regular elections.It is important to note that elections are a necessary but insufficient condition for a successful democracy. They have often been used by dictatorial regimes to give a false sense of democracy, internally and externally. Authoritarian rulers such as Hosni Mubarak, Ferdinand Marcos and Saddam Hussein have imposed restrictions on who can stand for election, limiting the laws that can be brought before parliament, by using unfair voting practices and falsifying results. When making a transition from dictatorial to democratic rule, it is equally necessary to create a democratic culture in which a “loyal opposition” can exist. All sides in a democracy need to share a common commitment to its basic values. The ground rules of society must encourage tolerance and civility in public debate and the losers must accept the judgment of the voters when the election is over, and transfer power peacefully. The losers are safe in the knowledge that they will not lose their lives or liberty, but can continue to participate in public life. They are loyal not to the specific policies of the government, but to the fundamental legitimacy of the state and to the democratic process itself.Another feature is that parliament has sovereign authority over all government expenditures (including those of the military) and to impose taxes. The judiciary has the power to declare military coups unconstitutional and to uphold the rule of law while settling disputes.Good governance should not be confused with democracy. A benevolent dictator might be selfless and less corrupt than all prior civilian rulers. He may well act in the national interest, pursue sound economic policies that result in rapid economic growth and development, lower the poverty level, encourage freedom of the press, push a liberal social agenda and establish peace with neighbours. But none of these conditions individually or collectively converts a dictatorship into a democracy. Pakistan experienced rapid economic growth during the Ayub and Zia dictatorships but that did not transform either ruler into a democrat, even though both tried to surround themselves with the trappings of democracy. Musharraf is pursuing many sound social, economic and political policies but this does not make him a democrat.The people of Pakistan do not have the ability to understand, let alone challenge General Musharraf’s edicts, such as his decision to place Mukhtar Mai on the Exit Control List. Yes, there is a parliament that makes laws and there is a judiciary that dispenses justice. There is even a civilian prime minister with a cabinet of civilians. But none can prevail against the writ of the Praetorian state.A supra-constitutional executive exists outside of legislative and judicial purview. At the federal and provincial levels, the real power resides with the army chief and his corps commanders.A couple of analogies come to mind. A woman cannot be half pregnant. An individual cannot be half married. And so it is with countries. They can either be democracies or dictatorships. They cannot be both. There is something to be said for the dictatorships that govern China, Myanmar and North Korea. They do not claim to be democracies.Politics has been called the art of the possible. Thus, nuances matter. But they do not change the ground reality of Pakistan’s polity. The “boots on the ground” all wear khaki. The best that can be said about those boots is that they tread softly. Under a post-modern military dictator, Pakistan appears to have perfected the art of enlightened militarism.Dr. Ahmad Faruqui is director of research at the American Institute of International Studies and can be reached at
Home Editorial

Thursday, June 30, 2005


S. Farooq Hasnat, Ph.D.

For more than one and a half years, General Musharraf has been bending backwards to accommodate the Indian leaders. His declared intention is to resolve the main dispute of Kashmir, during his tenure in office. On one occasion he said that the dispute can be resolved in two weeks. To engage the Indian leadership, he took a number of steps, including self inviting himself to Delhi and to let loose control over travel between the peoples of two Kashmirs. Along with that, meetings between the officials of the two countries were initiated to look into Siachen Glacier, Wullar Barrage, Baglihar dam and others disputes.
The critics of Musharraf’s policy of reconciliation towards India argue that although he presented many concessions, one after another, he got little in return. It is further said that in real terms, a tacit understanding with India has been undertaken that the Line of Control (LoC) will be converted into an international border between the two countries. The General refutes these allegations and says that his proposals do not negate the principled stance of Pakistan. As a result of these developments, the tensions between the two countries eased out, but so far no substantial progress has been made, either on “minor” issues or on Kashmir itself. However, the single most significant headway was the two-week long visit of the nine Kashmiri leaders, of which five were from the “moderate” wing of All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), to Azad Kashmir and Pakistan. The snag of the visit was the absence of Syed Ali Geelani, leader of his own faction of the Hurriyat. He declined the Pakistani invitation by saying that he had decided to present his “resentment” of what he called Pakistan government’s “deviation from its stand on Kashmir”. He further said that India has not shifted from its standpoint on Kashmir and he was not sure that what he will bring back from the Pakistan visit. It was felt in Pakistan that Geelani’s decision had dampened the initiative to start a dialogue with the Kashmri leaders in held Kashmir. After all, Syed Ali Geelani was the one who once called himself “a proud Pakistani”. Another key Kashmiri, Shabir Shah wrote, “Kashmiri” in the Indian passport application’s citizenship column, and was refused the passport.
The Hurriyat leaders’ visit to Pakistan changed the whole landscape of the Kashmir dispute, when they clearly made home heir point that any future solution of the Kashmir issue must be initiated by the Kashmiris, themselves. They further said that they would not accept, as has been a practice in the past, that Kashmir be conferred as a territorial dispute between Pakistan and India. Hurriyat’s key spokesman and Held Kashmir’s spiritual leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq even denied the relevancy of the 1948 resolutions, of the United Nations Security Council. These utterances made irrelevant the long drawn position of Pakistan, for which it worked hard for five decades. Mirwaiz, on his return to Srinagar, wrote an article in the Hindustan Times, saying that it will not be acceptable to split Kashmir on the basis of “religion, ethnic or regional divisions”. He further wrote that his group intends to continue a dialogue with Pakistan as well as the Indian leadership, on separate tracks. According to him, “this will give Kashmiris a sense of genuine involvement, a must for any progress towards resolution”. Mirwaiz made it clear that attempts to converge the LoC into a permanent international boundary would be a reprehensible action.
These remarks by the Kashmiri leaders sent ripples across the relevant circles in Azad Kashmir and Pakistan. There is no doubt that one main fallout of the Hurriyat visit is that the initiate has been taken away from Pakistan and the Kashmiris themselves have taken the drivers seat. While addressing thousands of Kashmiris, at the mosque in Srinagar, after his return from landmark 14 days visit to Azad Kashmir and Pakistan, Mirwaiz declared that General Musharraf told him that “any solution acceptable to the people of Kashmir will be acceptable to Pakistan," This is not what the Pakistani military leadership had expected. After all it marginalized Pakistan’s position and the circumstances are moving fast towards the conception of an independent Kashmir. Another aspect to be considered is that whether the gestures by the Indian government are to defuse as well confuse the issue or are serious attempts to sole the dispute, as according to the desires of the Kashmiri people. Representing this view point, a noted Lahore daily, The Nation wrote in its editorial of June 22, that “the whole idea behind the façade of Indian sincerity in resolving disputes one hears so much about, is to achieve normalization with Pakistan, extract the maximum concessions from it in the economic and commercial spheres and stabilize peaceful conditions in the Subcontinent. It seems under the impression that it has found the present government in Islamabad a willing partner.” Many in Pakistan feel that the establishment fell prey to its own maneuvering, where before the visit, little or no homework was done. It is also believed that confused, unclear and foreign formulas were destined to meet this fate.
To a certain extent, the grievances of the Kashmiri leaders are valid. The Kashmir dispute was dealt by both the warring neighbors as purely a territorial dispute. Whenever, and at what ever level the matter was discussed, the role of the Kashmiri people was ignored. It had become purely an issue within the larger range of Pakistan-India bilateral relations. More than 80,000 Kashmiri lives have been lost and countless women raped, since the 1989 home grown revolt against the 700,000-strong Indian forces, but these gross human rights violations remained part of the bilateral dispute. On its own merit, these were never taken seriously by the Pakistani establishment.
Another rash act of the Pakistani military establishment came when in early 1990s, they inducted foreign militant elements in the genuine freedom struggle of the Kashmiris. Once the Soviet left Afghanistan, it was thought appropriate by the establishment to divert the Jahidies to Kashmir. That blemished the legitimate Kashmiri struggle and brought a bad name to the just cause. The international support soon dwindled and even Pakistan’s traditional allies refrained from supporting the Kashmiri cause. At the same moment, as a result of the Jahidi fallout, the Pakistani society suffered tremendously, in the shape of rising militancy and violence. Steve Coll, a scholar of Pakistan policies in Afghanistan and Kashmir writes that the “infrastructure needed to produce Jihadists proved corrosive for Pakistani society, a development not appreciated at that time by those who developed the strategy. As it turned out, a heavy price was paid for the reliance on groups whose members were deeply committed to Islamic fundamentalism. Often under official patronage, these groups began to penetrate Pakistani society.”
The settlement of the Kashmir dispute will always be difficult, as stakes are very high for India, for Pakistan and for the freedom fighters. It has to be accepted that the lingering Kashmir dispute is highly complex as well as emotionally charged, for all the concerned parties. Moreover, the post-9/11 world, where the Americans are enforcing their agenda, makes even a genuine Kashmiri armed struggle for freedom more difficult. It is in this context that an assessment as well as solution for the Kashmir dispute is to be made.
There are certain compulsions that must be mentioned under which Pakistan has to operate. The days of Pakistan supporting the freedom fighters armed struggle, either tacitly or otherwise would not be accepted by the norms of the new International value system. The era of Jihadi groups is over. The manner in which these factions operated – links with the Talibans, Al-Quaida network and the sectarian killings in Pakistan are the reasons, which would make the armed struggle in Kashmir – a less relevant option. Nowhere in the future would the world community accept these groups as a valid means of struggle for the right of self determination. In the past, the Pakistani policy makers mishandled the Kashmir freedom struggle and today the Kashmiris are forced to change their course for freedom, where even the meaning of freedom has to be rewritten.