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Pakistan’s Experience With Democracy and its Outcomes

Zafarullah Khan
Email: cce@comsats.net.pk

Paper prepared for the Project on State of Democracy in South Asia as part of the Qualitative Assessment of Democracy

Lokniti (Programme of Comparative Democracy) Centre for the Study of Developing Societies Delhi

“A country does not have to be deemed fit for democracy; rather, it has to become fit through democracy.” — Amartya Sen

An overview
During the past 57 years, Pakistan’s experiences with democracy have been transitory, as brief democratic rules have been followed by prolonged military regimes.As a nation, Pakistanis have time and again refused to delearn the incremental lessons in parliamentary democracy. Due to this fact, the four military regimes that Pakistanis saw finally reverted to controlled and guided democracy in quest for legitimacy. ‘Basic democracy’ of General Ayub Khan and ‘Islamic democracy’ of General Ziaul Haq were the efforts to appease popular sentiments and ‘sustainable democracy’ of General Pervez Musharraf is also not different from the two previous experiments with democracy. All the three military dictators patronized and promoted their own factions of Pakistan Muslim League — the party claimant to be the founder of the country — to block the way of normative political forces. In order to supplement their efforts to monopolize the political sphere, the military rulers as unfair referees framed biased rules for the political game. The outcome was a paralysed parliament run by privileged puppets. So-called intellectual brigades mostly comprising retired generals and former bureaucrats nursed not only militarization of state and society but also pleaded for authoritative presidential system. However, with the exception of Ayub Khan none of the military rulers succeeded in such efforts. Ayub Khan’s so-called presidential system immediately collapsed with his ouster from the political arena. Shockingly, such debates still exist to eclipse the future of parliamentary democracy in Pakistan. The argument derives its logic from the experience of certain East Asian nations that mortgaged their political liberties for economic growth in first place. In this scenario, a qualitative judgement on Pakistan’s democratic experiences can only point to trends and perceptions.

Integrity of a nation state
The lack of continuity in the democratic process meant that most of the interests groups in the country, whether economic or sub-national at one stage or the other, feel that the system is not fully responsive to their interests. It is generally perceived that during the undemocratic regimes, sub-nationalist forces grew in their disenchantment with the state and governance pattern. Conversely, whenever there have been even quasi-democratic governments, these sub-national entities felt to be part of the system and voices of dissent against state have been considerably mild. To that extent, the democratic experience in Pakistan has played some part in assuaging the concerns of the federating units. Interestingly, with the exception of a few hardcore jihadi outfits, all major religiopolitical parties have been stakeholders in the democratic process. Despite their cherished theological dream and desire of caliphate, the religious parties competed and contested all general elections in the country. The story of ethnic and nationalist voices from periphery namely smaller provinces — Balochistan and NWFP — is not different. These forces have fully participated in the democratic institutions to plead for their demands.

Democratic institutions
Juxtaposed to above-mentioned trends, the governance and the democratic institutions have not been sufficiently participatory and democratic in their conduct, and failed to cobble up some institutional mechanism for making decisions democratically. The conflicts between the opposition and ruling party often led to use of state apparatus against the opposition...
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