Pakistan Opinion Blog

Allowing Democracy to Fight Intolerance, Bigotry and Extremism

Entries may be a little edited for clarity or brevity. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of PakPositive.

By Saad Hafiz

We know that Pakistanis can be hard on themselves as no other nation. But why? After all, Pakistan is no different than most Muslim and developing nations where inequalities are embedded in the system, no democracy or flawed democracy is the system of governance, and ruling oligarchies control the levers of power with little or no space for the masses.

While there are similarities to the situation in Egypt and Tunisia, Pakistan is not on the brink of revolution as the country’s democrats are not as powerless and its autocrats not as repressive compared to the Middle East.

Despite its obvious shortcomings, Pakistan is an independent and sovereign state and economic dependency on the West is not unique to Pakistan as most developing nations live within this dependency syndrome. While Pakistan is an imperfect democracy, the people enjoy many freedoms and the vibrant media is generally free and unfettered providing a crucial safety valve.

The essential four pillars of a democratic state which are an independent parliament, executive, judiciary and the media exist in Pakistan. While governance is certainly flawed and inadequate, institutions are developing slowing which given time can become more effective.

Pakistan has powerful and professional armed forces backed by good intelligence and nuclear capabilities easily able to defend territorial integrity. Once the internal extremist insurgency is defeated which should happen sooner or later, a case can be made to allocate resources away from defence to education, health and infrastructure.

While there is no guarantee, the army from past failed experiments from Ayub to Musharraf has hopefully realized that it is unsuited to politics and direct governance and that it is best to allow civilian institutions to develop and sustain themselves.

The “bloody” civilians had long ago accepted the guardianship role of the military in national affairs which should satisfy the army and keep adventurism in check. While living under any form of authoritarianism is oppressive, one can also argue that a flawed democratic system in Pakistan watched over by a moderate military is better than a democracy monitored by theocratic ayatollahs like in Iran.

Sure, serious issues exist that would make any nation despondent; inept and corrupt political leadership in government and opposition and a venal elite, continued ethnic and sectarian blood-letting in Karachi, festering insurgency and extra judicial killings in Baluchistan and a strong Taleban challenge.

There are emboldened retrogressive forces in the country who have taken over the national discourse basing it entirely around religion which has given rise to a new fascism. This singular thought rejects pluralism outright, encourages the killing of opponents as non-believers, focuses on promoting a Sunni Muslim identity with the will and ability to commit violence and promote and export terrorism.

The economy is also in a mess partially due to the fact that in a nation of 180 million, there are only 1.9 million taxpayers. But there are many positive indicators: the economy is growing albeit at a paltry rate, the stock market is giving positive signals of future prospects and developing investor confidence, exports, foreign currency reserves and remittances are at a historic high of $ 20 billion, $17.3 billion and $ 10 billion respectively. Pakistan is exporting wheat, cotton prices are booming and farmers have never had it so good.

However, for Pakistanis to feel better about themselves and the future, a sea change in thinking is required from the feudal-bureaucratic-military oligarchy in Pakistan to allow socio-economic changes for the marginalized majority to feel they have a stake in the future of the country.

The only way that Pakistan can return from the brink is if all citizens feel that in return for agreeing with one another to have a state and each surrendering personal freedom as necessary to promote the safety and well being of all that they can also rely on the government to ensure the rule of law, security of citizens and economic growth and progress for all.

The best way to fight intolerance, bigotry and extremism is to allow democracy which involved consensus, parliamentary sovereignty and judicial independence to nurture and flourish. Hopefully, free and fair elections in the future will weed out corrupt politicians and further marginalize extremist parties who do not have a major electoral base in Pakistan in any case.

  • Syed Obaidullah Madni

    A typical childish opinion from a well-fed Pakistani living off drawing room discussions who hasn’t seen much outside his city/country or any “most Muslim and developing nations” that he talks about.

    Democracy is the solution?

    Democracy means rule by the “majority”. What if the majority is intolerant, bigoted and sympathises with the extremists? God help Pakistan then?

    “extremist parties who do not have a major electoral base” is the most usual, completely un-informed and silly opinion raised from “urban analysts.”

    Extremist parties don’t have electoral base because they are disorganized and don’t have monetary means and feudal control, not because your average bigoted citizen doesn’t want a pure Sunni state. Even the “champions” of democracy like idiotic “educated” lawyers will happily break the law when it does not meet their favourite religious beliefs.

    It’s time we wake up from this “let’s not blame ourselves too much” disease!