DEMOCRATIC FAILURE IN PAKISTAN

Vincent Lyn
10 min readDec 26, 2023

By Sardar Nouman Azam edited by Vincent Lyn

Pakistan emerged through a robust democratic movement led by Quaid-e-Azam, where the resilient populace faced adversity with determination to attain freedom. Despite confronting challenges, they tackled situations boldly and progressively addressed issues. The foundation of Pakistan was rooted in Muslims’ inherent right to independence, with a key goal being the genuine application of democracy. Quaid-e-Azam envisioned Pakistan as a bastion of democracy aligned with Islamic principles, yet over the past 65 years, it has fallen short of realizing this vision.

Rather than evolving into the democratic model envisaged by Quaid-e-Azam, Pakistan has, unfortunately, become a semblance of “lame democracy.” The initial years witnessed governance by civil and military bureaucrats until the advent of the first democratic elections in December 1970. The 1973 constitution marked the formation of the inaugural democratic parliamentary government, persisting until 1979. Subsequent democratic phases spanned from 1988 to 1999 and 2007 to the present. However, in its 24 years as a democratic state, Pakistan has failed to develop a robust democratic tradition.

Despite democracy being an avowed objective, its success remains elusive due to the resistance from political leaders, bureaucrats, and feudal landlords who impede its flourishing. Additionally, Pakistan has struggled to uphold fundamental democratic principles of equality and freedom, further hindering the development of democratic traditions.

The primary blame for the breakdown of democracy rests on the shoulders of politicians. Firstly, their lack of sincerity and faithfulness to the state undermines the democratic system. Secondly, the incompetence of Pakistani political leaders results in the constant failure of their policies. People entrust their votes to politicians with the expectation that elected representatives will faithfully serve the public, but to their disappointment, Pakistani politicians often prove to be corrupt and disloyal, driven by personal gain rather than public service.

Political leaders in Pakistan engage in manipulative games for self-benefit, betraying the purpose of establishing an independent homeland by fostering favoritism and corruption. In the Pakistani democratic framework, elected leaders neglect their constituencies, displaying a lack of concern for public issues. Furthermore, many politicians contest elections with fraudulent degrees, as evidenced by an official report identifying 106 such cases (qtd. in culprits, 1), highlighting the dishonesty prevalent among political leaders and eroding confidence in the masses.

Incompetence among political leaders further exacerbates the situation, as they struggle to identify solutions to the nation’s problems. The political process in Pakistan is marked by frequent collapses, with shifting policies and a lack of consensus among politicians on crucial issues. The ill-fated policies of nationalization and the appointment of inept management further impede the progress of democracy. Remarkably, the same political parties have retained power since the inception of Pakistan, with the Pakistan People’s Party being a recurring example. People often rally behind a particular party, such as the PPP, without fully grasping the consequences of their support, influenced by sentiments tied to the party’s founder and slogans like “Roti, Kapra aur Makaan.”

Under these circumstances, true flourishing of democracy remains an elusive goal.

Bureaucracy poses a significant threat to democracy, despite the democratic principles embedded in the constitution of Pakistan. The practical implementation of constitutional proposals has been hindered by individuals resistant to relinquishing laws established during the British colonial era. Since the inception of Pakistan, bureaucracy has wielded considerable influence, consisting of the Central Superior Services and the Provincial Civil Services (Piracha, 1). The prevailing culture of bureaucracy in Pakistan is fueled by institutional imbalance, with a reluctance to empower or be accountable to any authority.

This bureaucratic stance proves to be a major impediment to the democratic process. Many bureaucrats exhibit partiality, utilizing the country’s resources to favor specific political parties. The reputation of Pakistani bureaucrats is marred by corruption, inefficiency, and incompetence, thereby contributing to the erosion of democracy in the nation.

The feudal system stands as another primary factor contributing to the failure of democracy in Pakistan. Inherited from “British India,” this entrenched feudal structure acts as a formidable barrier to the flourishing of democracy. Feudal landlords wield significant influence in policy formation, ensuring that policies align with their interests rather than being beneficial for the general populace. These feudal lords, who once collaborated with British leaders in the creation of a fragmented Pakistan, have now solidified the nation into a feudal state.

Many of Pakistan’s political leaders are themselves feudal lords who have seamlessly transitioned into positions of political authority. These feudal figures maintain a distant and subjugating relationship with the people, treating them as subordinates. The rigid class distinctions perpetuated by this system have hindered Pakistan’s educational and economic progress. The farming community, in particular, remains under the dominion of their feudal masters. Impoverished and economically disadvantaged peasants find themselves compelled to vote for their masters, devoid of the freedom to express their own will. This dynamic violates the very essence of democracy, as elections become a mere formality when peasants cast votes under duress, rendering democracy more akin to an “oligarchy.”

The dominance of the feudal class not only undermines democracy but also erodes national integration, a crucial component for the sustenance of democratic governance. For the feudal landowners, democracy serves as a protective shield, allowing them to perpetuate their rule unchecked. However, for the common people, this distorted democracy results in a sense of neglect and disenfranchisement. In such a scenario, the repetitive conduct of elections holds little promise for changing Pakistan’s future, as the distorted democracy continues to favor the supremacy of feudal interests over the broader democratic ideals.

Democracy, founded on the principles of equality and freedom of speech, faces a critical challenge in Pakistan. The country’s democratic system falls short of achieving either equality or freedom among its citizens, rendering it an unsuccessful venture. Evident inequality emerges when individuals are compelled to pay bribes for job opportunities, devoid of any merit-based appointment policy. Discrimination based on caste, social status, and gender further undermines the essence of democracy, allowing the affluent to exploit the less privileged. The emphasis on wealth over education perpetuates this imbalance, as a scarcity of educated individuals in politics and assemblies hinders the establishment of a democratic society.

In a genuine democratic state, every citizen’s opinion is valued, and the freedom to criticize the government is upheld. While some semblance of freedom of speech exists in Pakistan, the lack of constitutional safeguards hampers its full implementation. Ordinary Pakistani citizens lack constitutional protection, leading civil servants attempting good governance to encounter numerous obstacles. Attempts to voice dissent against the government are met with resistance rather than encouragement, exemplified by threats against journalists who seek to expose political shortcomings. Several journalists in Pakistan have faced threats and violence, such as Abdul Haq Baluch, Abdul Qadir Hajiazi, Abdul Razzaq Gul, Tariq Kamal, Aurengzeb Tunio, Murtaaza Razvi, Syed Saleem Shahzad, and Mukarram Khan Aatif (Admin, 1). Instances of police brutality against journalists on Press Freedom day further illustrate the challenging environment for free expression (Khan, 1). In such a climate, individuals are deterred from standing against the government.

When the fundamental tenets of democracy remain unfulfilled, and the true essence of democracy is compromised by the Pakistani government’s actions, it becomes challenging for the nation to rightfully declare itself a democratic state.

Another impediment to the success of democracy in Pakistan is the prevalence of illiteracy. The education sector in the country has long been overlooked, contributing to a significant portion of the population remaining uneducated. The literacy rate in Pakistan was a mere 16% in the 1951 census, which increased to 26.2% in 1981. However, progress has been slow, with the literacy rate recorded at 43.92% in the 1998 census and an estimated 58% in 2009, significantly lower than the rates in developed countries (Admin, 1).

The substantial segment of Pakistan’s population grappling with illiteracy and backwardness faces challenges in making informed choices. Consequently, these underprivileged and uneducated individuals are unable to actively contribute to the country’s development. High literacy rates are crucial for the functioning of democracy, as illiteracy is closely tied to poverty. A community that is both illiterate and economically impoverished struggles to grasp and uphold the true essence of democracy.

In Pakistan, a majority of political leaders and parties profess support for democracy, contending that in a democratic state, leadership changes can occur without resorting to violence. However, this assertion is proven false by the historical pattern wherein failed democratic governments are often supplanted by military regimes, and the transition is far from peaceful. Military interventions in Pakistan have consistently followed periods of disorder and mismanagement by political leaders, creating a window of opportunity for the military to intervene. Examples of military rulers in the country include General Ayub Khan, General Zia-ul-Haq, and General Pervez Musharraf. Martial law is not imposed spontaneously but is a consequence of the flawed strategies and shortcomings of the democratic government, providing fertile ground for martial law to emerge.

Furthermore, the possibility of a democratically ousted government returning to power through re-elections, as observed with the Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League, diminishes the effectiveness of arguments in favor of democracy in the current political landscape. While theoretical support for democracy exists, the prevailing political scenario in Pakistan, marked by incompetence within the democratic system, challenges the sustainability of democracy over the long term.

The support for democracy in Pakistan is grounded in the belief that it provides citizens with the opportunity to make choices, with elected members being the representatives chosen by the majority through periodic general elections. In a true democracy, people have the power to change their leaders by electing new ones. However, the situation in Pakistan presents significant challenges to this democratic ideal, primarily due to the fact that elected members may not truly represent the people.

One of the major issues is the low voter turnout, as only a small percentage of the population casts their votes. This vulnerability is exacerbated by the widespread practice of purchasing votes, where the socio-economic conditions of many citizens make them susceptible to such manipulation. Additionally, election rigging, including the kidnapping of voters or candidates, is a common occurrence in Pakistan, further compromising the fairness and freedom of the electoral process.

Another obstacle to genuine democracy lies in the lack of transparency and clarity in party manifestos during election campaigns. Political parties often fail to articulate clear and meaningful manifestos, undermining the informed decision-making process for voters. The low voter turnout recorded in the 2008 National elections, with percentages as low as 41.11 percent overall, indicates a diminishing commitment to the democratic process (petitioner, 71).

Moreover, the “First Past the Post” election system employed in Pakistan is criticized for its lack of democratic principles. Under this system, the candidate with the highest number of votes is declared the winner, even if they do not secure an absolute majority of all casted votes. Consequently, elected parliament members may not authentically represent the majority of registered and polled votes, violating the true democratic spirit. In this context, the representatives chosen through such a system may not genuinely reflect the will of the people, further eroding the foundations of democracy in Pakistan.

In a democratic state, an effective accountability process is crucial for ensuring the transparent and fair functioning of the executive branch. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, there is a glaring absence of a robust accountability system. Despite every incoming government making grand promises regarding accountability, little substantive action has been taken in this regard. Corrupt bureaucrats and politicians consistently manage to evade punishment due to the lack of a robust accountability process.

The affairs of the government are not handled transparently, leading to a significant gap between the people and the government. Numerous politicians and government officials, who are widely believed to be involved in corrupt activities, have not faced any meaningful consequences. The absence of a credible accountability process creates an environment where democracy cannot truly thrive.

Pakistan, as a welfare state, has grappled with the pursuit of democracy since its inception. The current government, however, is widely regarded as the worst in the nation’s history, marked by rising unemployment, inflation, poverty, and economic crises. The health and education sectors are in deplorable conditions, and the absence of equality, freedom, and the rule of law contradicts the fundamental tenets of democracy. In Pakistan, democracy has, unfortunately, resulted in corruption, poor governance, institutional imbalances, and low living standards for its people, primarily due to incompetent leadership and flawed political policies.

Additionally, the entrenched bureaucracy and feudal system have further eroded the prospects of a successful democracy. This form of governance proves unsuitable for a country like Pakistan, where a significant portion of the population remains underprivileged. The failure of democracy is not unique to Pakistan; it has faced challenges in various other countries, including Turkey, Thailand, Israel, and Africa. The success of democracy in the United States and India is often attributed to their specific political and social contexts, which differ significantly from the socio-political atmosphere in Pakistan.

A contrasting model is seen in China and Singapore, where despite not being democratic states, they have achieved significant economic success. In Pakistan, the pressing need is for good administration, an effective accountability process, and the implementation of a merit policy. The recurrent failures of major political powers, such as PMLN or PPPP, who have governed multiple times, underscore the inability of democracy to address the pressing socio-economic challenges facing the nation.

Pakistan, caught in the crossfire of the U.S. endeavor in Afghanistan, has endured a war against terrorism, resulting in substantial human and economic losses. India’s alleged involvement in supporting terrorism in Pakistan adds a layer of complexity to the regional dynamics. Amid these challenges, Pakistani politicians have faced issues of trustworthiness and patriotism, exemplified by the corruption charges against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

To navigate this intricate landscape, Pakistan must reassess its policies, recognize its regional significance as a trade hub, and address economic challenges. However, achieving good governance through political structures, elections, or parliamentary processes appears increasingly improbable.

Sardar Nouman Azam Mughal

Duke of Central Doba sub-dynasty of High Royal Nation of Mughal

Vincent Lyn

CEO & Founder of We Can Save Children

Deputy Ambassador of International Human Rights Commission (IHRC)

Director of Creative Development at African Views Organization

Economic & Social Council at United Nations (ECOSOC)

Rescue & Recovery Specialist at International Confederation of Police & Security Experts

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Vincent Lyn

CEO-We Can Save Children. Director Creative Development-African Views Organization, ECOSOC at United Nations. International Human Rights Commission (IHRC)