AFTER years of living dangerously we seem to be finally losing control of ourselves and risking a veritable failure. The causes are both external and internal but the remedy has to be internal.
Given the resourcefulness of our people and multiple underlying strengths this is achievable; only if we try to understand and resolve the complexity of our challenges.
Most importantly we need to understand our system we call democracy. A democratic society organises itself in a way that it is anchored in a strong rule of law and provides to its citizens a level playing field and equal opportunity, promises a measure of economic and social justice, and tries to protect the weak and the vulnerable, and minorities — religious, sectarian, ethnic and regional. And its social structure, power balances, quality of leadership, people’s habits of mind and political culture are adapted to serve these ends.
Democracy’s core idea is power — where it should reside and how it should be used and to what purpose. A democratic system believes power resides in those who delegate it to their representatives as a trust so that it can be exercised to look after them and respond to their aspirations for justice, human security and quality of life, individual and collective. Democracy thus is focused on people, their well-being, happiness and self-fulfilment. It is all about substance. And it takes time to be a fully functional and mature democracy.
If society is not organised along these lines you can have as good an appearance as possible and as many elections as you want but it will not be a democracy and may never become so. It will remain something else, an imposter perhaps, in which case political power will keep empowering the dominant social groups who have a vested interest in a deformed political process that allows them to sideline the people and take turns in ruling the country for their personal, class and institutional interests.
They monopolise the state resources which are denied to the people.
Sadly, this has been the story of Pakistan. Democracy or army rule, power has been taken away from the people but not transferred back to them. The system is built to recycle power back into the hands of the already empowered alternating between civilians and the army, and within the civilians, from one set of politicians to another.
Yes we have something now that looks like democracy but in fact does not work like it. This mirage of democracy sabotages our understanding causing a confused debate, as some would say democracy in Pakistan has failed while others applaud free media, emerging civil society and flashes of judicial activism as signs that democracy is alive and well.
Both are wrong as are those arguing that it is the governance that has failed not democracy, not realising that in a modern democracy governance must reflect, to varying degrees, democratic values and principles.
What has failed in Pakistan is essentially a system whose form and rhetoric is democratic but whose substance is reactionary.
It needs to be changed. Media and civil society can help but they are merely facilitators or stimuli, not drivers of change. That can only come from political action. The good news is we have great strengths that could enable us to succeed; but the bad news is we also have great weaknesses that are increasing and causing us to fail, like the unresolved issues of identity, religion, security and widening fault lines, not to mention the existential threats we have come to face since 9/11. Pakistan is literally under siege, at its own hands and at the hands of others.
If just the ruling elite had failed and Pakistan only faced external dangers, its problems would not be so daunting. Thanks to the abysmal failure of the elite, people also have become part of the problem. Unfortunately, such is the power of their despair that anything other than the current system has come to have a fatal attraction. People are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. On one hand are demagogues exploiting a great religion, who in a political vacuum are the only mediators available to the people. And on the other is the intelligentsia, much of it confused and conflicted, part fed by xenophobia and negativity, and part by twin illusions, that with a free media and the army in the barracks democracy has arrived and will solve all our problems.
So we have two overlapping slogans — one so-called Islamic and ultra nationalistic, and the other, supposedly secular/liberal, ‘give democracy a chance’. To say ‘let democracy however imperfect continue’ is naïve. If democracy in Pakistan was just imperfect there would be hope. It is deformed. And they require dismantling and rebuilding. Can it be done? Yes but not the way we are going about it. We do not realise that the system has weakened our strengths and exaggerated our weaknesses.
And we stand at the crossroads. At issue is not just democracy’s future but our own.
The system has failed and its repetition will not salvage us. Democracy that we want to persist with is not the democracy that can save us. We must not confuse democracy as practised by us and democracy as the concept. The first is failing us and the second can save us. ‘Democracy is dead; long live democracy’.
By Touqir Hussain ;The writer, a former ambassador, teaches at Georgetown and Johns Hopkins University.http://www.dawn.com/2011/10/16/what-kind-of-democracy.html
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