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Towards Real Democracy

Perhaps the answer is the introduction of a presidential form of government based on the American model with direct elections.

By JUSTICE (R) M. SHAIQ USMANI | December 2022

Abraham Lincoln defined Democracy as “Government of the people by the people for the people”. What these words enshrine is that it is the people who run a democratic government. Considering that the people are invariably at loggerheads with each other, democracy presupposes the existence of an atmosphere where tolerance prevails and due regard is given to dissenting opinions. It also sets down a form of implementation of the system that is through elections and expects that once a group of people are elected to govern, those in opposition would give them the opportunity to do so and would not forever be involved in pulling the rug from beneath them. This then is the democratic culture that must be sustained for democracy to flourish in a country.

Unfortunately the Muslims, except for the period when Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) governed the city state of Madina and a few years thereafter, have been deprived of a democratic culture. Most rulers amongst early Muslims, with a few exceptions, were autocratic and authoritarian and had no time for dissent. The Indian Muslims of course carried on the same tradition which they inherited from their forebearers, that is the Arabs, Persians and the Turks and bequeathed these to the part of India that later became Pakistan. Such being our traditional mindset, democracy in the true sense of the word never really took root in Pakistan.

The creation of Pakistan was indeed a phenomenal achievement of one man, Jinnah, who virtually willed the new state into existence and need it be said that it was the ingrained authoritarian persona of the man that made it possible. In the creation of Pakistan, unlike that of India, there was very little debate or consultation amongst the leaders of the Muslim League. No disagreement was ever tolerated by Jinnah, perhaps because if it had been allowed it would have led to serious dissension amongst the representatives of various nationalities, which the new state comprised and thus would have confounded Jinnah’s efforts to carve out a homeland for the Indian Muslims in the face of unrelenting opposition by the colonials and the Hindus. Jinnah carried this inherent or perhaps cultivated authoritarianism in his character into office upon Partition when he opted to become the Governor General, as opposed to the Indians who accepted Lord Mountbatten as the Governor General and thus allowed the British Indian Government to wash its hands off the responsibility of acting as a nursemaid for the birth of a new state, Pakistan thereby contributed towards the future misfortunes of the nascent country.

The first manifestation of shedding their responsibility by the British Indian Government was seen when a British General, Douglas Gracey, commanding the ragtag Pakistan Army, refused to support the Kashmir misadventure of the ill-prepared Establishment of the new country and also when it stayed away from alleviating the misery of the populace during the massacre that followed during migration of the people in the aftermath of the Partition. Even Jinnah, while surveying the long caravans of miserable refugees from the air in an aeroplane is said to have reacted by saying “My God what have I done”. But there was another by-product of shedding of the responsibility by the British and of bringing authoritarianism to office by Jinnah as Governor General as it led to confounding of all dissent in governance of the country. Jinnah decided everything, even the language of a united Pakistan, which decision started the process of the alienation of Bengali-speaking people of East Pakistan that eventually led to the second partition of the country in1971.

Democracy was thus repudiated in Pakistan by the ruling classes from the very beginning. As long as Jinnah was alive it was due to the force of his personality that Pakistan held together in spite of the machinations of Lord Mountbatten and Vallabhai Patel. But once Jinnah died it was a free for all in the ragtag government of Pakistan. There was a new Prime Minister and a new cabinet in office virtually every month. Politicians, desperate to outdo each other, began to look for succour and support from a source of power beyond the political sphere. This they found through Iskandar Mirza with Army connections, who in turn found a willing supporter in Ayub Khan, the Army Chief. What happened thereafter is a part of our hybrid history. Entry of the Army in the political field invariably resulted in beginning of sabre-rattling between India and Pakistan which then led to war in 1965 and thereafter perpetual enmity between the two countries. All wars between neighbours invariably lead to building up of arsenals beyond their actual requirement and hence result in the Army swallowing the major part of country’s budget, thereby strengthening the Establishment. Pakistan thus was transformed from an aspiring democratic state as Jinnah wanted it to be, into a “Security State”. Thereafter, pushed by the Establishment every sign of dissent, an essential hallmark of democracy, began to be regarded as sedition and more and more power was ceded to the military by the civilian governments, which then, in order to perpetuate themselves and subjugate their political opponents, adopted the posture of handmaiden of the Establishment and were at their beck and call.

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