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Pakistan's precarious road to democracy
By Bilal Ahmad
In my earlier article, I categorically stated that the coming electoral process is an opportune moment for the people of Pakistan to prove rubbish all that is mocked at Pakistan- a garrison state, confessional state, client state and the most humiliating, a failed state. On May 11, the people of Pakistan braved heat, violence and terrorism and reposed their full and rational faith in the democratic process. May 11 was a landmark day, revealing the growing resilience of Pakistani electorate and the maturity of democratic institutions. Defying life threat of the extremists and the precarious atmosphere, the electorate of Pakistan gave decisive victory to democracy in Pakistan. The electorate unhesitatingly embraced democracy against the religious orthodoxy and violent fanaticism.

It is no ordinary event that a country, rippled with tumultous past and a freaky democratic experience, has completed a successful democratic term and has transferred power to another democratic regime. 'Elections, open, free and fair are the essence of democracy, the inescapable sine qua non'(Huntington). Ballots do, of course, have a very important role even for the effectiveness of public reasoning. It not only to empower the masses to be the active members of social contract, but lends legitimacy to the governing structures as well. The election results, however, point to the challenges ahead for the country and the newly created dispensation. Pakistan today is besieged by the violent extremism, energy crisis and the nascent economic growth. The most pressing challenge which has been hovering with its the negative repercussions and exacerbating the security structure of Pakistan is the persistence of violence. Violence has three dimensions in Pakistan- sectarian, ethnic and the religious (say Islamic) violence. The rise of ethnic sentiments, sub-national movements and the religious fundamentalism vehemently undermined the national project and deciphering the political exigencies that could have defined the complexities of formation and deformation of nation-state in Pakistan.

Pakistan is bedeviled by the nefarious and belated ultra-nationalism and the consequent minority violence. The continual onslaught of Hazaras and Christians has put into question the certitudes of Jinnah's secular Pakistan. Medieval mindset of the hyper-traditionalists has ravaged the civic fabric of Pakistan, torn its economy and hollowed security apparatus. The immediate task for the new government is to forge ways to combat this violent character of the state. The new government should act swiftly and decisively to eliminate the seed of terrorism from Pakistan's soil. Democracy thrives only in a state having strong civic culture and developed strategic-institutional structure. The May elections were a clear sign of electorates nod to democracy in organising their social life. The persistence of democracy is a millenium achievement for the state where democracy has intermittently made cameo appearance.

Pakistan's abysmal state of affairs and the perplexing or fraught experiment with democracy has been credited to its failure of developing a coherent national identity, identity capable of absorbing the challenges of its rich and diverse society. The state-sponsered identity project has grave ramifications for the predominantly plural society. Pakistan's creation by giving prominence to single consideration, Islamic or Muslim identity, periliously restricted its progress ever since. Everything that is wrong with Pakistan today- its distorted social and economic development, the sectarian violence, its vulnerability to military dictatorships, and the rise of extremism is a direct or indirect result of its confused sense of itself (Farzana). Lack of national ethos, religious intolerance and the structural violence haphazardly gave emergence to rival claims and meanings of nation-formation in Pakistan. Democracy is judged based on its capability of absorbing or accomodating feast of viewpoints, vastly different convictions and distinct pursuits.

The Muslim identity afforded to the state by the country's founders pondering on the national project and distorted the democratic credentials of the state. The Muslim nationalism of the leaguers remain unsuccessful in giving plural, diversified and secular outlook to the state. The state pays little attention, even seems reluctant to accomodate or assimilate the varied viewpoints of diverse society. The marginalised people have formulated their own distinct but contradictory identities in the face of growing resentment, repression and exclusion. Pakistan today is being haunted by the violent retaliation of these identity structures. The daily bombings, target killings and a maligning human security casts its shadow on the effectiveness of the state.

Democracy has to be evolved by the capacitated ability of its success to accomodate different voices from diverse section of people. Democracy, in Pakistan, must develop an inclusionary character and shed its outlook as the mere political regime that has facilitated the hegemony of the fringe. The new government needs to create a broad and inclusive national ethos. Democracy should act as social emancipator force that facilitates an imagination that can subvert the existing master mode of imagining the nation and the state. The May elections inexorably showed the electorate's faith in democracy in uplifting them from the abrupt poverty, negligence and misgovernance to one of development, equality and participatory governance. The new government must recognise the fact that only an effective and functioning democracy should emancipate Pakistani society of its multiple ailments.

Democracy is an effective mechanism of empowering the aspirations of the real torchbearers of democracy- the people. History is testament to the fact that the basic requirement of national progress is presence of strong governance institutions. Such institutions provide effective service delivery system, accountable public authorities and rapid social progress. Pakistan today requires such institutions to address issues of large-scale violence and lifting people from a state of constant grind and abysmal poverty. Pakistan will need not a miracle but an effective welfare state for the procurement of tangible results. The new dispensation in Islamabad must make sense of democratic wave and pledge to manage the expectations and aspirations of the changing people. Pakistan's democracy has real test to prove itself either as a boon to enrich reasoned engagement or bane to discredit as "the tyranny of the majority". Even as the battle for democracy was being waged, however, strident voices were raised against its sucess in Pakistan. The pendulum of the democratic wave may swing either side. If the democratic process continues the flaws in Pakistan's political system should gradually be eliminated. If it fails to deliver the entitlements and resonate the expectations, Pakistan will again plunge into the democratic fantasy and the hegemony of the fringe. The next five years of the current dispensation will decide the fate of democracy and the development of Pakistan as a stable, normal and civilised nation-state.

(The author is a writer on South Asian affairs and a post-graduate student of Political Studies at Kashmir university. Find him on facebook, sahir.bilal)

News Updated at : Monday, July 8, 2013
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