Why is Pakistani Middleclass So Skeptical of Democracy and Why Our Defense is Not Convincing?

By Raza Habib Raja

The statement issued by MQM chief, Altaf Hussein, calling for Army’s intervention to “correct” the corrupt politicians has stirred the political landscape. Mind you MQM is not a very popular party outside Karachi and Hyderabad and yet presently his statement is getting nods of approval from various quarters particularly from the middleclass. Since most of the people do not want to be branded as “undemocratic” therefore approval is subtle at times but you can still see that it is there. Most interestingly majority of the middleclass people I have talked to, particularly from Punjab say that they are actually reviewing their previously bad opinion of MQM!!

Right now the affluent middleclass is again at the forefront demanding implicitly and at time vocally that democracy should be purged. Of course the liberal side opposes it and should oppose it but at the same time most of the “defense” from the liberal quarters does not go beyond name calling and allegations. For example a typical response would be to brand middleclass as bigoted and authoritarian with naïve understanding of geopolitical culture. Moreover, standard references to disrespect of “unwashed’ masses would be made. And of course this is supplemented by terms like drawing room gossip, reactionary , chattering classes etc.

Defense of democracy has to be realistic and not based on lauding passionate speeches about unwashed masses particularly when politicians apparently care little themselves about the masses. The central thrust should be to present first a convincing case as to why democracy is a better option compared to armed dictatorship and frankly a very strong case based on historical evidence exists despite chequered history of democratic regimes. And yes admit the shortcomings of the politicians also as weaknesses of politicians are not necessarily weaknesses of the entire political system.

Spinning facts to absolve politicians of their follies is not the way. Simply assuming that everyone is just bigoted or plagued by bias is also a form of denial.  And interpreting everything as a grand conspiracy of the establishment mirrors the general mindset of the Pakistanis who have developed this habit to see everything through the conspiracy paradigm.

When you try to convince you take your case to the opposite camp BECAUSE you are trying to change mindsets. Calling those people “reactionary” is not going to change mindset particularly when some of them have a well argued case. And yes tagging notes to likeminded people on social websites like Facebook will not stir debate. Preaching to the choir never does! Fight needs to be taken to the mainstream.

And we need to convince as middleclass mindset though electorally weak in numbers is extremely powerful through its dominance in Media, Corporate and what are known as “establishment” institutions like Judiciary, Civil Services and of course armed forces.

 That brings us to a related question: does the middleclass hate democracy? The answer cannot be a definite yes because it’s the some apparent outcomes of the democracy in our part of the world which it detests.  It does have concerns which periodically surface when democratic rule is again given a chance. One cannot conveniently dismiss every concern by branding it as reactionary or a manifestation of deep rooted insecurity about losing privileges the status quo offers. One can blame armed forces for harboring such insecurities but not the entire middle class.

For the doubters let me remind that when elections of 2008 took place there was a severe hatred against army and it was expressed by the SAME middleclass. In fact so much so that General Kayani immediately upon assuming command as CNC had to withdraw army officials from various civilian posts. At that time even Zardari had a favorable impression and in fact several polls were revealing that by and large public was in the process of reevaluating their opinion about him. So the notion that middleclass simply hates him for the sake of hating is slightly exaggerated. There is more towards the current surge of hatred against the President.

 So then what are the reasons?                                                    

 In Pakistan, democratic regimes have been short on providing stability.  One thing this class really loves is stability which too some extent is an outcome of its pro status quo orientation. Democracy in the developing countries, particularly if it’s not “regulated” tends to bring chaos as coalition building and consensus formation process does not develop quickly. Consequently the romantic love for a strong ruler intensifies each time the politicians indulge in destabilizing and chaotic practices when given a chance. It’s a small wonder that whenever army has intervened directly, there has been a sigh of relief from the middle class.  And historically armed forces have intervened when political chaos was reigning supreme.

 However the most persuasive and unfortunately convincing argument is about the quality of governance. The executive has often overstepped its authority and has used mandate as a justification for anything from nepotism to controversial allocations of contracts.  Moreover, the justification is also supplemented by the argument that if people do not approve of these “steps”, they will remove  the government in the next elections. These repeated acts which use explicit justification of a public mandate, has at times alienated middle class from the notion of democracy itself.  Moreover, one has to understand the some of the interventions (though not all) by the armed forces were actually an outcome of the chaotic situation the politicians had brought. 

 Obviously the arguments against democracy by this class also constitutes anti feudal sentiments. It is often pointed out that the representatives of the people are actually feudal lords who come to the power through votes and in this way the feudalism is further strengthened. In fact according to some elements of the middle class, democracy is even more problematic as it creates an umbrella of legitimacy due to mandate.

But then questions arise as to what has given rise to the above issues.

One of the major problems in Pakistan is that it still is an agriculture based society with a strong social patriarchal structure which thrives on contact building. Now this contact building and largely obliging culture comes into full play when political class is in power. People who have voted EXPECT to be given a share in the governance and this in turn has given rise to out of merit job allocations and contracts. Expecting favours is culturally deep rooted and democracy merely facilitates it as the ruling class is accountable to the voting public. This practice of obliging of course seriously undermines quality of governance. The apparent advantage that Middleclass sees in the military establishments is that these are apparently insulated from such kind of pressures. Moreover majority of the people while growing up have seen military a shade away from normal civilian life even during the martial laws.  The disciplined look, insulated from public pressure creates this strong impression that military won’t be obliging the way Politicians are.  

 Secondly it has to be realized that Parliamentary democracy has evolved in the industrial societies and is functionally geared to address the needs of that kind of society. Western model of universal suffrage also presupposes educated and informed electorate, established social voluntary structures like unions, associations, mature and responsible media and above all a strong tradition of constitutional liberalism which is underpinned by independent courts, separation of powers and strong emphasis on individual liberty. 

 In the Western world these features evolved before the advent of universal suffrage.  Farid Zakria’s excellent book titled as “future of freedom” chronicles the development of constitutional liberalism in various countries of Europe and argues that such development needs to precede democracy for it to be stable, sustainable, and for ensuring that governments remain accountable in every respect. Zakria argues giving historical examples that voters alone cannot make the government accountable without a strongly entrenched tradition of constitutional liberalism.  In fact historically countries where democracy arrived before these traditions have fallen victim to chaos and eventually despotic rule by some strong man. Chaos, if developed would naturally be countered by establishing authority and unquestionable subservience which normally comes with military rule. That of course does not justify Military rule but provides a reason as to why it often takes place and why some people are obsessed with it.

 Another issue which has to be kept in mind is that democracy would need independent institutions like Judiciary and Media no matter how “reactionary” these are to ensure that it remains on track. And these institutions do not automatically develop through voting process. The notion which has often proven irrelevant in a country like Pakistan is that voters alone can provide the necessary accountability. This unfortunately is not even true for developed countries. First of all mandate does not necessarily reflect complete will of the people due to principal agent problem and moreover vote received in an election does not necessarily validate every step taken by the Government during its reign. Voters eventually appraise the OVERALL PERFORMANCE of a party, not every step. So therefore claims that if voters do not approve of a particular controversial step, they will vote the party out in the next elections is not a valid argument. For democracy to be effective strong and INDEPENDENT institutions, even if they are “reactionary’ are needed!! Due to this factor, there is a legitimate rationale for judiciary and media to keep a check on the government during the interim period. Independence of these institutions is a prerequisite on these grounds.  And

So what is the way out?

First the convincing has to explicitly RECOGINIZE these problems and liberal intelligentsia has to support independent institutions and check and balances. Yes it includes this vulgar media also!! Sorry but even if it is vulgar, it is needed!!And yes STOP defending political class when it merits condemnation and please stop interpreting criticism as merely “reactionary”. Trying to defend incompetence through spinning factual position and branding everything as a grand conspiracy of the establishment will not do. If anything it further insulates the political class from political discipline and questions the credibility of the liberals themselves.

For democracy a culture of accountability has to be there and that culture may even at times evolve through excessive lynching (provided that does not result in army’s intervention!) phase into more mature criticism. Yes at times media is unfair but it is OK if it points to nepotism and poor governance. The argument which should be given is that we should stick with democracy but also strive to cultivate a culture of accountability and strong institutions.

What the stability obsessed crowd should be made to understand is that the solution is not replacing democracy with autocratic rule or judicial rule but by ensuring the mechanism which ensures that chaos does not develop and governments do not become excessive in their conduct. Democracy may not be a perfect system but a modern and ethnically diverse state needs it. The central thrust has to be on recognizing where democracy is faltering and how to ensure that those areas are strengthened.

Second and the most important argument is ethnic fabric of our country. What is often overlooked by critics of democracy is that for an ethnically diverse country such as Pakistan, lack of democracy will be catastrophic and in fact historically every dictatorship has resulted in increased feeling of marginalization. Democracy is the only workable framework in a modern industrial society which can tap diverse voices and ensure integrity of the state through preservation of diversity through negotiation and renegotiation.  Just simple analysis in chronological order can prove the point that after each dictatorship the feeling of depravity and anger has increased. Bangladesh and bloody 1971 episode owed a lot due to lack of consensus building which only democracy could have ensured.   Ayub era despite apparent high growth rates delivered a broken Pakistan.

Zia regime instilled hatred in Sindh and Mushrraf a lot of hatred in Baluchistan. An ethnically diverse and now charged up country cannot exist without democracy. Democracy may have proven short on quality governance (for that matter so has dictatorship) but it is the only workable way to ensure that diverse voices are heard and their concerns are properly incorporated in the policy framework.

Third people have to be reminded that every military dictator’s regime ended with some kind of public protest which actually went too long because the dictator was not politically feeling the heat the way a political government would. They even went on suspending courts! Protests went on and eventually far more frustration was felt and of course when the dictatorship ended Pakistan was in a more miserable state.

Fourth, while Military regimes may have provided a façade of stability, there is nothing to support that military dictatorships fared any better in financial corruption. And moreover systematically the resources were transferred to bolster the army schemes and industries. Of course due to censorship most of the corruption scandals never came to light. It is a fallacy that only politicians are corrupt.

We need to win the battle of minds and address skepticism through concrete, rational and factual defense of democracy. We need to reinforce an obvious truth that a modern industrial society which is so complex needs democracy and the solution is to push for better governance within democracy not substituting it with dictatorship.



Filed under Democracy, Pakistan, Politics

36 responses to “Why is Pakistani Middleclass So Skeptical of Democracy and Why Our Defense is Not Convincing?

  1. ramesh

    when i asked a close pakistani friend about their dilemma of the army and democracy,he said ,’lato ke bhoot bato se nahimante”.joke aside peoples rule is always difficult but you can change the leaders you dont like.

  2. AA khalid

    @ RHR

    Good article.

    However, all politics is local and personal, not abstract. Politics for the average citizen is about jobs, the economy, inflation, providing for the family, schools and basic healthcare. In these areas however, the State (the institutions, regardless of which political party assumes office) has capitulated and never faced up to these challenges. Take healthcare for instance, less than 1/4 of all healthcare expenditure and provision comes from the State. The same story can be found in schools.

    The economy which should be taking centre stage at the moment in terms of public policy debate is not even scrutinised.

    The fact is that the structure of political parties in Pakistan are medieval and hence there is a dissonance. One cannot meet the challenges of a modern nation state by adopting a pre modern medieval style of politics, where dynastic rule is the norm, intra party elections are non existent and public debate rarely goes beyond the constructs of faith, ethnicity, province or the cult of personality.

    There is an absence of a common citizenship. I would argue that a spirit of citizenship, a common civic identity has meant that the lofty ideals of constitutional liberalism and parliamentary democracy do not thrive in Pakistan.

    Political parties in Pakistan are modern reincarnations of a medieval polity. Dynastic rule, neptoism and the hierachrical structures of a feudal society which prevents social mobility and democratic participation do eventually precipitate into frustratio, particularly if the basic needs of the country’s citizens are not met.

    Which is why some sections of Pakistani society would prefer a benevolent dictator, who would provide for their basic needs.

  3. I like what the writer says. And I am convinced hw knows the answers as well and very well too. No sane person likes to be ruled by Khakis but whenever there are coloured clothes at the top, the middle class feels unsafe for a host of reasons again very well known to everyone.
    We have dynasties ruling us – not leaders. It is son after son and after son… (replace a daughter for one time). Let there be real democracy – politicians chosen for their intellect, integrity and loyalty to Pakistan, and not loyalty to family and party. The party workers to rise above loyalty to the leaders even when the leaders are wrong.
    Let everyone feel safe under coloured clothes. Ask the flood victims, they are skeptical about their rehabilitation and fear that the aid money will be embazzled. Let there be the feeling of hope – which will come by actions and actions alone of the leaders they voted for.

  4. AA khalid

    By politics being local I meant in terms of concerns rather than particular interaction with adminstrative structures.

    Your second point does stand however, the democratic experience in Pakistan has been frustrating for many sections of society.

    According to the Gallup Poll, the current President has a 19% approval rating whereas Musharraf according to the same poll had a 17% approval rating. So you are right, in terms of the provision of welfare and tackling the central domestic issues both the military and civilian adminstrations have little support.

    However, it is very revealing that in the same Gallup Poll, it was reported that the Pakistani people had most trust (mong all the national institutions in Pakistan) in the military (67%)religious organizations(81%).

    And indeed Gallup shows that in the last five years religious organizations have strenghted their credibility in terms of the perception among the Pakistani public, whereas other civilian institutions the national government, banks, honesty of elections have all suffered a tremendous drop in support. That is worrying.

    Data taken from Pakistanis Give New Civilian Leadership Low Marks So Far – (January 13, 2009)

  5. Raju Brother

    A government that collects no taxes and offers no services is no government!

  6. AA khalid


    In an ideal world I would agree with you, however as the Gallup Poll indicates, only 22% expressed confidence in having honest elections in Pakistan.

    Furthermore, in the more recent Pew Research Centre Poll (July 29, 2010 ), it was shown that the military was the most popular institution (84% approval rating) and the national government had the second lowest approval rating (25%, only Zardari is more unpopular with an abysmal 19% approval rating).

    There is a deeper problem about the democratic structures and institutions in Pakistan which are exacerbated by an inept, medieval and dysfunctional polity.

  7. YLH

    arun mian,

    “But national democracy without local democracy is not going to solve Pakistan’s problems.”


    What our democrats don’t understand is that the reason why every dictator goes to local government etc is because local government is a valid middle tier …

    Good to see you taking your head out of where the sun don’t shine for a change.

  8. Raza Raja

    This article is a defense of democracy but adopts Devil’s advocate style. It argues that middleclass is skeptical for concrete reasons. And those reasons have to be understood and addressed for democracy to work.

    Calling people reactionary or naive is not going to convince.

    We need democracy but a democracy which comes with proper check and balance and stability.

    Some people has this idea that just if we do not temper at all and allow the process to go on, these things will be sorted out automatically.

    Unfortunately this is only partly true. Democracy is much more than mere elections at regular intervals and you need to strive hard to create institutions. Institutions do ot automatically evolve just by democratic process.

    In the west, the example of which is often touted here, individual liberty, constitutional liberalism. seperation of powers evolved before universal suffarage.

    Media and judiciary are two instiutions needed to keep democracy on track. These have shown sign of evolution despite being conservative in outlook. There orientation may seem bothersome at the moment but the very fact that they have become some what independent may prove to be good thing for democracy.

    Democracy I believe has a chance now and therefore skepticism of middleclass can be addressed.

    We need democracy. An ethnically diverse polity like us would disintegrate if again khakis are in power.

  9. Blunt truth

    Are we proud of our corrupt politicians and this ‘cosmetic democracy’? Shame on us if we indeed feel proud of them!
    It’s time that we cleanse our country of these hypocrite psychpaths elites for good!. As soon as we are able to achieve this goal, we will become a great nation on our path to glory and success! and General Kayani is the key to all this!

  10. DN

    The middleclass is skeptical of democracy because it wants an instant solution to all its problems in a democratic setup and it tends to despair when these issues are not dealt with effectively and they return to the army as their saviours. Wt they need to realize is that there is no magic lamp for their problems and destabilizing a nascent democratic process will only result in augmenting chaos and mayhem.

  11. Raza Raja

    @ DN agreed. However I would like to add that democracy would need proper checks on executive’s powers and criticism on executive should not be construed as negative. Here a tendency has developed that the moment you say anything against political class you are assumed to be anti democratic. Yes there is a substantial number who oppose political parties and are also anti democratic but not every one who is critical is anti democratic.
    Moreover defense has to be realistic and based on historic evidence not on these empty speeches of unwashed masses.

  12. libertarian

    “Why is Pakistani Middleclass So Skeptical of Democracy … ?

    Because they have the attention span of fruit flies. Just like me – reading this article.

  13. Parvez

    There are constitutional ways available to correct the situation. If Mqm is so dis-satisfied with the govt, they should resign from the ministries and withdraw their support. They won’t do it because they are not sincere.
    Mid-term election is the solution.

  14. Amit Kumar

    Raza Raja, a very good article..
    I am from Bihar India, we had Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi as Chief Minister for 15 years. It was a disaster. Complete anarchy and kidnapping was the only growing industry. I have grown up in his rule and can understand the pain. After 15 years of misrule Lalu’s identity politics was defeated and we have got a leader who has turned things around and state has grown 11% in last 5 years. Voters have learned the lesson.

    Now in Nov we have state election, now Lalu Prasad and his company are also talking about development. So, i would suggest educated people of Pakistan to work and make democracy better and create institution who can keep checks and balances.

    Do not go after the media hype and i do not think they are as bad as its is presented. Sharif, Zardari and Altaaf keep their investment outside Pakistan because of the fear of Army rule. Pak Army is not allowing democracy to work properly, so protest about that.

    Keep patients. and respect mandate. convince the people not to vite for Zardari next time..Political parties are not an NGO who can do flood relief work. Their workers are trained to mobilize their voter. Army is just doing its duty.

  15. shiv

    If you look hard enough and deep enough at Pakistan’s statistics you find that the Pakistani “Middle class” is about 8-15% of the population depending on the source – a minority – like Ahmedis. Or Christian sweepers.

    The elite are less than 1%

    What do you think the 85% majority in Pakistan will want? Will they want Jihad? Will they want Indian or Jewish blood? Do they want to fly a Pakistani flag over the rd Fort? Do they want to kill civilians in Mumbai?

    Balls. They want land, jobs and money to make ends meet. This is exactly what the Pakistani elite and middle class do not want to give away in a harsh land where competition will pull you down.

    So what do the hypocritical middle class and elite do to the 85% majority. They give them jihad and tell them that India and Israel are baying for their blood.

  16. Pingback: Why is Pakistani Middleclass So Skeptical of Democracy and Why Our Defense is Not Convincing? - BlogOn.pk

  17. Raza Raja

    @shiv, unfortunately the topic of the article is not ideological engineering done by middleclass to hate India.

  18. Amna Zaman

    The army is deployed to protect borders. Along with that it has the huge responsibility of fighting terrorism in the FATA. How can it help the democratic process? Absurd statement at a weak point of time I must say.

  19. YLH

    “Americans can’t help but reflect that neither George Washington, Benjamin Franklin nor Abraham Lincoln could have taken a seat in the Pakistani legislature”

    Neither could Jinnah.

  20. YLH

    BTW the Musharraf law that introduced this provision has been done away with.

  21. asterisk

    Amna zaman writes:
    “The army is deployed to protect borders…”

    In case of pak armed forces the army is deployed to help army-controlled terrorists, smugglers etc. cross over into India, and may be also into Afghanistan.

  22. shiv

    @ Raza Raja
    @shiv, unfortunately the topic of the article is not ideological engineering done by middleclass to hate India.

    No. The middle class are not doing that to any great degree. But it suits them to back the army that is doing exactly that.

    And if there is one thing the middle classes are silent as death about – it is the role of the Pakistani army in bringing Pakistan to its knees. Nobody in Pakistan has any problem singing the praises of the army. Everyone knows that the army plays a great stabilizing role in Pakistan and holds India and Israel at bay.

    I put it to you that Pakistan’s integrity is protected by the Pakistani army, no matter how far Pakistan goes down in any development or economic index, or how much Pakistan gets indebted to other nations. Pakistan’s survival and the lifestyles, identity and self image of most Pakistanis is connected up with the survival and power of the Pakistani army – which is why the army is seen as a saviour and any demands made by the army on Pakistan’s resources are never grudged.

    For Pakistan, its either the army or democracy. Democracy will automatically remove the excessive wealth and power of the Pakistani army and redistribute wealth away from current beneficiaries. That is bad for all of Pakistan other than the bottom 120 million Pakistanis. With the army gone, the integrity of Pakistan and its survival as one intact country will come into question. Pakistan is unlikely to survive as an intact whole if the Pakistan army goes.

    Therefore democracy cannot come to Pakistan. Forget about it. Even the US knows this very well. That is why the US puts the survival of the Pakistani army on top of its agenda.

    No point beating about the bush and blaming the wrong factors for lack of democracy. Democracy in Pakistan will continue to be a laughable sham for the foreseeable future. The appearance of democracy is good for voters in western donor nations and the Pakistani army will respect that and allow nincompoops like Zardari to survive as long as that keeps the aid money flowing in. And that suits the elite whose money provides employment to the middle classes. Balls to the bottom 120 million. As usual. It’s too dangerous to allow those ignorant morons to vote.

  23. shiv

    Pakistan is run like a Mughal kingdom.

    The military at the core and the military commander is the Sultan. Everyone else is secondary. Feudal elites are vassals whose survival ultimately rests on the health of the Sultan and Sultanate.

    Sadly even Mughal kingdoms of yore did not really have sharia. Perhaps Pakistan will show the way? 😀

  24. Raza Raja


    Yes it is true that integrity is protected by army through coersion and nothing else. it is the only disciplined institution in the country.
    And yes theoratically democracy always has this redistributive power and that is why this article supports it. The article if you read it till the end also suppports democracy because of ethnic fabric of Pakistan. Armed dictatorship allows the forceful integrity maintenance of army to seep in daily lives also. For an ehtnic diverse country this proves carastrophic and has proven catastrophic. That is why I support democracy.

    However the notion that middleclass is consciously opposing democracy to retain its so called privilages is not true.
    It may appear like that because the effect is such. But in reality its opposition is due to choas and apparent incompetence of the political class.

    Historically and the article points it also that democracy, particualrly the universal suffrage has evolved in the last stage and after rule of law, courts , and seperation of powers etc had already become established. This has not happened in pakistan and a hist of other countries which have experienced turmoil with democracy.

    But it has to continue …

  25. Amit Kumar

    With you guys having such an interesting discussion i read thoughts of Ambedkar on Partition and he was for it.. His views on Army was quite interesting. here are some :

    The Hindus have a difficult choice to make: to have a safe Army or a safe border
    The defence of Hindustan, far from being weakened by the creation of Pakistan, will be infinitely improved by it.

    Once Pakistan is created, Hindustan, having ample resources in men and money, can have an Army which it can call its own and there will be nobody to dictate as to how it should be used and against whom it should be used.

    I want to warn Indians against the most stupid habit that has grown up in this country of discussing the question of Swaraj without reference to the question of the army. Nothing can be more fatal than the failure to realize that a political army is the greatest danger to the liberty of India. It is worse than having no army.

  26. Amit Kumar

    @Raza Raja.. looks like Ambedkar warning to India has come true for Pakistan..

    “a political army is the greatest danger to the liberty of India. It is worse than having no army.”

    is a very bold statement considering he was making in 1941 and coming from a untouchable caste background. so carry no love for hinduisim.

  27. Raza Raja

    @ Amit Kumar

    A political army is not only problematic for India but has been a constant source of trouble for Pakistan also. That is why despite the apparent problems of democracy in Pakistan, I will never support army ruling us again

  28. Amit Kumar

    @Raza Raja,
    I think I should defend Indian Army here. I do not think they have ever played any political role. Once Army came to our collage campus for presentation. “apolitical” was one of their motto and they were very proud of this.

    As far as i have read news about pakistan, currently foreign policy, internal security and finance ministry are in the hands of Army. So, i donot know how Pakistani middle class putting all the blame on civilian govt. Media is hell bound to discredit it.

    I think military take over will be good for india. Atleast India will know that they are talking with right person and can deliver. Personally i completely agree with Ambedkar that no army is better than a political army. And i wish all the best in Pakistan who are raising their voice for democracy.

  29. Raza Raja

    @ NSA

    Actually the local bodies have been stronger during military regime because in normal democratic regimes, the national assembly member has been more involved in the local politics also apart from national politics. In military regimes since the national assembly is made dyfunctional and executive power holds with army therefore the local issues are tapped through developing local bodies. No military regime can function totally with out any sort of democratic mechanism, so they try to develop these bodies

  30. Amit Kumar

    @ NSA . some one in India said when Musharaf was in power. Pakistan has imperfect military ruke and india has imperfect democracy.

  31. Amit Kumar

    August 27, 2010 at 8:28 am
    You wrote..

    Shiv.. you are great man..very interesting insight.

    “They give them jihad and tell them that India and Israel are baying for their blood.”

    I think thats why Carl Marx said that the “organized religion is nothing but an opiate for the masses”.

  32. shiv

    @ Raza Raja
    In military regimes since the national assembly is made dyfunctional and executive power holds with army therefore the local issues are tapped through developing local bodies. No military regime can function totally with out any sort of democratic mechanism, so they try to develop these bodies

    I think the development of local democracy was fostered in the Ayub Khan regime – at a time when he obviously had no intention of giving up power, and when US aid helped make Pakistan one of the earliest “Asian tigers”. Ayub instituted the “basic democracies” program at the local level – but tried to combine this with authoritarian power which he wielded at the top. Some version of this has continued to this day ensuring that there is a degree of local democracy that stops at a “firewall” beyond which it is military-elite autocracy and oligarchy.

    Yahya actually held the most free and fair elections in Pakistan in which East Pakistanis ended up voting en bloc for Sheikh Mujib ur Rehman’s party which should have assumed power in Islamabad. Of course the elite, (represented by ZA Bhutto) hated the idea leading to a series of events that broke up Pakistan.

    Zia was a corrupt autocrat. The “rebound democracy” (Botox Baby Benazir) that came after Zia’s tryst with mangoes was eventually foiled by the army’s own democratic baby Nawaz Sharif.

    But the army has always been the ultimate arbiter. You cannot have democracy and autocracy simultaneously. So you have a sham of “local democracy” which ostensibly makes the vast majority of Pakistanis “democratic” while the real power is concentrated in an oligarchy which will never be changed or removed by the “voters” below them being fed with sham democracy.

    I believe that there are historical precedents for a monarchy or an oligarchy that was seen as very just and as an ideal to follow. Islamic history speaks of the great period when the four rightly guided Caliphs ruled. Hindus refer to “Ram Rajya” – the just kingdom of Ram after he emerged victorious from his travails. The point is that it is not as though an autocratic government cannot work. Clearly random distribution would demand that at least some autocratic governments be very good and some extremely bad. The real problem is the setting up of a system where the greatest amount of good can be done for the maximum number of people regardless of who the leader is.

    Democracy and communism are both relatively modern attempts at improving on ancient (legacy) autocratic/monarchic systems. Those latter legacy systems are highly dependent on the leader of the day and unless deliberate effort is put in, poor autocratic leadership will always lead to empowerment and wealth of a few while sidelining the vast majority who will remain poor and bound by lack of power to protest or earn.

    The “middle class” are a special category who escape from the seasonal cycle of poverty and hunger and in Europe it was industrialization and trade that helped the middle class to grow. Neither has been fostered over the decades. Pakistan’s economy and main exports are still fundamentally agriculture based. Pakistan’s middle class is too small and too dependent on the controlling elite and army to make a difference. They have to kowtow to the obvious lords even if they curse them

    Unless the Pakistani army voluntarily gives up its power in Pakistan, democracy cannot come to Pakistan by magic. But the Pakistani army as an institution is addicted to the money and the power and will do what it takes to keep things that way. You can make one general wise. But making a collection of generals and the ranks below them understand that their importance comes at the expense of someone else has not been possible in Pakistan.

    It is my estimate that about 5 million Pakistanis benefit directly from the armed forces. Even if I double that to 10 million – it works out to 5% of the population benefiting from 20% of the annual budget. Add to that the Army’s commercial interests and the fact that 45% of Pakistan’s land is owned by 2% of the people. I have a report that shows that 12% of Pakistan’s arable land is owned by army generals. In Pakistan the feudal elite and the army are hand in glove and democracy does not serve their interests.

    Only revolution can save the people of Pakistan. But it may not save Pakistan. Pakistan is being “saved” by its army.

  33. Raza Raja


    The army’s commercial interests are protected even if it does not take over Islamabad. over the years, a culture has become entrenched that no one can touch it.

    The article deals with the situation where army actually takes over or forces a change in the government. Generally it is only able to do when when there is wide spread discontent with the civilian government due incompetence and choas

    And army’s takeover at that point has historically been welcomed by people in Pakistan. The central theme of the article was to point out that why such situations arise and that such situations need to be avoided. Simply saying that army should avoid taking over is not enough. There are times when it is literally forced to take over to avoid total choas. For that matter lets not forget that army coups are not unique to pakistan. They have reigned supreme wherever there is widespread choas from thailand to south korea.

    The reality is far more complex. In order to make democracy work, we need to have institutions which provide stability and proper checks and balances. those institutions developed in Eurpope BEFORE universal suffrage but here universal suffrage has arived before such institutions. However we can not now role back so therefore we need to cultivate those institutions while giving democracy a chance.

  34. Bin Ismail

    In my humble opinion, it’s not a question of being skeptical of democracy, it’s a question of being skeptical of an inept government. Bad governance or no governance would obviously inspire skepticism towards the government, whether civilian or military.

  35. ali hamdani

    @asterisk. Let us not confuse that the Pak Army is doing this on the orders of the State government. The people of civil government have also been affected greatly in these floods so you must not jump to no conclusions.

  36. Bin Ismail

    The historian will most likely judge Pakistan Army’s present ongoing war against a militant power-seeking religious clergy, as the most important of all wars fought by them. During all previous wars, the adversary stood face-to-face across the border. Today, the enemy is within the borders, on homeland territory. More than 3000 of our valiant men have already laid down their lives fighting the scourge of the militant mullah. The existential threat to Pakistan was never as great as the one posed by these mullahs today.