By Yasser Latif Hamdani (Published in the Daily Times on 27 September 2010)
The pictures that have emerged from the Athletes Village at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi have conclusively rubbished the India shining myth. This would not come as a surprise to those Pakistanis who have visited India or have interacted with Indians visiting Pakistan. Most Indians visiting Pakistan comment on how much more developed Pakistan is, how clean Pakistan’s cities are, how much better Pakistani roads are than India’s and how they find fewer beggars on Pakistani roads than on Indian roads. It will, however, certainly shock those who have been brought to believe that India is the land of milk and honey.
The truth is that while India’s humiliation has cheered us up, that country is increasingly placed in an entirely different category and is generally seen as a success story. Pakistan is – despite what we might say or like to believe – seen as a basket case and a country that is likely to disintegrate. Most Pakistanis deep down also believe this and for very good reasons. Therefore, we must ask ourselves what it is that we are doing wrong and what India is doing right.
The difference is that India has – despite all its handicaps – managed to sustain a system of peaceable transfer of power on the basis of participatory constitutional democracy for 60 years, which gives people hope. An average Indian is therefore much more invested in his country than an average Pakistani, because unlike the average Pakistani, an average Indian has ownership in his own country. This ownership is the result of the continuity of the democratic process alone. In Pakistan we have never allowed any process to continue long enough to let it dent our social structure. The first constitution, for example, was allowed to last only two years before it was thrown away to make way for direct military rule, which was welcomed all over Pakistan by all sections of society. It had taken nine long years to make that constitution.
Now, two years after the triumphant return to democracy, the cries for military intervention are once again getting stronger. The Bangladesh model is the new buzz word. The idea that judges and the military can together fashion a civilian government is very attractive to the powers of the status quo today.
That an interim government of technocrats put together and given legitimacy by the Supreme Court will, in the short run, work, is possible, though not probable, but what is definite is that in the long run, it will only weaken the system’s ability to correct itself. Most of our complaints against democracy are part of the same vicious cycle. We pave the way for unconstitutional takeovers when we complain that politicians are corrupt and derived from privileged classes. Yet we forget that every time we break the system, we make the same corrupt politicians martyrs and when democracy is inevitably revived, they return with an even greater mandate.
There are a few simple facts that need to be driven home if we want Pakistan to attain some form of respectability in the wider world. First and foremost, Pakistan was conceived as a constitutional democratic state based on the rule of law where the elected representatives of the people were to be the ultimate arbiters of the nation’s future. It is the departure from this basic principle that has been the cause of much heartbreak in our country. Second, democracy – often messy and based on compromise and accommodation – is not an easy road to take but the only road that leads anywhere. All other roads are circular and lead to disaster. Finally, the only kind of ‘revolutions’ that unelected institutions bring are counter-revolutions. This must be underscored.
We must realise, as Pakistanis, that it is democracy alone that can truly give expression to the incredible mosaic of diversity and multiculturalism that Pakistan is. We often forget – deliberately in our zeal to project homogeneity – that this country of 170 million people consists of people who speak close to a dozen languages and practise almost every religion that is known to man. We count amongst our citizens people of every ethnic and racial stock. The only way such diversity can negotiate with itself is by accommodation, tolerance and mutual respect, values that are central to democracy.
If we take stock of these facts and make a solemn covenant that no matter what happens we will not deviate from the democratic path, there is no reason why we cannot one day in the future hold our heads high amongst the peoples of the world.