There is a joke going around globally about democracy that it is going through its midlife crisis.
Journalist Ghazi Salahuddin said this during a session titled ‘Is democracy always the best form of government?’ on the concluding day of ‘A World of Tomorrow Reimagined’, a two-day event organised by the School of Tomorrow at a hotel.
The panel discussion was hosted by journalist Mehmal Sarfraz and besides Salahuddin, included journalist Zebunnisa Burki and rights activists Jibran Nasir and Dr Taimur Rahman.
Speaking about the ongoing debate on whether the country should be secularised or made an Islamic state, Nasir opined that dialogue was needed, as the latter group could not be conveniently ignored.
The rights activist was of the view that the extremist front in the form of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) was working in an intelligent way because they were amassing people.
According to him, political parties needed to constantly engage with the youth or else a large chunk of the young population would happily go towards parties like the TLP. Nasir said that in order to counter the extremists’ discourse, the narrative of progressives must not be restricted to Twitter and Facebook.
Salahuddin was of the view that the country’s current system based on democracy was a farce. “When it comes to Pakistan, we need to see that the current leadership considers the state of Madina as the ideal, believes in Scandinavian values of welfare and looks up to China as a model, which reflects the confusion.”
He added that the onus of this absurd situation must not be put on people who vote, as when the state does not provide any security to its citizens, every person has to look after themselves.
Commenting on three eras of dictatorship in Pakistan, Salahuddin said that three dictators, Ayub Khan, Ziaul Haq and Musharraf, got “lucky” that despite projecting a negative image of the state, they got monetary support owing to different invasions during their respective times.
“Dictatorship has always paved the way for corruption and politicians have also been used as aides for the dictators, but we have yet to see them being answerable for it.”
Dr Rehman pointed out that Pakistan was not the only country leaning towards the right-wing politics, as the same shift was being witnessed across the world. He added that a global decline in democratic values was observable since 2006 due to neoliberalism. According to the speaker, it was not the first time that this had happened, as a similar situation had also been witnessed in the 1930s.
“When the IMF started dictating solutions for budget deficits, leading to a cut in welfare provisions for people, the inequality rose and people looked for an outsider who could bring them out of their misery,” Dr Rehman said, adding that it was a similar phenomenon that resulted in the rise of Hitler, Mussolini and others.
Burki felt that instead of focusing on identity politics, class dynamics must also be taken into account and hegemony of political elite must be questioned. The journalist was of the view that in order to make democracy work for the country, help must not be sought from those who birthed extremists and had been giving them ground to flourish ever since the inception of the country.
All panellists agreed that democracy was always better than theocracy and dictatorship, and a system that empowered disenfranchised groups would help the country get out of crisis.
‘A World of Tomorrow Reimagined’ had kicked off on Saturday with President Dr Arif Alvi as the chief guest. The president also addressed the ceremony and highlighted the need for improving education.
A session was also held on Saturday on the freedom of expression, in which various speakers tried to define the right to free speech and commented on different facets of media censorship in the country.
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