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Pakistani democracy

Pakistan’s unstable democracy completes five years. The occasion merits a review of what kind of dem

By Ahmed Quraishi
November 16, 2012
Pakistan’s unstable democracy completes five years. The occasion merits a review of what kind of democracy our next generation deserves and how we can achieve it.
This is important because a flawed, unstable and an unproductive political system does not represent the talent of the Pakistani people and is hindering Pakistan’s growth.Most importantly, our goal should be the well-being of Pakistanis and not the creation of a monument to democracy. Let ancient Rome continue to hold that honour.
Democracy takes time but a few useful tweaks can expedite the process. A long, drawn-out process can damage democracy and the country.The five-year milestone is an occasion to celebrate. But the future does not look promising if our flawed democracy is unable to correct itself fast. Criticising democracy does not mean supporting dictatorship or military takeover.
The military itself gets credit for helping achieve the five-year milestone. So this critique of democracy, no matter how harsh, aims at achieving a better democracy.Pakistani democracy should be based on four principles: access, peaceful, unite, and indigenous.
Our democracy should give access to all Pakistanis. Today, two talented Pakistani-origin politicians, Sayeeda Warsi, 41, and Hadia Tajik, 29, have found space in the governments of Britain and Norway. Prominent Pakistanis from humble backgrounds are making similar inroads in Canada and the United States.
The one country where they can’t achieve such success is Pakistan. Here, politics are controlled by a tightly-knit ruling elite.Pakistani political parties don’t act as incubators for new blood but as a graveyard for talent and merit. While mediocre politicians misrule and plunder the country, talented Pakistanis are forced to emigrate and emerge as Warsis and Tajiks in countries that provide opportunity on merit.
Our Political Parties Act needs to be amended to put a cap on the terms of senior party positions, enforce democracy and elections inside parties, and force parties to present governance plans. These amendments, along with a demonstrable plan for inducting and grooming new blood, should become a legal prerequisite to form a political party.
Pakistani parties should be peaceful. Secret militant wings, which currently range from benign small armed detachments to full-fledged militias equipped with illegal lethal weapons, fighters and assassins, need to be disbanded and members exposed, rehabilitated and prosecuted.
The ability of three political parties – and scores of sectarian groups of all kinds – to control the nation’s largest city through armed militias is an unacceptable situation and cannot be justified in the name of democracy.
Pakistani democracy should unite. The purpose of politicians and political parties is to work as solution providers. They should solve a community’s problems and improve life and livelihood. What is happening in our flawed democracy now is that failed parties and politicians who have no achievements to show resort to divisive politics based on language, ethnicity or religion.
They are dividing Pakistanis. A democracy that divides is dangerous for the country. Ours should unite our people.
Last, our democracy needs to be indigenous. The 2006-07 secret NRO deal negotiated between former president Musharraf, the American and British governments and the leadership of the PPPP is an unprecedented example of foreign meddling in our politics, made possible sadly by Pakistanis in power. We cannot afford a democracy where key players are based in foreign lands, maintain assets and families abroad, hold foreign passports and are beholden to foreign loyalties.
Who will introduce these changes? The vast majority of ordinary Pakistanis can push for this change, enlist the help of like-minded activists and politicians, and should not shy away from enlisting the help of the judiciary.
The military is not playing a role in politics since 2008 but it has played such a role in the past. The military can help by breaking its traditional support for a political elite that has been tested, tried and failed.
Our target as Pakistanis is to create a functional democratic system that delivers stability and growth. A ruling elite that benefits from a flawed system will blackmail the country and prevent change in the name of defending democracy. This should not deter us from seeking a better, improved democracy.