Pakistan branded authoritarian

February 25, 2024

Pakistan branded authoritarian

“The essence of authoritarianism is to reduce human beings to the status of things.” — Hannah Arendt


akistan’s trajectory towards authoritarianism has been starkly highlighted by the latest Democracy Index released by The Economist Intelligence Unit. The report underscores a significant regression in Pakistan’s democratic credentials, marking a departure from its previous classification as a “hybrid regime” to now being categorised as an “authoritarian regime.”

This downgrade underscores the erosion of democratic principles and the consolidation of authoritarian tendencies in the country’s governance framework. Hybrid regimes blend autocratic and democratic elements, often exhibiting both political repression and periodic elections.

Authoritarianism, on the other hand, is defined by its outright rejection of democracy, civil liberties and political diversity. It relies on centralised power to maintain the the existing political order, often at the expense of legal principles, institutional checks and balances and democratic decision-making processes.

Pakistan stands out in the EIU assessment as the sole Asian nation to experience such a downgrade. This is indicative of the profound challenges confronting its democratic institutions. The report notes that amid preparations for the February 8 general elections, Pakistan witnessed a series of developments that contributed to its authoritarian slide.

Notably, the report underscores pervasive state repression, which undermines the credibility and fairness of electoral processes, casting doubt on the prospects for genuine democratic governance.

The decline in Pakistan’s ranking reflects broader global trends of democratic decline, with only a marginal proportion of the world’s population residing in countries categorised as “full democracies.” However, Pakistan’s precipitous fall, plummeting 11 places in the global ranking, signals a particularly acute deterioration. Key factors contributing to this decline include interference in the electoral process, governmental dysfunction and the erosion of judicial independence.

The curtailment of judicial independence has led to numerous instances of discrimination in the country’s courts, often reflecting broad biases entrenched in the legal system. Examples abound, showcasing how certain groups, whether based on ethnicity, religion, or political affiliation, face unequal treatment before the law. This, in fact, has been a chronic problem through its history with no course correction in sight.

One notable example is the discrimination faced by religious minorities in Pakistani courts. Members of minority communities, such as Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis frequently encounter bias and prejudice in legal proceedings. They may be denied fair trial, face trumped-up charges or experience harsher sentencing compared to their Muslim counterparts.

This systemic discrimination not only violates the principles of equality and justice but also perpetuates marginalisation and inequality in the Pakistani society. Furthermore, there are instances where the judiciary faces undue pressure. This interference undermines the independence of the judiciary, erodes the rule of law and compromises the fundamental rights of the citizens.

Instead of an assurance of justice, the protesters were met with oppressive measures. The march had been prompted by recent instances of enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killing. According to the Baloch Yakjehti Committee, the demonstrators were apprehended by the Islamabad police. Subsequently, bail was granted, leading to the release of all participants in the protest.

When it does not serve as a safeguard against such abuse of power, the judiciary is seen to be complicit in perpetuating repression and stifling the freedoms of expression and association. Such examples of discrimination and undue influence in the courts not only undermine the separation of powers but also erode public trust in the justice system.

A subversion of democratic norms and institutions not only hampers the realisation of the Pakistani people’s democratic aspirations but also poses significant challenges to regional stability and international norms of governance. It underscores the urgent need for reforms to safeguard judicial independence, uphold the rule of law and ensure equal access to justice for all citizens, regardless of their background or beliefs.

The reclassification of Pakistan as an authoritarian regime underscores the urgent need for concerted efforts to safeguard and strengthen democratic institutions; uphold the principles of accountability and transparency; and ensure the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms.

In the absence of meaningful reforms and a commitment to democratic governance, Pakistan risks further entrenching authoritarianism, with far-reaching implications for its citizens and the global community.

Being branded as an authoritarian regime makes Pakistan the sole Asian nation to undergo such a downgrade and marks a somber milestone in its democratic journey. Transitioning from a ‘hybrid regime,’ this shift underscores a troubling regression away from democratic principles and towards authoritarian consolidation.

The Economist’s report highlights how the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and its top leadership has been undermined. Its founder chairman has faced the brunt of this power play, having been indicted on corruption charges and incarcerated in August, significantly impairing his capacity to lead effectively despite his considerable popularity, particularly among urban demographics.

The report further highlights the suppression of protests following his. Coercive tactics, coupled with harassment and intimidation targeting senior PTI members, precipitated a wave of defections to the parties perceived to supported by the powerful quarters.

The Economist’s analysis paints a bleak picture for democratic prospects in Pakistan, emphasising that electoral processes are marred by repression, rendering opposition forces susceptible to persecution and stifling genuine advancement towards democratic governance.

Pakistan’s democratic regression serves as a cautionary tale, illustrating an insidious erosion of democratic norms and the perilous rise of authoritarianism. As the nation grapples with these challenges, the imperative for safeguarding democratic institutions, upholding the rule of law and fostering a culture of political pluralism becomes increasingly urgent. Failure to heed these warnings risks perpetuating a cycle of repression and undermining the aspirations of the Pakistani people for a truly democratic future.

The writer is a professor in the faculty of Liberal Arts at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore

Pakistan branded authoritarian