Paths to Democracy

in homistan

I remember reading Lawrence Ziring’s Pakistan: At the Crosscurrent of History and realizing that the discussions on Pakistan in the academy are completely divorced from the political spheres and the blogosphere. In fact, that is what gave me the idea to start CM in the first place. Hence, I am glad to find that Patrick Belton, of Oxblog, has just concluded a three part series on Democracy in Pakistan [at Winds of Change] which provides excellent points to start a discussion. It is refreshingly candid and intellectually stimulating. I suggest you go over and give it a gander. My main quibble with it is that it sticks to some dated realities (ISI-religious party alliances) and ignores some of the drastic changes brought about by 9/11 and Musharraf’s dictatorship.

There is something unique about this new military regime from previous ones. The standard triptych of power in Pakistan: Military+Civil Bureaucracy+Landed/Industrial Elite have historically managed to keep other claimaints to mass power out. The Jama’at-i Islami, under Maududi, tried to ally itself with one or the other but failed to resonate with the public. Zia, notoriously, used and discarded the Jama’at during his Islamization process.

Musharraf has destroyed that [quasi]balance. First, his policy of re-assigning civil bureaucrats and judges and installing military overseers have crippled the influence of the bureaucracy *(remember: the District Commissioner has been king in Pakistan since the British Raj as the most immediate holder of all municipal and civil authority). Secondly, he has managed to cut the knees off the ISI (simply look at the mass resignation of upper cadres of the army in the last 3 years from Brigadeers to Generals). Thirdly, and most importantly, he has promoted economic business reforms that have empowered a new entrepreneurial class to emerge (the booming software and tech houses in lahore and karachi are clear examples). The impact of this particular step is the fostering of a new business class that will look towards global economy and internal stability as prime objectives. The old business class, which was a sub-section, of industrial and landed elite will get waylaid. Yes, I am being overly simplistic but stick with me for a second.

The impact of all these policies is the emergence of the military as a CIVIL bureaucracy (where do you think those retired colonels and brigadeers are going?) alongwith an IMMENSE power vacuum. For now, Musharraf fills that power vacuum but, for the first time in Pakistani history, the Islamist organizations have a chance to gleam some of that power. The victory of MMA points to that as does the rise of various overtly religious figures in PML and PPP etc.

Now, the claim to power of these faith-based parties is still not Islamization but anti-American rhetoric. That will either fade away with the Iraq hand-off and a Bush ouster or it will metastasize with continuing bungling in Iraq and any further NeoCon adventures in Arabian nights. Regardless, the path to victory itself will change these parties. One need only look at the rhetoric of the BJP in 1992 and in 2004. Extreme politics gets you noticed but if you fight your way to power, you MUST adapt.

As for Dictator Musharraf, he has both supporters and detractors. I am ambivalent. Anything that upends the status quo is good news to me. Yet, I am utterly convinced that there is only one way to get to Democracy: Practice, Practice, Practice. Any blip on that road is bad news for Pakistan. The argument that Pakistanis don’t know how to handle democracy is elitist and bogus. Democracy must return to Pakistan.

Over all, I think Pakistan has an excellent chance of promoting systematic reform in its key areas: economic, social, political in the coming years. For that to happen, it will have to continue to enjoy the lavish (and rich) attention of US, it will have to continue to participate in the global (by global, I mean Asian) economies, and it will have to continue to develop a civil society around the excellent work done by N.G.Os (who are finally starting to pull some political weight).

Lastly, I want to mention one key thing that never enters any discussion of Pakistani future (no ISLAM is not it!). That is the role played by the return of the millions who left Pakistan for the Gulf in 70s and 80s. This population is ill-fitted in the fabric of the society (I know, my father is one of them) and the first political or governmental group that touches its core-issues (education, civic law and business) will harvest a mass following just as great as Bhutto with his cry of Roti, Kapra aur Makan (Bread, Cloth and House) in the 70s.

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