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It has been sixty three years since the creation of Pakistan in 1947. Since independence, it has been striving for development and the establishment of democracy.  The Objectives Resolution, which was adopted in 1949 by the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, also proclaimed that the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice, as enunciated by Islam, shall be fully observed (ObjectivesResolution). But what we see today, after sixty three years of independence, is that unfortunately a strong democratic system could not be established in the country.  India, on the other hand, not only sustained the democratic idea for more than half a century, but also today it enjoys the status of world’s largest democracy. Here the question is, “Is Pakistan, in essence, a democratic state? What are the factors responsible for the failure of the establishment of an effectual democratic system in the country?”

It has been the failure of the civilian representative government in performing their duties effectively which resulted in poor governance, and which consequently led to the military interference in Pakistani politics. While in India, the representative government of the people had never been crushed and taken over by the military dictators.

This paper compares the democratic regimes of both the countries and explores the factors which have hindered the establishment of genuine democracy in Pakistan. This paper starts with the literature review and critical analysis of the works of various authors on the subject of authoritarian rule and democratic regimes. This paper then presents the findings to address the question. In the first part of the discussion, this paper explores the factors which have taken Indian democracy to its peak, and in the second part, factors responsible for the failure of democracy in Pakistan have been explored.  To substantiate the arguments, this paper includes relevant examples, case studies and historical evidence.

This paper is mostly based on the secondary research including articles from JSTOR and books on the subject of democracy and authoritarian rule in India and Pakistan. The articles chosen for the research are important because the authors of these articles are well known for their research on South Asian politics and history. This paper also includes analysis of various senior analysts in the documentary, “Pakistan: A Crisis Guide”.

Bhikhu Parekh in his article, “Nehru and the National Philosophy of India” talks about the steps taken by Nehru during his tenure to make India a developed and democratic country. He argues that for Nehru every state needed a national philosophy or national ideology to hold it together and give it coherence and a sense of direction. For Nehru “modernization” was India’s national philosophy, which involved seven national goals, including national unity, parliamentary democracy, industrialization, socialism, scientific temper, secularism and non alignment (Parekh, 5).  This paper will explore Parekh’s argument further in the discussion part.

Stephen Cohen in his article, “The Army’s Pakistan” explores the role of Pakistan army and the core beliefs of the officer corps. In the first part of his article, he talks about the past, present and future generations of the Pakistani army. Then he turns to their core strategic vision for Pakistan. In the last part of his article, he talks about the role of army in the politics of the country. To address the question, “Why has military always found it essential to interfere in the politics?” Stephen Cohen presents four arguments. Firstly, the army’s professional competence compared with the incompetence of the civilian sector is reason enough to justify military interventions. Secondly, because of their undeniable patriotism, they stake a special claim to power. Thirdly, they claim that they understand the national interest better than civilians. Lastly, they think that the politicians are seen in a negative light, while the army is the only organization which functions at an acceptable level of competence (Cohen, 325).

Andrew Wilder in his article, “Pakistan’s Electoral History” talks about the electoral system and electoral history of Pakistan. He starts his essay by claiming that after independence, bureaucracy was very powerful. The legacy of bureaucratic rule in Pakistan has been in competition with the legacy of constitutionalism and rule by public representatives. The latter legacy has remained very strong throughout Pakistan’s political history. Wilder then presents the history of elections in Pakistan starting from 1947 to 1993 Parliamentary elections. He also talks about the military interventions in Pakistani politics, the military regimes and their impact on the electoral process (Wilder, 15).

Ian Talbot in his article, “General Pervez Musharraf: savior or destroyer of Pakistan’s democracy” talks about Musharraf’s military regime and its effects on democracy. A dominant theme of Musharraf’s tenure has been the need for good governance. For its achievement, the process of accountability and administrative reforms was important, which will replace the previous sham democracy with the real democracy. Talbot examines these claims in terms of political developments in Pakistan, as well as within the context of earlier military interventions. Talbot further argues that the focus is not on Musharraf, but on the institutions that shape Pakistan’s quest for democracy (Talbot, 311).

After the independence of India in 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, devoted attention to the elaboration of a unifying national philosophy. Bhikhu Parekh argues that the Indian leadership, right after the independence from the British colonizers, started taking steps for the economic and social development of the country (Parekh, 5). The seven goals of Nehru clearly indicate his devotion and enthusiasm for making India a prosperous and democratic country. Like many other leaders, Nehru was convinced that India had become deeply degenerate and required radical restructuring. In one of his speeches, Nehru said, “I may say that it is a most satisfying and encouraging experience to see such an enormous electorate of more than 200 million people going through this primary responsibility of parliamentary democracy with such smooth efficiency. Ours is not only the biggest democracy in the world, but among the electorate almost every civilization is represented” (Parekh, 6).Passionately convinced that his national ideology held the key to Indian political salvation, Nehru threw all his personal and political authority behind it. Parekh argues that giving India such un-coerced ideological coherence and continuity for over four decades was a remarkable historical achievement (Parekh, 12). This was a unique achievement in the Third World countries, and amply entitles him to the status of the founder of the modern Indian state.

On the other hand, the Pakistani leadership could not grasp the popular support in the post partition period. Although the Objective Resolution, passed by the Constituent Assembly in 1949, proclaimed that the principles of democracy shall be observed, yet the steps taken by the then leadership were contrary to these principles. For instance Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the first Governor General of Pakistan, in his address to the students of Dhaka University in 1948, imposed Urdu as the national language of Pakistan. At that time, Bengali speakers constituted fifty five percent of the population of the country. This decision sparked heavy protests in East Pakistan. In one of the chapters of his book, “India, Pakistan and Democracy”, Oldenburg argues that the attempt of Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, to impose Urdu as the national language, sparked protests among the Bengali speaking majority in East Pakistan, which seceded during a violent war and became Bangladesh in 1971(Oldenburg, 8).  India, on the other hand, tried to diffuse any ethno linguistic tensions in the years after partition. Despite the fact that forty percent plurality of Indians spoke Hindi, India recognized several official languages including English.

Military interference in the Pakistani politics is also an important factor which hindered the establishment of democracy in Pakistan.  In a democratic system, supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation.  It is very unfortunate that in Pakistan, no democratically elected government was able to complete its five years tenure. The elected assemblies were either dissolved by the president, or by the military dictators. These military regimes have always suspended the political process, and sought to divide and rule in advance of restarting it. Christine Fair argues that each time that the military has gone in, it has hollowed out Pakistan’s civil institutions, and it has actually diminished the power of civil society to resist the military. For smooth functioning of a democratic system, it is very important that the supreme power should lie with the Parliament (Crisis Guide Pakistan). But in the history of Pakistani politics, this never happened. Ayesha Jalal argues that the overt authoritarianism that Pakistan has experienced for much of its history has been shaped by institutional imbalances between the elected and non elected institutions of the state (Jalal, 184). Field Martial Ayub Khan was the first martial law administrator, who imposed martial law in the country in 1958. And then this military intervention never stopped. In 1969, after succumbing to the huge up rise against his dictatorship, Ayub Khan handed over the power to General Yahya Khan, who declared martial law in 1969. However, Yahya’s military intervention was the most atypical intervention because he had no plans to reform Pakistan’s political order, and after assuming power he promised the nation that he will hand over the power back to the civilian government. Andrew Wilder argues that Yahya Khan, in his first message to the nation, assured the citizens that his primary task would be to hold elections and to restore power to a civilian government. To the surprise of many, Yahya lived up to his word, and the next year oversaw Pakistan’s first national elections held on the basis of universal adult franchise (Wilder, 25).

The third military rule began in 1977 when the government of Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was overthrown by General Zia ul Haq. Upon assuming power as Chief Martial Law Administrator, General Zia gave his solemn pledge to hold elections within ninety days. But unlike General Yahya Khan, he did not live up to his word and did not hold elections. Andrew Wilder argues that Zia postponed the elections because it seemed increasingly likely that the fresh elections would return PPP to power. So it was unlikely that Bhutto would have forgiven Zia for an act constitutionally designated as high treason (Wilder, 27).  The military regime of Zia ul Haq lasted for ten years when, in August 1988, he died in a plane crash. But the military intervention did not end. In October 1999, General Pervez Musharraf once again overthrew the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Ian Talbot claims that although General Musharraf portrayed his coup as different from earlier military regimes on the grounds that his coup was an unplanned reaction to Nawaz Sharif’s elective authoritarianism, yet the international opinion has only partially accepted it (Talbot, 313). This argument can be backed by the fact that despite Musharraf’s stock rose following his positioning of the country as the frontline state in the Western coalition against terrorism, Pakistan’s suspension from the commonwealth was not lifted. Daniel Markey argues that it is important to establish contacts and relationships with the civilian leaders of the country. To make it clear in our interactions with the Pakistan military that while we need to work with them, we expect at the same time that we will have civilian partners to work with (Crisis Guide Pakistan).

In India, on the other hand, the military has always refrained from intervening in the politics. India confronted the authoritarian regime just once in 1975, and even that lasted for just two years. On 26 June 1975, Indira Gandhi’s government imposed Emergency in India. The official reasons behind her government’s decision were to thwart threats to its internal security from a populist movement known as the Jaya Prakash (JP) movement, to control corruption and to combat high rate of inflation. The state of Emergency ended on January 18, 1977. All political prisoners were freed unconditionally and general elections were held within three months.

In the history of the Pakistani politics, the military regimes were not the only hindrance in the establishment of democratic system. On certain occasions, the elected presidents dissolved their own assemblies using their power. In 1985, during the military regime of General Zia ul Haq, the 8th constitutional amendment was passed which changed the Parliamentary system to a Semi-Presidential System, which gave the President a number of additional powers. It included a section 58-2(b) in the Constitution of Pakistan, according to which President in his discretion can dissolve assemblies if a situation has arisen in which the Government of the Federation cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and an appeal to the electorate is necessary (The Constitution of Pakistan). Now this discretionary power has been used by the President. President Ghulam Ishaq Khan used it twice. First he dissolved the government of PPP in 1990, and then he dissolved the government of PML-N in 1993. Later, vigorous debates started on the issue of power of the President. Many critics referred to the Parliamentary democracy of India, in which Presidency is vested with minimum powers and supreme power lies with the Parliament. In 1996, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif passed the 13th constitutional amendment, which omitted the section 58-2(b). But this amendment was repealed again by General Pervez Musharraf during his military regime. In 2003, he passed the 17th constitutional amendment, which again included the 58-2(b) section in the constitution. So it can be argued that in Pakistan, Parliamentary democracy has never flourished in its essence. The civilian governments were dissolved either on the charges of corruption or poor governance. In 2010, 18th constitutional amendment has been passed by the Parliament which has omitted the section 58-2(b). This can be seen as a positive step towards establishment of a Parliamentary democratic system.

Pakistan has been struggling for the establishment of genuine democracy, but in essence, the goal could not be achieved. There are many factors responsible for this failure, especially poor governance on the part of the leadership since the independence, and the military intervention. After the creation of Pakistan, several steps for the establishment of democracy and unification of the nation should have been taken, but unfortunately it didn’t happen. Instances like making Urdu the national language fueled and sparked heavy protests In Bengali speaking population of East Pakistan. Military intervention was yet another important factor which produced hazardous results and hindered the process of political development and democratization. The military has ruled for almost half of the period since Pakistan’s existence. They always tried to legitimize their intervention by blaming the corrupt and ineffectual civilian leadership, which in their view could not tackle the problems confronted by the nation effectively. The shifts between the Presidential and Parliamentary democratic systems also hindered the democratic progress. Even during the civilian leadership, the assemblies were dismissed by the President. Because of that, a civilian representative government could never complete its five years tenure. In India, on the other hand, democracy prospered and flourished because of sincere leadership and no military intervention, except for an authoritarian regime of 1975 when Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency. Since independence, steps were taken to unite the nation and for the development and prosperity of India. Although Pakistan Is confronting a lot of issues today, yet steps are being taken to make the Parliament supreme, and if no military intervention takes place and the civilian leadership is allowed to complete its tenure, we can hope for a Prosperous and democratic Pakistan in the future.

 Written By: Motahar Paracha          

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