Civilian rule – The illusion of Pakistan Democracy

For more information about the author, see here.
To email Andrew, click here.
To see Andrew’s speaking videos on these topics, click here


I spent 2 ½ years in Pakistan coordinating the earthquake relief following the massive earthquake in 2005. During this time I came to learn a lot about Pakistan. I am not convinced that a corrupt civilian government is better than a military one. I wrote the below in 2008 after leaving the country, and my views have not changed as I have seen the rule of Zadari unfold.
There are two other blogs on the coordination of the earthquake relief.
  • Looking form the start of the effort here, and
  • From the end looking backwards here.
I have three videos from Pakistan:
  • How we coordinated the earthquake relief here.
  • The fun and spectacular parts of Pakistan here.
  • Thoughts on leaving the country here.
Civilian rule – The illusion of Pakistan Democracy.
Pakistan is neither a democracy, nor a military dictatorship. Regardless of what transpires after the attempted returns of Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Shariff, or whether President General Pervez Musharraf keeps or removes his military uniform, Pakistan will remain neither a democracy nor a dictatorship.
To create a genuine democracy Pakistan faces the daunting task of developing and promoting gender and economic equality. Only then it can hope to promote anything like a democracy that Australians understand.
Five components of the Pakistani society are indicative of the current state of affairs. These are the media, the courts, the civil service, the military and the political parties.
In 1999 when Musharraf took over as President in a coup (or ‘counter-coup if you accept Musharraf’s account of events), the international media condemned the take-over by a military dictatorship. Whilst it is not right for the military to over-turn an elected government, the government it put in place was not a dictatorship but what one could call a ‘military lead’ government.
Military dictatorships are normally brutal, authoritative and pay no regard to institutions of the state, let alone media, courts and civil society. Yet since coming to power Musharraf has sponsored a comparative liberation of the media and an expansion of freedom of speech when compared to his two ‘democratic’ predecessors.
Whilst many would say that Pakistan is far from perfect, the number of independent TV channels created in Pakistan since 1999, many critical of the government, is well into triple figures.
The expansion of an independent media is not normally an indicator of a ‘dictatorship’.
Musharraf’s recent well publicised run-in with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is also demonstrative of non-dictatorial behaviour. Musharraf did not ‘sack’ the Chief Justice, he referred accusations of corruption against the Chief Justice to a panel of judges for review, and suspended him during that review.
The Judicial Review dismissed the charges, re-established the Chief Justice and the Chief Justice’s re-instatement was accepted by Musharraf. Musharraf did not like it, but he accepted it. Is this acceptance an action of a ‘dictator’?
Like India, the Pakistani Civil Service has a culture and a structure reflective of the Colonial Civil Service the British created. It is large, slow and lethargic (an accusation thrown at most civil services).
In my experience of the relief and reconstruction following the 2005 earthquake (both of which have been incredibly successful when measured against any international standards) it has been the military structures that delivered rapid results, and the civilian structures that moved too slowly. When the military attempted to hand responsibility for food deliveries to displaced people, the civilian structures failed and the military took responsibility back.
When looking at reconstruction, few if any reconstruction activities have been done by line ministries. Those that have successfully been implemented are those supported bilateral partners, donors, and supervised by the military led Reconstruction Authority. The civil service has been slow to get going. It is picking up speed now, but it took time.
Whilst rapid delivery required military involvement following a disaster, the Civil Service’s institutional lethargy ensures that there is a degree of governmental conservatism that acts as a buffer to a full government takeover by the military.
The military takes a large role in government – perhaps too large  – and at times acts as a ‘paternalistic elder brother’ to the civilian structures.
So what would be needed to move from this ‘paternalism’ to democracy? Would it be possible and would it be a good idea?
Two things additional to the judiciary and the media are needed: One is a functioning party system that represents people, and the other is a belief in ‘one person one vote’, both of which are linked by class and culture.
In Pakistan there is not a strong egalitarian nature as in Australia. There is a strong class system where political parties appear to be the preserve of the rich and influential class. Take Benazirr Bhutto’s ‘People’s Party’ as one example.
Is a party led by the Oxford and Harvard educated daughter of a former Prime Minister, whose family estates cover thousands of acres – really representative of the poor and dispossessed?
In a country where even the middle class refer to their full-time drivers, cleaners and household staff as ‘servants’, where feudalism and clan ties still rule, can one person one vote work? Can an upper middle class man accept that his vote is ‘only’ worth the same as his ‘maid-servant’s vote?
What of the vast majority of women whose political and economic class doesn’t, like Bhutto, raise her from the slums? In a country where in many villages a female will not show herself to a non-related male, how can she attend a polling station?
Given the class divide can we say the country could eventually accept one ‘man’ one vote, let alone ‘one person’ on vote?
Although it is tempting to look towards a female Prime Minister in the Islamic world as a beacon of hope and moderation, one perhaps can also see her two previous terms as Prime Minster for another indication that shows her class and not her gender to be the key factor.
She was elected on the back of her family name, fighting for political power after the military government executed her father.
Yet both her previous terms ended with her being dismissed by a civilian President for alleged corruption. She is also appealing against a conviction in the Swiss courts for money-laundering.
This corruption is perhaps a more ‘realistic’ symbol of what class and democracy has brought to Pakistan’s political system.
Categorising Pakistan as a military ‘dictatorship’ is wrong. But moving to democracy is not as simple as one man removing his uniform. A true democracy in Pakistan would take the breaking of a feudal and class system, elevating women to equal status, and the fostering of economic and educational development.
It will require the slow building of faith and trust in both the institutions of government, and the people who fill those institutions.
In this context perhaps a ‘benevolent dictatorship’ is better than a corrupt democracy – if one can find the benevolent dictator.

More discussion like this is in: : 


Your view is welcome. Please comment here.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s