Posted by: uss017 | November 14, 2007

We All Want Democracy in Pakistan – But at what Cost?

We All Want Democracy in Pakistan – But at what Cost?

– My analysis on the situation in Pakistan –

Azra Zaidi

I like democracy just as much as the next person. It epitomizes fairness, justice, freedom – all things we are taught to hold dear in a healthy society. However some ideas, while noble in theory, do not always work out as planned in reality. The declaration of emergency in Pakistan by General Pervez Musharraf while taunted as a draconian step by the media, should be looked at within context of the political and economic situation of Pakistan.

Although democracy has worked well for the west, it does not mean that it can be made to work overnight for the “rest of the world.” The difference is in the implementation. The democratization process forced upon the non-west world is starkly different from the process that western nations slowly progressed through. In their early stages the west consciously kept the poor and the uneducated disenfranchised. The right to vote was never extended to all the people of a state. The United States, England, and France all had laws that required those who wanted to vote to show some measure of wealth and education, either through ownership of property, paying a tax, or belonging to a certain class. It was through a gradual process that the right to vote was granted to all citizens of a state. In essence, the rise of capitalism and the market long predated the achievement of democracy in the west.

Ironically the form of democracy and free market system pushed upon the non-Western world is a process that no Western nation ever went through. Asking for overnight election with a laissez-faire economic policy with no redistributive mechanisms only sets a nation up for disastrous effects. It allows for corrupt politicians to manipulate the poor and the uneducated through short-term kickbacks and empty promises of a better life.

As the media sloughs our screens with screaming lawyers protesting the state of emergency, I can’t help but wonder what these lawyers are after. If it is democracy they want, then Pakistan had a democracy from 1988 until 2000 with Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharrif alternating between themselves in the 12 years, bringing corruption and looting to new levels. In 1996, Transparency International, a non-governmental watchdog group in Berlin, named Pakistan as the second most corrupt country in the world. When Benazir was in power, her government was estimated to have stolen between $1.5 billion and $2 billion, while not to be outdone, Nawaz Sharif defrauded the Pakistani people of some $1.2 billion. With these two so-called democracy-loving prime ministers, the political stability of the country had run aground while the economy suffered severely due to the treasury being turned into a personal bank account. Hallow rants of democracy and freedom without the appropriate forethought of what the result would bring is precisely the reason why Pakistan’s growth has been stagnated.

Pakistan has experienced democracy from its birth, but sadly each democratic initiative has failed. In fact it is the democratic governments that have plundered our country, crippling it under corruption and debt. Democracy is a great thing, however, it is not the solution to Pakistan’s problems. The same people calling for a swift return of democracy to Pakistan, such as Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Shariff, are the same corrupt politicians that brought ruin to the country in the first place.

Like him or hate him, the Musharraf government has presided over Pakistan’s most successful economy, averaging seven percent annual growth over the past five years. Compare this with the anemic three percent average in the 1990s under civilian rule. While corruption has not disappeared completely, Transparency International now ranks Pakistan 138th of 179 countries surveyed. The situation is much better than the near first place rank awarded to Pakistan during the 1990s. All in all, the relatively firm rule of the president general has been good for the economy – a steady growth, a rising stock market and substantial economic aid from the West, Pakistan is in a better place than it has ever been. In fact, the Asian Development Bank has cited Pakistan’s economy as being five times bigger than it was under Bhutto in 1996. Foreign reserves are 15 times what they were in 1990 when her first term ended and ten-fold that of 1996 when Bhutto’s second term ended.

Musharraf’s government is far from perfect. The President General’s decision to remove Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudhry from his position a few months ago was wrong. Musharraf underestimated the ramification of such a move, ultimately leading to an embarrassing situation in which he was forced to drop the charges and reinstate the chief justice. Such a move pitted the judiciary against the President, which had grave consequences, given that the same judiciary was to decide whether Musharraf would be allowed to run in the upcoming elections. The decision for Musharraf came down to this – declare a state of emergency or allow the judiciary to disqualify him from the elections and have Bhutto and Sharif reclaim power.

There are no easy answers. While I wish the situation in Pakistan did not have to come to this, I think the alternative is worse. Democracy is a great ideal in and of itself, but it is not a one-size-fits-all concept. Before Pakistan can function as a democracy, it needs to achieve a strong market system, attenuated by strong networks of redistribution institutions. These programs will provide extensive relief not only to the poor but also the uneducated.

The west eased into democracy by softening the effects of the market by formulating expansive redistributive programs, providing extensive relief not only to the poor but also leading to legislation for progressive taxation, social security, minimum wage laws, worker safety regulation, antitrust laws, and other such aspects. In England, the British government provides national insurance benefits for unemployment, sickness, disability, nationalized health care, and free public education. Germany’s welfare system is supplemented by expansive pro-labor legislation while Sweden and other Nordic countries have “cradle to grave” social legislation. Such efforts help soften the blows of massive poverty and illiteracy, both of which are the bread and butter of corrupt leaders. Thus, it was through voting exclusions and redistributive institutions that the Western nations were able to establish free market democracies.

Freedom, justice and democracy – Pakistan deserves them all, but not at the price of corruption, poverty, and economic failure. While Musharraf has his flaws, he is doing better than his predecessors ever have in helping to develop Pakistan economically. Let’s give him a chance before we roll in the democracy bandwagon.


© Musharraf Supporters 2007 All rights reserved



  1. Your interpretation of Transparency International’s report is very interesting.

    In the report here, I see Pakistan occupying joint fifth place in the ‘most corrupt countries’ list on page 23.
    (The score relates to perceptions of the degree of corruption as seen by business people and country analysts, and ranges between 10 (highly clean) and 0 (highly corrupt).)

    I think you read it backwards.

    Also I see no justification for your disturbing remark that “it was through voting exclusions and redistributive institutions that the Western nations were able to establish free market democracies.”

    In the view of most people, arbitrary voting exclusions are totally indefensible in any form of democracy. If you plan to implement a democracy any time soon, you had better get this straight. That and the rule of law.

  2. Hello Andy,

    I am posting Azra’s reply to your comments:



    “In the view of most people, arbitrary voting exclusions are totally indefensible in any form of democracy. If you plan to implement a democracy any time soon, you had better get this straight. That and the rule of law.”

    I have no interest in nor do I care about the view of most people. True democracy does not exist anywhere except in your propogandized text books. No nation has gone through and lived to tell about true-overnight implementation of democracy. (If you have examples I would be very interested in hearing about them.)

    While the idea of voting exclusions may seem reprehensible to you, it is reality as seen in examples from France, England, United States and other western nations. And while I do not support voting exclusions I discuss them to show how the west achieved democracy versus how the the rest of the world is naive in thinking that we can do it instantly. I do however believe that a stable economy must be established with expansive redistributive programs before we establish a democratic state. Most successful western nations are not democracies but rather “welfare” states. As I explained in the article, democracies have failed Pakistan time and time again and that’s because we do not have the proper mechanisms in place to support a free market system.

    Democracy and the rule of law are very good ideals. But where were these ideals in those 12 years when our country was being looted under the guise of your so-called democracy? Where were these lawyers and these mass protestors? Don’t talk about rule of law and democracy when it suits you. Apply is across the board or dispense with it entirely.

    “In the report here, I see Pakistan occupying joint fifth place in the ‘most corrupt countries’ list on page 23.”

    You’re right. I made a mistake in interpreting the chart (not on purpose though). However, the fact remains that our position is still better in the report than it was under Bhutto and Sharif. Corruption is very hard to root out and it takes time to do it, especially the when the entire country is infested with it. Another few years under Musharraf and I’m sure Pakistan will continue to occupy a better place on the list.

  3. We are still up there in coruption ratings mainly because of the judiciary. In transparency international report coruption has declined in various other departments, espeacially those that have been computerized e.g. I. D cards (NADRA) and Passport. Privatization scores well and a marked improvement in Custom and other Airport agencies.

  4. Here is something from todays news. Please tell me this is wrong.

    When a dictator is not a dictator

    [Moderator’s note: The pasted essay has been deleted and the article’s link has been provided above. Please do not copy and paste someone else’s article in full in the comments section. You can instead present a link and request others to view its contents. This is more straightforward and keeps the comments section tidy.]

  5. I’m happy to see “the other side” of the situation in Pakistan. The Newsweek cover and article infuriated me and prompted me to write the editor, which I never bother doing, and still don’t believe it mattered. My husband is Pakistani, still there. I lived in Pakistan for 2 years and am moving back. I don’t live like most foreigners….I live in a regular neighborhood and hold a job where I work along side Pakistani’s…..and I LOVE IT THERE.
    I believe everyone has crap going on, the measure of how bad it is is always in the eye of the beholder. I’m generally a Musharraf supporter-and am holding out to see what’s going on…I believe he has 8 years of doing good things to his credit, and this state of emergency could have been harsher. I believe the people are going to allow it to become a worse situation. I’m not very popular in my thinking, and I’m not saying I agree with President Musharraf did….but I am saying he deserves a chance. I’m glad I came across your blog and will continue to read it… least it offers thoughts to ponder against the other stuff we get.

Leave a Reply

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


%d bloggers like this: