Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Roots Of Pakistan's Democratic Deficit, And The False Promise Of The Lawyer's Movement

A question that has spawned a great deal of rumination amongst students of South Asian politics is why democracy has failed to take root in Pakistan. At a general level, why has Pakistan suffered from periods of military rule -- under four different generals, three of whom were in power for close to a decade or more -- and why has its periods of democratic rule been marked with tenuousness and instability?

Before we can answer that question, it is first necessary to understand just what we mean by democracy. Within the political science literature on democracy and democratization, there remains a significant divide between those who favor minimalist definitions of democracy and those that argue for a more holistic conception of the term. The former tend to equate democratic rule with the holding of free and fair elections in which populations have a real choice of candidates, and an ability to either directly or indirectly vote for their rulers. The second group thinks of this as much too limiting; it is concerned not just with the ways in which a government comes to power, but also with the ways in a government exercises its power. For them, the mere holding of elections is not enough to qualify a country as government. It must, instead, be liberal in nature -- guarantee freedoms of speech, press and association, for instance.

While these definitional debates are useful, they can also be unwieldy and ultimately lose the forest for the trees. At bottom, a democratic system of government should connote limits to power. In other words, it entails checks and balances; governments and people in power must be held back from excesses not by their own goodwill or strength of character, but by institutions and rules which are enforced. Where exactly those red lines are drawn differs from system to system, but reasonable people can safely distinguish between countries where legitimate checks exist and those where they exist in name only.

If one accepts the definition I have laid out for democracy -- that it speaks to limits to power -- then it becomes clear that the military is far from the only actor that should be held culpable for Pakistan's democratic deficit. Pakistan's civil society, especially its political parties, have aided in Pakistan's tortured relationship with democracy.

The military in Pakistan is a fair but easy target. Its position within Pakistani society and politics has been well-described and detailed; I will limit myself to the most obvious and patently true claims here. First, it secured for itself a position of guardian-of-the-state by amplifying both the (very real) military threat India posed in the formative years of statehood, as well as its ability to adequately deal with that threat -- for all its bluster about one Muslim being the equal of ten Hindus in combat, the Pakistani military has never actually beaten India's in a war. Second, it has entrenched itself in the political and social life of the state with housing cooperatives, business ventures, academic appointments and other areas where the military, as an institution, simply does not belong. Third and most obviously, it has taken it upon itself to remove elected leaders from office any time those elected leaders either pose a threat to the institutional interests of the military, or cross the circumscribed bounds of appropriate conduct for politicians -- bounds drawn, quite naturally, by the military itself.

For these and other reasons, many analyses of Pakistan's failure to become a truly democratic state start and end with the military. It has been the most obvious impediment to representative government, and as such affords an easy target.

It would be remiss, however, to neglect to mention other responsible parties for Pakistan's democratic deficit. Uninformed and Manichean views often treat Pakistan's political parties as Davids taking on Goliath, unable to change the course of politics only because the military stands in its way. Such views are heavily misguided; Pakistan's political parties, with some exceptions, are as interested in democracy as a system of government as the military itself.

First, Pakistani mainstream political parties are highly personalist -- they exist less as instruments of democratic spirit than objects to be owned and molded by chiefs and party heads. The Pakistan People's Party, almost universally regarded as the country's biggest party, is an apt example. Formed by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, it has never been headed by someone not related to the former Prime Minister -- when Bhutto was hanged in 1979, the party was transferred to his wife, and then his daughter, who in turn was assassinated in 2007, upon which the party was handed to her husband and then nineteen year-old son. The MQM, an ethnic-based party in urban Sindh, is more democratic in its inner workings but still considers the word of its exiled leader Altaf Hussain as quite literally the word of God. In fact, it requires party-members to sign the following oath, one which appears truly bizarre to outsiders:
I,... believing that Allah is here and watching over me, swearing by His book and my mother, take oath that I shall remain loyal to the MQM and Altaf Hussain for my whole life. I will not take part in any conspiracy, planning or action against MQM or Altaf Hussain and I will not maintain any link with anyone who is involved in any of the acts mentioned above. I swear by my mother that if any conspiracy against MQM or Altaf Hussain or any act harmful to them come into my knowledge, I shall immediately inform Altaf Hussain or other main leaders, even if the conspirator be my brother, sister, mother, father, any relative or friend...I swear that I will keep every secret of my party and regard it more precious than my life. I swear that I shall accept Altaf Hussain's decision as final in any matter and obey all his decisions. If I disobey any of his decisions, I must be regarded as a traitor. I swear that I have and I will have blind trust in party leader Altaf Hussain...May God help me to remain firm and loyal to the MQM.

Few mainstream Pakistani political parties hold internal elections -- the Jamaat-e-Islami is one notable exception -- and most are identifiable by a personality more so than an agenda. This, then, is the first problem: when loyalty to personalities consumes political parties, it becomes hard to reconcile the contradiction between ostensible demands for democracy on the one hand, and unquestioned and unbridled internal power on the other. It is a strange experience to hear Kings and Queens talk about democracy, even if they are Kings and Queens of parties rather than countries.

The second point to be made about political parties is that all too often, they have been willing to make Faustian bargains with military rulers or their associates in the domestic intelligence communities, all for their self-interest and short-term access to power. Nawaz Sharif, the man who today speaks most vociferously and stridently in favor of democracy, began his political career as a protege (and pawn) of Pakistan's military-intelligence apparatus, and helped destabilize Benazir Bhutto's first term in power in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Benazir herself was remarkably open to deals with autocrats, as long as she was guaranteed a fair sum of power in return. The MQM, as well as various religious parties, have all in past helped prop up military rule. In short, Pakistani political parties talk a good game about democracy, right up to the point where they can gain from not doing so; it takes very little arm-twisting for them to sacrifice principles for power.

Third, Pakistani political parties behave in highly undemocratic ways when in power. Recall our definition of democracy: a system of government with an involved set of checks and balances, and limits on power. In term after term, Pakistan's civilian leaders have attempted to dismantle any limits on power that may exist, and have attempted to centralize power in the executive. This is a truism applicable especially to those civilians elected in the post-1971 era, and especially to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. The former made viable political competition in the country difficult at best, moved against trade unions (despite purportedly representing a left-of-center party) and other civil society organizations, clamped down on the press, and was perhaps the most megalomaniacal leader Pakistan has ever had (which is really saying something). Nawaz Sharif meanwhile, that champion of an independent judiciary, had his party's cadres storm the Supreme Court to obviate the apex court hearing a case against him in 1997. He also attempted to declare himself Ameer-ul-Momineen (leader of the faithful), which would have left him with de facto autocratic powers. Even today, President Asif Zardari has dragged his feet on a campaign promise to repeal laws that allow the executive to dissolve parliament at his discretion; it is unclear what factors, other than a desire for greater power, could be responsible for the delay.

In conjunction, these three factors -- the highly personalist and loyalty-based political processes within parties, the proclivity to cut deals with military governments for short-term gain, and undemocratic behavior even from nominal democrats in power -- have meant that Pakistan's military has had an able partner in its destruction of democratic institutions. Very few parties can claim to have not played a role in this destruction at some time or another. Political parties in Pakistan have become adept at using the word "democracy" as a stick to beat the authoritarian government du jour, and have used it as an instrument to paint themselves as guarantors of a liberal and democratic order, if only given the chance by Western backers (Benazir Bhutto, with her Harvard and Oxford education, turned lobbying and schmoozing in Washington, New York and London into an art-form).

The country's much-celebrated lawyers movement cannot escape these characterizations. Acknowledged both at home and abroad as a brave and peaceful movement for the rule of law that ultimately brought an end to Pervez Musharraf's tenure as Pakistan's leader, the lawyer's movement has shown an ugly side in recent weeks. For one thing, the leader of the movement, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary, has shown that he too cannot respect institutional boundaries, and demonstrated an alarming tendency to meddle in political affairs that are neither his nor his court's concern.

Moreover, lawyers have been involved in acts of violence recently, hardly serving as exemplars of the rule of law for which their putatively fought for over two years. In incidents widely reported in the Pakistani media recently, they physically assaulted both journalists and police. While it would be unfair to paint with broad brushes and implicate the entire movement because of the actions of a few, cynical observers of Pakistani politics have not been disabused of the notion that the lawyers movement was nothing more than a segment of society acting out to secure its parochial interests (the judiciary and the lawyers), seized upon by opportunistic parties and stakeholders (the PML-N, Imran Khan) as a vehicle to launch an anti-regime movement. While its ends were noble in the sense that they called for an end to military dictatorship, one must be careful to not impute the lawyers with pure and snow-white motives. By their recent actions, the lawyers and the judiciary -- or at least some elements of it -- have shown that the spirit of democracy, limits to power and the rule of law are tactical tools, not non-negotiable ends. In this, they are hardly alone in Pakistan's civil society.


Riaz Haq said...

The fundamental reason for failure of democracy lies in the fact that Pakistan is largely a feudal, medieval society in which most of the population lives on the farms as serfs who have no choice but to vote for their landlords in the name of democracy. The kind of leadership that such an exercise produces is essentially a corrupt and incompetent feudal leadership that does not understand nor does it want to understand what democracy is.

As the middle class folks in the cities get tired out of the corruption and incompetence of the feudals, they come out on the streets and invite the military for a while, but then again they reject the military and bring the feudals back in the name of democracy and civil rights. This cycle continues unabated.

I am disappointed that the military, particularly President Musharraf, did not dismantle and destroy the feudal system when they had a chance. Instead, to respond to external pressure from the West, the military dictators, including General Musharraf, bought off some of the PPP or PML feudals, held elections and created the facade of democracy. This allowed the feudals to continue to dominate Pakistan's political landscape under both military and civilian governments.

However, over the decades as these cycles have continued, Pakistani economy has consistently performed better and created a lot more jobs during military rule than under the PPP or the PML "democratic" governments. These new jobs have helped tens of millions in the rural areas with the option to leave the life of slavery on the farms to get jobs in cities in the industrial and services sectors of the economy.

Pakistan's average economic growth rate was 6.8% in the 60s (Gen. Ayub Khan), 4.5% in the 70s(Zulfikar Bhutto), 6.5% in the 80s (Gen. Zia ul-Haq), and 4.8% in the 90s (Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif). Growth picked up momentum in the 21st Century under General Musharraf, and from 2000-2007, Pakistan's economy grew at an average 7.5%, making it the third fastest growing economy in Asia after China and India. There were 2-3 million new jobs created each year from 2000-2007, which significantly enlarged the middle class, and helped millions escape poverty.

Sohaib said...

This is a very good summary of the complicity of political parties in the rape of democratic processes. Thank you for highlighting this facet, and I hope this garners a wider, more mainstream audience.

takhalus said...

political and institutional stability always precedes economic growth in normal countries.

Also the ANP and it's predeccesor party's (NDP and NAP) hold regular elections. Although politics does tend to revolve around the wali's it has had party leaders from elsewhere.

Asfandyar said...

Very, very well written. Pretty much sums up, involuntarily in a way, the very substantial road ahead of us towards anything resembling prosperity for the country.

Rabia said...

I am not sure whether internal elections within political parties have as much of an influence on their overall respect for the democratic tradition as you are suggesting. e.g. you give the example of Jamaat's internal elections - despite that, Jamaat has supported some of the most anti-democratic practices in Pakistani history and its founder Maududi explicitly did not believe in democracy.

Similarly, INC is pretty personality-cultish but overall, Congress leaders have respected the democratic tradition.

Lack of internal elections within parties is, imo, a characteristic of an immature democratic tradition and in Pakistan's case is not really the main reason for the failure of democracy.

Even the military's role in politics is in some respects a result of the political instability following partition which was caused by a very weak foundation for any other kind of state but a religious one.

Tazeen said...

very good post Ahsan but my mind is stuck in MQM allegiance oath. It does mention oath taking member's mother so many times I thought it was taken from a Punjabi film where dialogues are filled with 'teri maan ki' 'teri behen ki' type lines.

Ahsan said...


I'm not 100% sure what you mean when you say political and institutional stability always precedes growth in "normal" countries. If you mean the imposition of stable democracy always precedes growth, that's dead wrong. Oftentimes it's the economic growth factor that leads to demands for democracy, as it is a primarily middle class phenomenon.

Fair point on the ANP thing -- I should've mentioned them, though as you say, that party is also Bhutto-like in its hereditary aspects.


Fair point on JI, but my point was really that when you combined the three factors on a *systemic* level, you're going to have problems.

As for the INC, I don't know if I agree with you. The old Gandhis (Indira esp but also Rajiv) always bristled under the notion of limits on power. Respecting democracy is not just about leading or supporting coups.

As for the post-partition stuff, yes, absolutely. I'm going to do a follow up post where I deal with some of the academic literature on this stuff, which places the factors you lay out front and center (though more in relation to the strength of political parties).

Ahsan said...


Haha thanks for noticing. I was disappointed no one was commenting on that bit -- it was my favorite part of the post.

takhalus said...

Ahsan: I should have been a bit more clear; I meant to criticise the argument used often in Pakistan; trying to correlate economic growth with military dictatorships as a means to prove democracy doesn't work...

In reference to the democractic deficit ..I think you also need to factor in the ethnic cultural element in it..politics in Punjab has a tendency towards greater polarisation

Americanising Desi said...

since the time i have turned my back on political science, i have paid less heed to the sort of stuff you elaborated upon in the post.

a good eye opening and updater!


Zeeshan Ashraf said...

Absolute Bullshit, u r only pointing problems not telling solutions, and the problems u have mentioned are a cliche now. writing a post about it is mere stupidity. Everybody know why democracy have not prevailed in Pakistan. You should talk about how to finish it. You can't even see a hope in lawyers movement, i mean, what will satisfy you if a movement run by thousand of liberal, educated, pakistani law professional along with the proactive civil society. What a pessimist!

A. said...

You know, something along these lines of thought was suggested by this guy four decades ago,

"Where are we going to find these angels to organize society for us?"

Oi said...

" ... liberal educated pakistani law professional ..."

As a lawyer myself, I feel a strange tingling in my loins when i hear the words liberal and educated combined with pakistani law professionals in a single sentence.

Last I heard that Bar Council was considering investigating lawyers with fake degrees. I applaud the move. From what I have witnessed in the courtrooms I am dead certain that at least 3 out of every 10 practising lawyers in Pakistan are faking it.

Zeeshan Ashraf said...

@ Oi
Again absolute bullshit, do u have any confirmed stat or source to prove it in addition to your so called "dead certainty".

Jaydev,India said...

You guys take word "Objectivity" to machine!! guys are awesome!!! p.s.:I am really ashamed to state that even though..I am a long time follower of 5rupees..I missed the "auntie centric" posts..I have to admit it is the best posting ever..I nearly passed out laughing hard..
Hail 5rupees team..

Butters said...

An excellent post. May I repost it in my blog?

Anonymous said...

Its all a matter of evolution of democracy in a country. What you call undemocratic nature of political parties (wrt nepotism etc) is an inevitable feature of immature democracies like the ones we have in South Asia (India, Pakistan). The levels and avenues to prosperity are a reason behind this. For a lot of people,however naively, their elected leaders are the mai-baaps, who are seen as the sole hope. However as development happens in more equitable ways and people get exposed to more prosperity (via village-to-city and crosscountry emigration, media etc), aspirations for a better economic/social life kick in where in identities (religion region caste) vanish which in turn demands more stability and a more just system. So it is this stability-progress-aspiration-morestability cycle that will eventually make democracies evolve.

What is unfortunate with Pakistan is that the above mentioned cycle of evolution has never really been given much time to blossom; most of which can be attributed to the mis-alignment of national priorities (obsession, sometimes unjustified, with india and therefore the demi-godly status of the military). What is keen to note that the 2nd part of your article (abt political parties) is similar to that in India; the same jugaad-based survival syndrome; only difference being that in India, jugaad happens among political parties whereas in Pak its the army that is the constant factor,which again is symbolic of national priorities.

It has to be emphasized though that of late, things look a bit better with civilian govt and military giving semblance of coordination in actions and re-arrangement of priorities. But the golden question remains :- Is this too good to last?

Ahsan said...


Oh no, a Milton Friedman sighting! Run!

Zeeshan Ashraf:

You are right that the post only talked about problems without talking about solutions, but I thought the solution is fairly obvious: for all stakeholders in Pakistan to be more tolerant to challenges to their power, and to willingly accept limits on their power. Maybe I should have made it explicit.

Also, when talking to other commenters on the blog, please try to be more respectful.


I am sure our very own AKS is amongst that 30%.




Of course! Isn't that the point of blogging? To get insights from other places and pass comment on them in your own little nook of cyberspace?


I definitely agree with you on the maturity/evolution/cycle bit but I think you're being too kind. The PPP has been around for 4 decades. The INC has been around for a century. Isn't this enough time to mature and evolve? At what point can we say "enough"?

dbldot said...

"for all its bluster about one Muslim being the equal of ten Hindus in combat,.."

I feel this statement reflects one reason why Pakistan has failed as a democracy. Pakistan never quite figured out that India is not a Hindu country but a secular one and is one that goes out of its way to make sure the citizens comprehend that (is there room for improvement? Sure - but every institution in the country bends backwards to make sure citizens understand that India is a secular country.)

Pakistan, on the other hand, has always identified itself first and foremost as an Islamic country. This is, of course, counter-intuitive to democracy.

Ahsan said...


Let me make a couple of points because you've hit upon a couple of items of conventional wisdom that I think are incorrect.

1. Identifying oneself as a country dedicated to one particular religion is problematic (for people like me anyway) but is not necessarily opposed to the notion of democracy. Israel, for instance, is explicitly an avowed Jewish state. Many European states, until the post WW2 era, identified as Christian/Orthodox countries (some do today as well, such as Greece) and were still functioning democracies.

2. The 1 Muslim = 10 Hindus thing is a relic of the military's way of thinking, not the civic politic. And one could also say that they are FORCED to say (and think) this stuff. Why? Because India's population has always been 10x that of Pakistan! When you are facing a bigger rival as a military, you have to convince yourself you can win, which is where I see that line coming from (if India's population was 20x that of Pakistan, I can promise you the line would've been one Muslim = 20 Hindus in combat). Of course, wrapping the ethos behind that line and packaging into a full blown imperative for a security state has proven highly problematic for Pakistan's development as a democratic state, but I wouldn't want to overstate the case. Plenty of countries out there have pathological relationships with rivals but are still democratic.

3. India may be a secular country in name and constitutionally, but its politics are conducted on a communal and ethnic basis. Only the most ardent Indian nationalists can deny this with a straight face. Especially in the last 30 years, India's politics have become more violent, more based on Hindu-Muslim divisions, and less secular in the strict sense of the term. The 1990 election was a real landmark in this sense, as it marked the BJP's real entry into politics (and by extension, the RSS's, which until then was a marginal and relatively unimportant organization).

Moreover, the occurrence of communal riots (10k dead and 30k injured since independence), esp. in states like Gujarat and Maharashtra belies your claim.

There is much to admire about India's resistance to forces that would normally make most countries become authoritarian (multi-nationalism, multi-lingualism, size, poverty, all of which are very good predictors in the poli sci literature for a state not being democratic). But just because a state has remained democratic does not mean it has remained secular in a more-than-technical sense of the term.

Anonymous said...

@ Ahsan, Please check your facts.

You have conveniently forgotten about this year's election in India in which Congress has won the elections and the significant cause for the BJP elections was primarily Varun Gandhi‘s communal speech which even BJP acknowledged in their recent annual meeting at Simla.

It is surprising that you have mentioned about furore created by Indians for Shahrukh Khan's detention which was covered by almost all newspapers in the world and completely dismissed another important fact that this outrage was created by his Indian fans who not for one second thought that he is a Muslim. He is an Indian and that's it.

A month ago, when former president of India, A.P.J Abdul Kalam was frisked by the Continental Airlines, same outrage was expressed by Indians and ultimately Continental airlines had to apologize. When A.R Rehman, Resul and Gulzar won Oscars, the whole country rejoiced that three Indians had won Oscars.

Since, you have mentioned Maharashra, I would like to point out that Mumbai is the most secular city in India. Most of the Bollywood actors, directors, and Cricketers have Hindu wives or girlfriends. Our politicians had mixed marriages such as Salman Khursheed , Omar Abdullah, chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and Sachin Pilot, union minister. Even in middle class Indians (the most powerful class), mixed marriages have become common. You will find many Hindus praying at Haji Ali Dargah and many Muslims participating in Ganesh Chaturthi.

In cities like Lucknow and Hyderabad which have predominant Muslim influence, both Hindu and Muslims celebrate Holi and Eid festivals. In India, no one cares about religion or caste. People are hired in companies not because of their religion but because of their qualifications. Indians only care about their careers and jobs and it’s irrelevant for them that their neighbors, employees, colleagues are Christian, Muslim or Sikh.

You always mention Godhera Riots. Yes, it was something unforgivable and will always remain a blot on Indian society. However, what has changed after Godhera riots is the growing confidence of Indians in a strong secular society and therefore during the Mumbai attack, the whole nation stood united against terrorism. Even BJP had to accept after recent elections that Indian voters no longer care for religion and castes and they are interested only in their progress and growth of country.

If India is secular as you say 'in theory only', there there won’t be any A.P.J Kalam, Fareed Zakaria, Shahrukh Khan, A.R Rehman and Aziz Premji and many more who are making their country proud.

I would say please visit India and see how things are and then write about Indian secularism.

dbldot said...

You bring up interesting points about the communal violence in India and politics in general. There is no denying the fact that the communal violence in Gujarat from years ago was deplorable and shameful. However, I'd also like to point that the election this year did not go in favor of the BJP although they claim (or used to claim) to be the torchbearers of Hindutva. I feel the BJP is trying very hard nowadays to come up with a messaging that resonates with all of India and not simply its rightwing base because it knows that that alone will not bring it to power.

Secondly, you may also know that the BJP in the best of times has never won seats in the southern or eastern states of India. Their power center has always been states in the north and west and this has never changed. This goes to show that the Hindutva message does not resonate with large swathes of the country.

So, while parts of India still struggle with the so called Hindu/Muslim divide (I say 'so called' because I personally don't see a divide between Hindus and Muslims) large parts of it do not.

Finally, the recent Mumbai attacks clearly showed that India has made great strides. A decade or so ago those attacks would have surely incited communal violence in India. But not this time.

Finally, I would like to add that my intent was not to start yet another India vs Pakistan discussion. Each of those countries have enough problems that it isn't worth talking about who is better. My point was only to show that when a country defines itself by a religious identity it is hard to be a successful democracy. I don't know enough about Isreal to comment on it.

Ahsan said...


I don't have much to say about your comment except that it is fairly divorced from reality. The statement "In India, no one cares about religion or caste" is laughable. And as for pointing out various celebrities or leaders in positions of power from different religions, it sort of misses the point. It would be the equivalent of me saying there is no racism in America because Dave Chappelle had his own show on Comedy Central, or that women in Pakistan are truly empowered because BB was elected twice or that girls from a particular socio-economic sector dance at parties. Both statements (the second more than the first) are ludicrously false.

Also, you seem to intimate in your comments that communal riots took place in Gujarat only once, and that Maharashtra is secular because Muslim celebrities marry Hindus. I mentioned both of these states because communal riots have taken place here more regularly than other places on a per capita basis, contradicting your point above.


I appreciate your tone and the non-defensive nature of your comments unlike the one above yours. I too hate the fact that criticism of India by a Pakistani (and vice versa) almost always leads to nonsensical stuff being thrown around from all directions. So let us deal only with the substance of what you have said.

The geographic/spatial variation in the extent to which communalism is rampant is valid. It was implicit in my mentioning Maharashtra and Gujarat. On a per capita basis, places like Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, and Kerala (amongst others) see next to no Hindu-Muslim violence. There are sound reasons for this dealt in the poli sci literature that I won't get into right now, but as I said, there is substantial variation here.

As for the relationship between terrorist attacks and communal riots, I'm not sure I buy the relationship. Not every terrorist attack in India leads to communal riots, and more importantly, not every communal riot has a terrorist attack preceding it (not by a long shot). Maybe Indians are heartened by the shows of unity after the attacks, but that is a separate question.

Finally, on the religion-democracy point, I should have been more clear. As I said, I think defining a state in terms of religiosity is detrimental to its prospects on a number of levels, including but not limited to its level of democracy. BUT -- and this was my point -- it shouldn't mean that democracy is impossible or even very difficult, given that there are numerous examples out there that belie the claim. In other words, being a religiously defined state causes your chances of being a democracy go down, but not down to 0%.

Anonymous said...

@ Ahsan I visit your blog because you generally write balanced posts except that silly adobe photo shop competition and your arguments were generally rational. However, I was really disappointed when I read your callous comment that Indian secularism is a facade just for the sake of defending your point. Not only celebrities but among middle class Indians,mixed marriages have become very common. Calling my comment that ‘educated middle class Indians don’t care about religion and castes’ as a laughable comment shows how little you know about India.900 billion people of India of different religions, castes and languages living together in harmony punctuated by sporadic incidents of communal riots which are mediated by politicians for their own personal agenda is itself a testimony of India's secularism. I am sure your Indian friends JJY and Bonobashi will agree with me that in India people care about their careers and jobs not about religion.

An Indian Hindu (u guys identify everyone by their religion!) said...

I thought u were different from other Pakistani's Ahsan. But u r the same calling Indian secularism a farce bcos of 3 sponsored riots by few politicians! Its like me saying every Pakistani is a terrorist bcos Pak is the major exporter of terrorism in the world! We are proud of our secularism and multi culture. Perhaps understanding it beyond any Paki mind. Its this belittling habit of Pakis that have lead them on the verge of self destruction! Enjoy ur condition!
Greeting from a secular Indian!

dbldot said...

Nice - it seems like I kicked off a real ruckus here!

To all the Indian guys getting upset with what Ahsan said:
You don't need to attack him for his opinion. You are welcome to disagree. In fact, he might even be wrong but you don't need to attack him for his opinion. I think that is what democracy is about.

Ahsan, I mostly agree with your views (but not completely). However, it is not worth typing up the minor disagreements here.

Having said that, here is something to chew on - could it be that non-secular states can be functioning democracies only if their constitution protects the rights of all citizens irrespective of their faith? That might explain Israel and some of the European countries you talk about. I wonder if Pakistan's constitution does that? If not, there in lies part of the problem because the constitution itself is telling some citizen that they are inferior to others.

Ahsan said...

Anon101 and An Indian Hindu:

I think the only appropriate response to both your comments is..."sigh". Thank you for your contribution, but if it's ok with you, I'm going to cease responding to your comments.


Yes, absolutely. The problem vis-a-vis minorities in Pakistan's political history has been two-fold.

1. The constitution has been mangled, changed, distorted, and chewed up and spat out so many times to increase the mistreatment of minorities. For instance, Zulfi Bhutto declared Ahmedis non-Muslims because of pressure from the religious right, a ruling that has basically cemented a permanent sense of fear for that community. There was recently a controversy when a televangelist, well-known fellow, basically condoned violence against them and it resulted in deaths and destruction the next week. People blamed the TV personality but I blame Bhutto, because his actions gave the guy's words political cover.

Then there was good old Zia who changed the rape laws and introduced blasphemy laws, giving common people incredible power to misuse the law. There were recently attacks on Christians in Punjab, again with these laws as political cover.

These are only the most salient issues, but there's plenty more which would take me all day to cover so I won't. For instance, the Bengali movement for independence had its roots in linguistic and constitutional mistreatment.

2. Even when there are constitutional protections for minorities, they are not respected.

But, it should be noted, these things are effects, not causes, of Pakistan not being democratic. The causes of Pakistan not being democratic are the ones I laid out in my post, at least in my view.

Anonymous said...

dbldot :I am really surprised that you are saying that I have personally attacked the blogger, when it is the last thing I have done.I completely ignored his condescending tone towards me and only tried to clarify the misrepresentation of facts by someone who would soon be an academic teacher of politics.

An Indian Hindu (u guys identify everyone by their religion!): "I thought u were different from other Pakistani's Ahsan. But u r the same."- Yes, it was a great disappointment.To be honest, I would have said G.T. H if someone else had commented.