Understanding the concept of Democracy in Pakistan

The word democracy is used widely in contemporary era and often considered as common sense. Democracy has its roots in Greek city-state but it was not as developed as it is now, however, it becomes a refined system of governance after the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. (Shin, 2017)

Therefore, Europe can be called as a birth place of democracy in modern world, and gradually it reached to other parts of the world with decolonization process and now the current form of democracy is considered as the best form of government for almost all states of the world. (“Democracts in America – ch. 4,” n.d.) In simple words, democracy was not as stable system in past as it has become, particularly in the wake of evolutionary process of last two decades.

In Pakistan’s context, defining democracy is as hard as it is to develop a consensus on the generic definition of democracy and main reasons behind the weak democratic norms can be classified as follows; firstly, there is not enough scholarly work done by Pakistani scholar to adapt the Western form of democracy in accordance with the local dynamics of Pakistan. (Hussain, 2014) Secondly, the process of democratization requires time to evolve and attain the final form. Thirdly, the oscillations between authoriantism and democracy have also contributed in strengthening the non-democratic norms. Fourthly, the application of democracy is limited to electoral democracy, which is still not as developed as it is in Europe. Fifthly, the phenomenon of democracy in Pakistan is relatively a new concept in comparison with other modern liberal democracies throughout the world.

Democracy is the most widely used term but in terms of its application as a form of government it lacks the conceptual understanding. It is advocated by almost all states of the world but it varies in context of its application or implementation The missing links between theory and practice of democracy is evident throughout the globe as there is no consensus to define the democracy and there is no operational definition that is acceptable for all stake holders without any difference of opinion over the definition. (Bahadur, 1998) In Pakistan defining democracy is relatively a new concept because it is adopted from Western world and it can only be applied in Pakistan by adjusting with the local dynamics of the country. Therefore, it would be safe to assume that the success of democracy in Pakistan is largely depended on the clear understanding of internal dynamics by the scholars from this part of the world. The comparative politics is useful in providing sound foundation in terms of evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of democracy in different parts of the world. Since it draws commonalities between them in order to make sense of the process itself and identifying the missing links or factors that distinguishes the different cases, especially in case of Pakistan, where the concept of democracy is derived from western form. Therefore, comparative politics is effective in not only defining democracy, but it also guides in improving the existing system in a variety of ways. Defining the concept of democracy is itself very hard due to the absence of universal application in all cases, whether in Europe or any other part of the world.

 In the traditional sense, democracy as a system of government, having checks and balance with the help of an opposition in the government and power was divided into various organs of the state: judiciary, legislature and executive. Election is another important characteristic of traditional democracy, including a responsible government. However over the course of time, the traditional definition of democracy underwent changes in the 19th century, those changes were mainly based on the principle of equality; treating all people as equal and providing them justice. Likewise, self determination provided everybody the right to live independently without any pressure, and majority ruled the minority through the process of election.

In other words, the state had a constitution in terms of particular rules and regulation for the citizen residing inside the state. But this calls into question an important point; can liberty and equality co-exist with each other at the same time or not? The answer of this question depends on one’s definition of liberty. Hypothetically speaking, if everybody is free to spend his or her life without any restriction, quality would imply that all the members or citizens should have same rights and privileges, but the problem arises when one person’s liberty infringes upon the right of equality of another. In simple words, if everybody has the liberty to do what they want to, it may be used or abused to exploit the very right of freedom to violate the rights of other. Therefore, the co-existence of liberty with equality is hard to achieve without any clash or conflict between the two.

This research essay has attempted to define democracy in case of Pakistan, which has been overlooked in the literature before. Since the main focus of existing literature concerned more with identifying the strengths and weakness of a democratic system in addition to highlighting the causes of instability as compared to the developed world. With regards to Pakistan, colonial past and the overemphasis on religion to develop an ideological foundation makes it a unique case study, when it comes to translation of democracy in theory to practice. The constant shift or transition between semi-democratic, semi-theocratic and semi-authoritarian system has contributed in complicating the problem further. Likewise, the weak institutional system also continues to hinder the process of democratization. Therefore, it would be safe to compare the case of Pakistan with Latin American states due to their common authoritarian past. For example, most of Latin countries have had authoritarian rule like Pakistan and lacks the institutional system for an effective working of the state machinery. 

Mehwish Akram
Mehwish Akram
Mehwish Akram holds masters degree in International Relations and currently doing M Phil in Political Science. Her areas of interest are Democracy, Political theory and Environmental politics .