Foreign Policy Blogs

Is Pakistan ready for democracy?

“The Canadian military planners expect that Pakistan will collapse by 2016, and the territory will be occupied by India. Sound bizarre? Not so to the security analysts in Ottawa.”

Downhill for Pakistan? (Dawn) Tariq Amin-Khan. Tuesday, January 19, 2010

For the record, I want to make clear that I am a staunch supporter and promoter of democracy, but lately, I have started to wonder if Pakistan is ready for democracy after all. I don’t mean to agree with or advance the argument that Islam has no room for democracy. My argument is based on entirely different set of circumstances and it has nothing to do with religion.

We all know that unfortunately, Pakistan has been deteriorating for some time. Unlike what most anchors and jihadi elements in Pakistan would have you believe, the reality is that Pakistan has almost run out of options in terms of second and third and fourth chances.  Today’s Pakistan is actually on life support (thanks to Washington) and we have to see how long would the Western world keep replenishing Pakistan’s depleted oxygen tank.  And, even if this artificial support continues, it will end one day because everything comes to an end, eventually. So, will Pakistan be ready when the flow of aid will stop? This is the question that frightens a lot of people, including myself.

Even if Pakistan manages to survive despite awful shortage of food items that are vanishing from the country i.e. sugar, flour, and manages to find work for millions and millions of untrained, and uneducated youngsters in the country, and somehow, connects every house hold in to an electric grid and provide non-stop electricity, gas, water and petroleum to every citizen, the prospect of religious zealots taking over the county and destroying the society is very real. Religious gangsters have already declared war on Pakistan and these thugs are carrying out vicious attacks across the country every single day.

The rise of extreme religion is not on the rise because mullah is forcing everyone to embrace their version of religion, but the society is evolving and drifting towards hard core Wahabi school of thought. Everywhere in Pakistan you look, religious symbols have become the norm and it seems that pretty soon, every woman in Pakistan would be either in burqa or wearing a hijab and every man would be supporting long un-kept beard. And, not only is the society gravitating towards hard-core religion, but ‘I know what is right’ attitude has given a new dimension to religious bullying in Pakistan, which has forced moderate and sometime secular individuals and families to conform in order to avoid being a target  or draw attention to themselves.

Add to this volatile mix of lack of economic, social and cultural depression and shrinking energy reservoir the intense and unyielding anti American sentiment across Pakistan and it is a recipe for a complete catastrophe. Pakistan, in my opinion has become a ticking time bomb.

So, in order to turn around Pakistan, can we rely on democracy? Can democratic institutions provide relief and answers for the challenges that the country faces today? Or perhaps, we should ask – has democracy been able to provide any assistance to the ordinary Pakistani? Of course not if one examines the evidence.

Therefore, if the country sticks to democratic means, it might take years, perhaps decades to make a simple decision. Take Kala Bagh Dam. It was in the pipeline for decades before The World Bank pulled its support for this vital project. Similarly, there are other examples where a quick decision is needed to save the future, but democracy dictates that you consult, debate, consider all sides and in the end, reject what is plausible and start again while the problem becomes a crisis. And, it is not only energy crisis – it is almost everything in the country that needs urgent and solid decisions without any compromise, but, we don’t see anything positive happening. The current government is struggling to stop attacks for all sides – army, judiciary, opposition, MQM, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, population explosion, and so forth. And, democracy is not providing any answer, let alone solution for Pakistan.

Can it go on like this forever?

Maybe Pakistan’s democratic transition should be gradual. Maybe Pakistanis should be trained and educated in understanding what it means to live in a democratic society. Maybe, it would be helpful if Pakistanis were first prepared to live within the frame work of democratic traditions. The list of prerequisites can go on and on, but I think you get my point. So, given all this, I ask you to think about it.

Is Pakistan really ready for democracy?

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.

Bilal Qureshi

Washington, DC



Bilal Qureshi

Bilal Qureshi is a resident of Washington, DC, so it is only natural that he is tremendously interested in politics. He is also fascinated by the relationship between Pakistan, the country of his birth, and the United States of America, his adopted homeland. Therefore, he makes every effort to read major newspapers in Pakistan and what is being said about Washington, while staying fully alert to the analysis and the news being reported in the American press about Pakistan. After finishing graduate school, he started using his free time to write to various papers in Pakistan in an effort to clarify whatever misconceptions he noticed in the press, especially about the United States. This pastime became a passion after his letters were published in Vanity Fair and The New Yorker and his writing became more frequent and longer. Now, he is here, writing a blog about Pakistan managed by Foreign Policy Association.

Areas of Focus:
Taliban; US-Pakistan Relations; Culture and Society