Democracy and welfare

Is Pakistan willing to change its security paradigm?

Democracy and welfare
Democracy is employed as a cynical and critical metaphor in countries like the United Kingdom and the United States who tenaciously adhere to this form of governance without altogether denouncing it. Mr Winston Churchill, an imperialist to the core, censoriously embraced as ‘the worst form of government excepts all others that have been tried’. And when Allen Ginsberg, the famed American poet, equates it with ‘a feather boa’, democracy’s adaptability to ‘allowing’ expressions of contempt makes it indomitable to other forms of governance.

But on the other side of the fence are fascists like Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator, who decreed that “Democracy is beautiful in theory, in practice it is a fallacy,” without practicing it is reminiscent of a security state’s construct of ‘expand or expire’, stripping the Westphalian state of its characteristic of peaceful coexistence.

But the most enigmatic is Pakistan’s hybrid system characterised by praetorianism and grafted democracy that neither owns a democratic dispensation nor opposes it altogether.  Whether we adopt democracy by choice and it fails, or embrace it as a prerequisite to acceptability by the western bloc, the state’s requirements and priorities are clearly divergent. Welfare based democracy and the security paradigm are mutually exclusive.
Democracy has been employed as a convenient tool

In the face of steps taken after the partition of the subcontinent, the option of retaining the colonial centralised state system was more a requirement of the security state paradigm than the people’s aspirations. Democracy did not need ideological trimmings, neither did it draw succour from religion. But a security state did. Theocratic and ideological underpinnings were deployed to provide credence to a security state system, consequently triggering a protracted dialectic over the nature of the constitution and form of governance.

The default option seemed more plausible at the very outset, the founding fathers were inclined to the western bloc from where the required resources for the security state project were expected to flow. Pakistan’s selling point was its strategic location and a role to contain the communist Soviet Union. The West’s, particularly the United States, epigram of democracy, human rights and the 1944 Bretton Woods agreement to support market economy were the major ingredients of the western ‘free world’. Pakistan had to curry favour with controlled democratic patches. It was essential not to put democracy in long spells of quarantine to receive the most needed military assistance.  That is why the dictators were quick to civilianise their regimes with tested tricks of basic democracies, engineered referendums and elections.


Rather than intrinsic to democracy, the flaws were ripple effects emanating from the larger syndrome caused by the security state paradigm, which made democracy a subservient project, to be used as cover when needed.

Conversely, democracy owes its functionality and efficacy to persistency and evolution that not only sifts the existing leaders but constantly supplies fresh blood and opportunity to the electorate for course correction. But how could democracy flourish in Pakistan when the parliament was sabotaged to concede to street agitation (dharnas) to produce leaders for a specific role?

After independence, at the top of the state pyramid was the security project and the security related elite, who were tailoring the state’s every policy and priority around physical conventional security and strategic interests with ostensible expansionist designs, though they backfired consistently.

In such a strategic environment, democracy has been employed as a convenient tool to befit the security project. Instead of local autonomy and decentralisation, which any democracy would essentially opt for, the security minds applied more centralisation. In spite of employing the tested tool of unity in diversity and premising it on cultural plurality, they enforced unity in uniformity through the religious glue. Democracy’s sine qua non is open political environment and culture of dialogue. But with the passage of time, the Pakistani society was depoliticised to the core to let religious bigotry to fill the vacuum.

On the welfare side, the state had to make a choice between providing amenities and meeting the defence expenditure of the security project. The latter was given priority. Being a third world state and economy, Pakistan still achieved its objective of possessing nuclear weapons. The state succeeded in erecting a large sophisticated military and weapons system. The balance tilted against ensuring a semblance of decent governance, education and healthcare system for the teeming millions, euphemistically referred to as the electorate.

Whenever the politicians, including the previously co-opted ones, try to bring some degree of balance into this equation, the civilians found their applecart overturned. The incumbency crisis in the previous PPP and current PML-N governments is rooted in the civilian-military dichotomy of welfare versus security and allocation of resources.

Civilians are more exposed to the media and public scrutiny as compared to the security establishment that can veto policy, prioritise allocation of resources, and has ultimately reached its limit of domination. The civilian governments themselves try to shroud this domination by terming it ‘consultation’ or ‘input in the policy formulation process’ and justify it with examples of some leading democracies.

It is true that the policy formulation process, whether foreign, security or domestic, should involve multiple state organs to provide their technical insights and experiences, but the last choice and the veto power in democracies remains with the civilian elected leadership.

However, my concern is that even if a modicum of democracy can be retained, we cannot improve it if we maintain the existing security state paradigm and move from the western to the eastern bloc. Democracy and human rights do not figure high on China’s list of geo-strategic and economic relations with other states. North Korea and Myanmar are glaring examples.

There are two major allegations against Pakistan’s democracy: inefficiency and corruption. Both more or less point towards the politicians, and the lack of an enabling environment is not mentioned.

In Pakistan the corruption discourse mostly revolves around financial embezzlement, which mainly the media locates in the civilian sphere, but never connects to policy audit. Who formulates policies and what are their repercussions for the state and its people?

It seems that history repeats itself in a spiral mode. If it is true that the western world, particularly the United States, wants to contain China on the pattern of the Soviet Union, then it is doing so with a presence in Afghanistan with the support of its allies. Afghanistan, through the Chahbahar port facility of Iran, can replace Pakistan’s cold war geo-strategic status for the West. India is a new addition to this equation and Iran has also tied its interests with India and Afghanistan.

So, can Pakistan afford to replicate Afghanistan’s cold war status by aligning itself only with China? Or is it willing to replace its security paradigm with democracy and welfare, and adhere to the principles of peaceful co-existence by declaring friendship with all and enmity with none?

Talimand Khan is a freelance contributor

Twitter: @MirSwat