Pakistan has elections. But so have many other countries which we would not call democratic. The Soviet Union had elections. For a country to be a democracy it needs more than elections. It needs a strong civil society, an inclusive social and political dialogue, and a shared commitment by all to resolve political disagreements through shared democratic institutions.
And while the integrity of elections in Pakistan has been increasing in the recent years since the ousting of President Musharaf, and Pakistan has managed the peaceful transition of democratically elected governments, the social and political trends it displays outside of that are rather more worrying.
According to former Pakistan parliamentarian and author of the seminal book ‘Purifying the Land of the Pure’, Faranaz Ispahani, Pakistan’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, had wanted Pakistan to be a secular democratic state where the Hindus, Muslims and others would be equal. As leader, Jinnah, a Shia Muslim himself, had appointed a Hindu, several Shias, and an Ahmadi to his first cabinet.
But it has been all down-hill from there. No sooner than Jinnah had started than Sunnis within Jinnah’s cabinet began plotting to make Pakistan a Sunni Islamic state, with Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan first Prime Minister, leading the narrative of Islamic victimhood, according to Ispahani. And today, that same narrative of Islamic victimhood still animates the parties of the religious conservatives to push the country ever closer to their goal of an exclusionary, theocratic Islamic state.
Closer to the Conservatives’ goal
Young people in particular are increasingly agitated by the ways in which political discourse in Pakistan has become so divisive, sectarian and exclusionary. They chafe under the cultural restrictions imposed upon their thought and speech, and which manifest themselves in the blasphemy law, but also as the flash mobs who assault and kill outspoken critics of religious extremism. They feel they can vote in Pakistan, but that they need to be careful when they speak, lest they be met with violenceDr. Azeem Ibrahim