Democracy always creates a lot of tumult. Silence is the characteristic of a graveyard. A vibrant society is always full of noise. In a developing country like Pakistan, this noise is usually coming from traditional class of politicians, who are seemingly good at politicking, but are hardly apt to fulfill the needs and aspirations of emerging middle classes.
The emerging middle classes in South Asia have generally shown deep aversion to traditional politicking. This trend is conspicuously most visible in neighboring India where numerous non-traditional type of political leaders, who have demonstrated managerial skills while in power, have won the elections and have come to power. The latest example is Narandera Modi, the incumbent prime minister of India, who rose to prominence as a result of achievement in transforming India’s western state of Gujrat into a hub of business activity. This trend of rise of managerial class of politician in Indian politics started in 1990s when another Indian politician, Chandra Babu Naidu became the chief minister of Indian state of Andhra Pradesh and ‘In just five years, he turned an impoverished, rural backwater place into India’s new information-technology hub’. Thus now growing middle classes in Indian society, which gained strength from the business friendly policies of Indian politicians, are instrumental in bringing politicians with managerial skills to power and are gradually pushing traditional politicians out of business.
In Pakistan, unfortunately, we have failed to develop what in the western terminology is described as the ‘virtuous cycle’ of economic development. Economic hardships for middle classes are increasing and the size of the middle class is shrinking. Traditional politicians are presiding over huge patronage networks and ferociously acrimonious environment of country’s politics is sucking everyone into vicious cycle of traditional politicking. Economic development is merely used as a slogan to be show cased by politicians like Shahbaz Sharif and Mustafa Kamal, who have well-financed and well-equipped advertising machinery to back them. As the size of middle classes is shrinking with each passing day, political process is not about broadening the social base of political system, but rather it is a perverted form of patronage based politics and clientelism that helps create vote banks for traditional politicians. One has to be linked to traditional political groups (in one or the other way) to entitle oneself for the delivery of services that is considered the basis of legitimacy for any state. This surely gives rise to one or the other form of politics of exclusion. For instance, if you roam the streets of Lahore, you definitely feel like travelling on the roads of city of First World. Since Lahore is strongly linked with ruling party or ruling family, but you just have to travel 200 kilometre South to find out what prize one will have to pay if one is not strongly linked with the ruling party or ruling elite. This creates a tinderbox situation and stability is the last thing you should think about in this environment.
Social and political stability takes another hit on account of the centrifugal forces that are operating on the periphery. The situations in Balochistan and in North Western part of the country are only two clear examples of what damage the centrifugal forces are doing to country’s stability. The problem with our democracy is that it has demonstrated as little capacity as any other political system that was functioning in the country in over 60 years of its existence, in resolving the conflicts which are causing instability. In fact primary blame for this kind of situation cannot be laid on the door of democratic system. Over the years both Pakistani state and society have lost the capacity to resolve the conflicts through peaceful means. I think it would not be incorrect to say that Pakistani state has on numerous occasions become party to the conflicts that afflict Pakistani society. Two prime examples of Pakistani state becoming party to social and religious conflicts in our society are: a) when Pakistani parliament declared Ahmedis non-Muslims in elder Bhutto era, b) and when Pakistani state machinery helped fund and train Sunni extremists groups in anti-Shia rioting during the last years of Zia regime. The capacity of the society to play a role in resolving conflicts and thus bringing stability has also dwindled. The military regime of Zia-ul-Haq played a central role in transforming Pakistan into s low- trust society, where people’s primary loyalty is with their family and clan, and thus creation and functioning of modern organizations and institutions, which can help resolve the conflicts, is an impossibility.
Leaving aside the theoretical part of it, let’s get down to the practical part of this problem of democracy and stability. The central question facing Pakistani society at present is what if democracy fails to bring stability to the society? Even a cursory look at country’s situation will lead one to the conclusion that democracy is not leading us towards social, political and economic stability. The traditional political forces have so far failed to resolve their mutual differences. In fact it would not be wrong to say that they have failed to agree to rules of the game that are acceptable to everybody. Democracy and democratic institutions have remained marginal to the efforts to resolve conflicts and to resolve the problem of centrifugal forces. Pakistani politics have so far failed to evolve out of the environment of traditional politicking. Resolving conflicts and bringing stability to the society is last thing on the agenda of our traditional politicians.
The rise of politicians with managerial skills in India could be attributed to emergence of big multinationals that are operating out of India. Indian middle classes, who are employed with these big Indian companies, see skillful managers managing the functioning of big companies, which employ hundreds of thousand people and which have emerged as profitable business concerns not only in India, but also abroad. India experts say that the growing middle classes in Indian society started to incline towards politicians with managerial skills in the late 1990s — the time which coincide with the rise of big business companies in Indian society.
Unfortunately, in Pakistan’s case the alternative to traditional politicians and traditional politicking is not the rise of politicians with managerial skills. Pakistani middle classes are not familiar with the model of successful managers managing big multinationals. To the contrary they have a long time romance with the military and the men in uniform, because that is the only institution that they think is being run on successful basis in Pakistani society. ‘Only disciple organization in our society is army’ is a common refrain in drawing chats in Pakistani society. So when Pakistani middle classes get completely disenchanted with political system and traditional politicians they start eyeing military as an alternative. In the current situation, this is all the more true when they see army, whose profile has risen sharply after the start of military operation in North Waziristan, as the only institution that is doing something to tackle the problem of centrifugal forces, which are not only causing instability but threatening the very survival of the state.
The situation becomes all the more grim for democracy when we listen to the voices coming from outside the country. Now when the world leaders talk about Pakistan, they often follow it by mentioning the word stability, rather than democracy. Let’s not speculate on the intentions of foreign leaders as to why they use the word stability more often than democracy in making statements about Pakistan. Leaving aside these statements, it is hardly difficult to conclude that the precarious situation of Pakistan will compel anyone watching the situation from outside to pray for country’s stability. Democracy in this situation becomes a privilege for the few.
Are we looking at a convergence of views ? International community wants a stable Pakistan, the vocal and visible middle classes of Pakistan want stability in the country, and most importantly, Pakistani military leadership mostly talk about stability. At this stage I will definitely desist from making any negative speculation. But surely the tide is turning against traditional politicking and traditional politicians. And it is high time that they start focusing on the core issue. From my side the advice for traditional politicians is — wake up, wake up, time is running out.