Pakistan’s Flawed Political Culture

A Major Cause of Sham Democracy, Poor Governance and Rampant Corruption

Pakistans Flawed Political Culture

Democracy is the most appreciated form of government in the whole world; even the totalitarian regimes and military dictatorships resort to it in order to garner popular support. According to most definitions, ‘Democracy’ is “a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.” In democracy, the power rests with the people and is exercised through the people they elect.

Democracies basically fall into two categories: direct and representative. In a direct democracy, all citizens, without intermediary elected or appointed officials, can participate in making public decisions. However, modern society, owing to its size and complexity, offers few opportunities for direct democracy. It is so because in democracy decisions are made on the basis of majority rule. But such a decision may not necessarily be democratic. No one, for example, would call a system fair or just that permitted 51 percent of the population to oppress the remaining 49 percent in the name of majority. In a democratic society, majority rule must be coupled with guarantees of individual human rights that, in turn, serve to protect the rights of minorities; whether ethnic, religious or political.

The creation of Pakistan was a catalyst to the largest demographic movement in recorded history of the world. Scarred from birth, Pakistan’s quest for survival has been as compelling as it has been uncertain. Despite the shared religion of its overwhelmingly Muslim population, Pakistan has been engaged in a precarious struggle to evolve a political system for its linguistically diverse population. This diversity has caused chronic regional tensions and successive failures in forming a constitution. Moreover, the country, since its inception, has been oscillating between military rule and democratically-elected governments.

A Major Cause of Sham Democracy, Poor Governance and Rampant Corruption The political culture of dissensus, in Pakistan, is so much strong that politicians work only for their patronage groups and kinship. The pluralism, an important norm of democracy, is solely lacking in the society. Pakistani political elite, especially in rural areas, rely for their strength not just on wealth but also on their leadership of clans or kinship networks because kinship plays a vital part in maintaining the dominance of the ‘feudal’ elites and many of the urban bosses. The importance of kinship is rooted in a sense of collective solidarity for interest and defence. Political factions are very important for nurturing democracy but in case of Pakistan, they exist chiefly to seek patronage, and have kinship links as their most important foundation. The bureaucracy and law-enforcement agencies too have become a mere tool in the hands of ruling elite.

This is the culmination of hereditary, or more rightly dynastic, politics not only in the constituencies but also in political parties. This menace also begets corruption which, in Pakistan, should be cut out of the political system; but insofar as political system of patronage and kinship that also intertwines corruption has prevailed. Combating corruption would mean gutting Pakistan’s society like a fish. It is due to this curse that Pakistan has a rather medieval look. The state is very bad at providing modern services such as clean water, medicine, public transport and education, because it is too weak either to force much of the population to pay taxes or to control corruption on the part of state officials.

In an ideal administrative system, it is not possible for the rulers, be they elected politicians or military dictators, to engage in the misappropriation of public funds and assets, the violation of laws and procedures, and the arbitrary use of power without the collaboration of a large number of civil servants, subordinate officials or military and intelligence personnel. Hence, the root-cause of all corruption is the combination of abuse of power and misappropriation of state resources. The rulers seek arbitrary power for themselves while the masses want this power to be used to advance their own interests. Senior government officials repeatedly allot themselves pricey plots of land at about one-fourth of the market value. It is to be remembered that all this is not possible without government’s blessing. Moreover, cost of providing perks and privileges to the senior bureaucrats are also exuberant — a secretary rank officer costs as much as four hundred thousand rupees per month to the national exchequer.

From constable and Patwari, to the local council and lower courts, paying bribes is almost inevitable to get the machinery to move at all. Even then, it moves slowly and often needs further inducements. With the officers they party to this corruption or being simply unable to perform the supervisory tasks expected of them, the subordinate staff is a disorganized, turbulent and anarchic mess of the incompetent, the corrupt and the malevolent.

The role of ‘dynasties’ in Pakistan’s political culture has been overwhelming; even before the independence of the country.

In Sindh and southern Punjab, most of the political ‘dynasties’ are old, with a minority of newcomers. In northern Punjab, it tends to be the other way round. However, in a great many ways these new families tend to merge into established ‘feudal’ patterns of power. Some of the greatest aristocratic families of Punjab turn out on examination to be intermarried with new business dynasties.

These dynasties have proved to be extraordinarily resilient. They have survived the violent deaths of their leading members, repeated failures in government, chronic failures to deliver on promises to the masses and, in many cases, the abandonment of whatever genuine ideology they ever possessed.

The elitist growth model in Pakistan has been followed with varying intensity. It traces the consequences of the various policies followed by seven successive non-military, nominated, appointed governments in the period up to 1958, the dictatorial regimes of Ayub Khan and Zia-ul-Haq, the socialist democratic era of Z.A Bhutto, and the new, democratically-elected governments since 1988. What is most puzzling is that the forms of government — democratic, nominated, directly or indirectly elected, dictatorial — did not matter nor did the professed ideological inclinations of the government in power — liberal, conservative, Islamic, leftist and rightist — make any significant difference to the general thrust of this model.

Pakistan’s agrarian structure had been shaped by both the Mughal period and the British colonial era. At the time of partition, Pakistan had two land tenure systems existing side by side. The first type, which was quite widespread, was of the zamindari (landlord-tenant) system. Basically, the zamindars and jagirdars possessed large tracts of land which were divided into small areas and cultivated by sharecroppers, while the majority of landlords were absentee owners and lived of the tenants’ rent. This system had all the trappings of an exploitative feudal culture. Any forum for the settlements of disputes was heavily biased in favour of the zamindars, and consequently, the peasants were without any legal protection. The second major type of land-tenure system was peasant proprietorship under which peasants cultivated small lands owned by them. In this system, the peasants were obviously more powerful, but this was only a small fraction of the rural population.

As a result of all these forces, this inherited structure of land tenure has played a principal role in shaping country’s political system, institutions and societal norms. In Pakistan, on the other hand, social relationships have been used by small elite to control and acquire public resources for private enrichment, and to exclude the majority of the poor from the benefits of development.

Moreover, at independence, state power in Pakistan rested predominantly in the hands of the bureaucracy and the military. The leading political party, the Muslim League, was unable to organize itself at the grassroots level and thus found it difficult to counter the more sophisticated and educated members of the civil service and the army. The Muslim League needed them badly to consolidate the power of the new state and to lay the foundation of administrative machinery and a security apparatus.

The impact that the exercise of power by the elite has upon the efficacy, quality and ethos of the state apparatus, as well as reaction of society, has been phenomenal. Rulers inherently treat the servants of the state as their personal ones. The servants of state, in turn, carve out their own niches and try to achieve a measure of personal security and aggrandizement by collaborating with the political elite.

The roles of the political leadership vis-à-vis the state apparatus, the higher bureaucracy and judiciary and financial administrations, and its relations with the other arms of the executive and American-inspired tutelage on the culture of power and governance of Pakistan act as important empirical markers.

All the important administrative section of the state inclusive of law-enforcement, taxation, area administration, local government, health, education, etc., has been simultaneously politicized and privatized.

Pakistans Flawed Political Culture 2

A politically connected subordinate could easily overpower his superiors while the insecurity of the senior servants affected their impartiality and professionalism in dealing with both politicians and administrative subordinates. Although arbitrary dismissals, appointment and transfers reduced the higher bureaucracy into a quasi-medieval instrument, the formal changes in the structure of the services their remuneration, nomenclature, shattered its flexibility and adaptability.

Members of the national and provincial assemblies are allocated their own quotas for jobs leading to unabashed cronyism at the middle and lower levels. The already serious problems of delinquency, incompetence and pliability spiralled out of control while ‘a clique of corrupt countries’ enveloped those exercising power in Pakistan’s increasingly ‘medieval’ ruling culture. The cabinet ministers were least interested in applying their minds to questions of policy rather they focused on the employment of some temporary workers for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and for this the government was being used as an instrument of political patronage.

It may be concluded that in Pakistan the democracy is only in name but not in practice because core spirit of the system is solely lacking. There is no rule of law, meritocracy, rights of minorities and free economy. That is why Pakistan is suffering from poor governance based on patronage and kinship. Democracy is not the name of the system rather it’s a culture and a process. Unless a change in the minds of people and leadership develops, this country will not take the roads of democratic norms which lead to good governance and socioeconomic development.

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