Democracy And Divine Intervention: A Nuanced Perspective On The State Of Affairs In Pakistan And Beyond


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“Allah, Army, and America”—the commentary on the political situation that attained the status of axioms—is an essential memory for all Pakistanis who were beyond infancy in the year 1977. Somehow, this triple A mantra or formula remained intact in the generations to come, maybe in a different order, and never lost its charm and charisma. Pakistan and Pakistanis continue to enjoy the blessings of all three with mixed emotions, and the queue to get into America, the Army, and perform Hajj (to see Allah’s house, the Kaaba) never gets shorter here. I want to recall another fact from the memory lane of my younger days.

Those who were in their pre-teens during Zia’s regime in Pakistan and had attended reputable English-medium schools in urban areas inevitably encountered the definition of democracy through their social studies, which later metamorphosed into Pakistan Studies. The definition of democracy learned by heart by the then kids was ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people.’

Geeks, also known as boring kids like myself, who lacked the ability to excel in sports and had no chance of being cast as fairies in tableaus, dramas, or even Milads (where the front row on stage was usually reserved for stunning-looking girls with or without melodious voices), turned to books. After sneaking from the children’s book section to the regular corners of the then readily accessible The British Council’s library. It was at walking distance from Islamabad’s once leading and iconic educational institution ICB G-6 (before it was Islamized as Urdu Medium and subjected to nepotism under the dictator’s rule) and too close to the cinema (that no longer exists as it was burned down a long time ago).

I found myself needing to explore various books and consult the dictionary to uncover information that is now easily accessible through online search engines in a matter of seconds. The knowledge I gained then kept me excited for many years, as like all middle-class descendants I was eager to find some source of pride.

I used to share in detail that even though Abraham Lincoln was a poor kid, he became a lawyer and then president of America through his hard work. He gave the most popular definition of Democracy in his remarks in the Gettysburg Address, though I was completely clueless about what was this. Now, with the knowledge I have gained (thanks to my legislative fellowship by the US State Department and the advent of Google), I understand that this speech, renowned in US political history, was delivered during the American Civil War at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg in 1863, just four and a half months after the Union armies defeated Confederate forces in the Battle of Gettysburg.

Now I can detect that somewhere in the process, I was reassuring myself that someday I too would be among the notables and materially more comfortable than my brilliant and honest educationist father, who had neither any say in that ‘aristocratic circle of Islamabad,’ nor any value in the service grade-loving city.

As someone who always maintained a democratic heart and a clear penchant for freedom, I definitely have come to terms with the fact that Freedom and Democracy do not always or necessarily have a linear relationship. If the eleven pillars of democracy, namely, Sovereignty of the people, Government based upon consent of the governed, Majority rule, Minority rights, Guarantee of basic human rights, Free and fair elections, Equality before the law, Due process of law, Constitutional limits on government, Social, economic, and political pluralism, and Values of tolerance, pragmatism, cooperation, and compromise; are not authentic and well-grounded, the political system no matter how forcefully labeled as democratic remains sham democratic to the verge of autocracy. With the latter comes the loss of freedom in all areas affecting human lives and values.

Truth is not the first casualty in wars and conflicts but in the presence and prevalence of virtual democracy too. Maybe something is inherently wrong with the word itself. The word democracy comes from the Greek words ‘demos’, meaning people, and ‘kratos’ meaning power. Maybe it is high time to dissect this ‘power’ and ‘people.’ Whose power and will of which people? Having survived as the PTV anchor for live current affairs transmission in the last century when two ‘elected’ governments were toppled in Pakistan and heading towards aging with limited successes as a woman when matched with my struggles, I can vouch that class-gender-ethnicity-age biases remain valid in politics and the social development industry of the country.

Relax, it is the same elsewhere despite the hue and cry against discrimination and lucrative packages for DEI positions. From Palestine to Pakistan, the income-poor and opportunity-poor are left out mercilessly and fooled continuously. The non-elites, no matter how qualified they are, have to adjust to the norms of the elite-driven democracy and mysterious divine intervention.



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