What challenges does Pakistan’s democracy face?

Pakistani cricket fans watch the T20 World Cup final, held in Australia, on a big screen in Karachi on November 13, 2023. — Reuters
Pakistani cricket fans watch the T20 World Cup final, held in Australia, on a big screen in Karachi on November 13, 2023. — Reuters

With the general elections set to be staged on February 8, a panel of experts at the University of Karachi (UoK) discussed the challenges that Pakistan’s fragile democracy faces.

The Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto (SMBB) Chair of the UoK organised the sixth Benazir Bhutto Memorial Lecture on “The Challenges of Democracy in Pakistan” on Tuesday.

Professor Dr Riaz Ahmed Shaikh, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Education Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology Karachi, said that no democracy thrives in any tribal and feudal society.

The seeds of democracy are found in a society that has industrialisation, human compassion, and human rights, he said.

He mentioned that Pakistani society is still divided based on tribalism and feudalism and the biggest danger is extremism which has created more cracks in our society.

“In such a scenario, democracy would always remain weak in the country.”

Professor Dr Shaikh observed that universities are one of the major platforms that help in promoting democratic values and its process in society and the culture of discussion is essential in this regard.

KU Vice Chancellor Professor Dr Khalid Mahmood Iraqi (right) addresses the seminar in Karachi, on January 2, 2024. — KU
KU Vice Chancellor Professor Dr Khalid Mahmood Iraqi (right) addresses the seminar in Karachi, on January 2, 2024. — KU 

Another speaker, renowned journalist Nazir Laghari said that the separation of the then East Pakistan was not a political mistake but it was separated deliberately.

“The military dictatorship has always played with the constitutions of the country and surpassed the democratic governments for their gain,” the journalist said.

He informed the audience that the opposite of democracy is dictatorship and Pakistani democracy has always been under attack.

Laghari shared that the public’s interest was among the priorities of the past governments but after a few years of the creation of our motherland, these preferences have dwindled and are now almost gone.

The veteran journalist said that after the creation of Pakistan, all the then-prime ministers opposed to surrender Pakistani rivers deal, while a dictator struck a quick deal with a financial institution and put Pakistan’s future in the dark.

“Unfortunately, the Pakistani establishment ensures the protection of its interests by appointing certain political figures to the key positions of the political parties.”

Meanwhile, KU Vice Chancellor Professor Dr Khalid Mahmood Iraqi said that the middle class is not visible in Pakistani politics, while in America, Britain, India, and other Western countries, the middle class is a part of politics and they have access to the assemblies.

The presence of the middle class in the assemblies is a sign of political stability, he noted.

“One of the reasons for the development of our neighboring country India is the abolition of feudalism through agricultural reforms, while Pakistan still seems incapable of getting rid of feudalism.”

The KU VC observed that a scene of accountability and responsibility is lacking within our system and is one of the major causes of our weak democratic and political setups.

On this occasion, KU Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Professor Dr Shaista Tabsum said that one of the reasons for the failure of the democratic system in Pakistan is the undemocratic nature of political parties.

She observed that the political elites and masses have no direct connection and the leadership will meet with the public during election campaigns and a couple of other occasions.

Tabusm advised that if people want political reforms in the country, then they have to promote education and create awareness regarding the rights of the citizens.

“Along with this, there is a need for reforms in political parties as well.”

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