Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Is Pakistan a Democracy Now?

Pakistan has a new prime minister elected by the new parliament chosen by the people in largely free, fair and peaceful general elections held by President Musharraf's government last February. As expected, the new prime minister Makhdoom Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani comes from an influential feudal family in Southern Punjab. In the absence of a large, powerful middle class, this is the best that one could hope for as an outcome of the electoral process. But does this mean we are closer to a functioning democracy now?

Emergence and sustenance of democracy and democratic institutions requires a large and powerful middle class. With the exception of India, all other functioning democracies have gone through the transition from feudal to industrial societies where a large middle class exercises its free will to support and maintain civil societies and rule of law. They believe in due process rather than arbitrary rule, a hallmark of military and feudal rulers.

In India's case, Prime Minister Nehru and the Indian National Congress leadership, mostly from the middle classes, seized control and successfully emasculated the Indian feudal class by extensive and real land reform immediately after independence. This never happened in Pakistan. Even though most of India is mired in deep poverty, an average Indian is better educated than an an average Pakistani and the enrollment rate of children in school is much higher, giving hope for a better future. India is beginning to emerge as an industrial economy and acquiring global industrial units like Corus steel and Jaguar.

Pakistan can possibly evolve from feudal to industrial society with a large middle class but it is likely to be a very long and slow evolution, given the history of our recalcitrant feudal leadership. Under Musharraf, the middle class has grown rapidly. I think this is likely to slow down to suit the whims of the feudal class for continuation of the patron-client society they prefer.


Riaz Haq said...

Here's report on water related corruption in Pakistan:

"Pakistan’s irrigation network has always served the privileged elite at the expense of the poor. World Bank and government programs have consistently favored feudal landowners. When the irrigation system was established, the government failed to recognize the land rights of the original inhabitants and allotted irrigated plots to rich landowners and military personnel. While large and very large farmers control 66% of all agricultural land in Pakistan, almost half of all rural households own no land. A World Bank evaluation noted in 1996 that the bank’s projects "provided large and unnecessary transfers of public resources to some of the rural elite."9

The top–down engineering approach to Pakistan’s water sector has also caused massive collateral damage downstream. The Indus Basin Irrigation System starves areas of Sindh province – and particularly the Indus Delta – of water and sediment. And because the sediment trapped in the reservoirs does not replenish the delta, close to 5,000 square kilometers of farm land have already been lost to the sea. Meanwhile salt water is intruding 100 kilometers upstream in the Indus. The lack of water and sediment is destroying flood plain forests that are home to hundreds of thousands of people and mangrove forests that help protect the coast against storms.

While the downstream areas suffer from a water shortage, wasteful water use is wreaking environmental and economic havoc in the command area. Over–irrigation and inadequate drainage have caused the water table to rise across a large area. As a result, about 60% of all farm plots in Sindh are plagued by water logging and salinity."

Please read here for more details.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are interesting excerpts from an analysis of how Pakistanis in Britain (70% from Mirpur in Azad Kashmir) vote in British elections:

But there are those who are angered by what they see as the tribalism of Mirpuri politics being transferred to the UK, where clans stick together and elders make decisions for the whole extended family.

"The vote is a very private and individual matter for any person," says Khwaja Sohail Bashir, 54, a British Mirpuri businessman and political activist who has recently settled back in Pakistan.

He says only voters themselves can understand the issues that affect them, and questions whether Pakistani politicians would appreciate what is happening with the British economy or the National Health Service and take that into account when trying to influence opinions.

"Every community should maintain its culture, it is what makes Britain such a beautiful society," says Mr Bashir. "But voting has got nothing to do with culture."

But others, like Rose FM's manager, disagrees. "These links cannot be broken," he says. He talks of the British government itself trying to promote connections between far-flung Mirpuri communities.

"We have had British politicians from various parties come to these very studios in Mirpur, talking about their agendas, so why shouldn't our politicians go to the UK?" he asks.

'Everybody does it'

But Mirpur's influence on this election does not stop at encouraging people to vote one way or another.

Sitting in the garden of a large villa in Mirpur, a British citizen who has been a taxi driver in Halifax in Yorkshire for more than 20 years, talks of a practice which has become widespread here.

For obvious reasons the man, in his fifties, does not want us to publish his name. He describes how people are going door to door asking Britons to blindly sign proxy forms for the upcoming elections, allowing someone else in the UK to vote on their behalf.

"They said I didn't have to fill in any details, just to sign my name at the bottom of the form," he says, smiling. "So I signed two."

He laughed as he told me he had no idea who was going to vote on his behalf, and whom they were going to vote for.

"I personally know 25 other people who did the same thing, lots of people just on this street, but everybody does it."

Many others, among the contingent of thousands of British citizens thought to be here, have admitted signing proxy forms in this way.

While proxy voting is a mechanism which does allow British citizens abroad to cast their vote, many will undoubtedly look upon this way of doing it as unethical.