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Holding Your Nose, Keeping Your Nerve

As Pakistan's elected government struggles to find its pitch amidst escalating problems on the security, economic, political and foreign policy fronts, there is much to rattle domestic and foreign supporters of democracy in Pakistan these days. Most of the looming crises were neither unexpected nor avoidable. No one said it was going to be easy, but there really are no serious alternatives to holding your nose and keeping your nerve.

LETTER FROM SOUTH ASIAaugust 9, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly10Holding Your Nose, Keeping Your NerveHaris GazdarAs Pakistan’s elected government struggles to find its pitch amidst escalating problems on the security, economic, political and foreign policy fronts, there is much to rattle domestic and foreign supporters of democracy in Pakistan these days. Most of the looming crises were neither unexpected nor avoidable. No one said it was going to be easy, but there really are no serious alternatives to holding your nose and keeping your nerve.Haris Gazdar (gasht@yahoo.com) is a political economist who works with the Karachi based Collective for Social Science Research. There are many in Pakistan who oppose democracy – or more pre-cisely, the idea that government should be run by elected civilian politicians. These are powerful groups consisting of a majority of the business elite, senior state functionaries and large segments of the intelligentsia. They may not care either way about the idea of democracy, but are at a perpetual state of despair at its out-comes. Politicians are corrupt, self-serving, power-hungry and inept on top of all that. By implication the anti-democrats them-selves are upright, public-spirited, patriotic and capable. Since the world is yet to invent a form of democracy without politicians, they would rather not have democracy at all. If democracy becomes inevitable due to political pressures from outside or down below, it could be tolerated for a while and that too on condition that the politicians do what their anti-democrat detractors think is right. The knives are already out and every slip-up of the elected government becomes an argument against democracy.Democracy and Its OpponentsActually, there are only two solid reasons anywhere for supporting democracy. The most obvious is the normative one, but it is not one for the realist. You ethically be-lieve that the political system must reflect the idea that all individuals are equal and sovereign and that some form of represen-tation is a logical extension of your belief in equality and sovereignty. The second reason is the practical one based on his-torical analysis – the Churchillian reason that “democracy is the worst form of govern-ment, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”.In the case of Pakistan, democracy has offered the only consistent path for expand-ing the social base of the post-colonial state, and for negotiating agreements among disparate groups and interests in society. Despite many organisational ad-vantages, dictatorships have neither gained popular legitimacy, nor been strong enough to decisively impose their writ over society. Their failures litter the graveyard of institutional interventions that were once hailed as great reforms for trans-forming society. From the One Unit Planof 1956, Ayub Khan’s basic democracy,Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamisation, to Pervez Musharraf’s devolution reforms – all caused disruption and sometimes conflict, but none lefta lasting impression on the institutionalar-chitecture of the state. The 1973 constitu-tion negotiated and agreed by elected civilian politicians, on the other hand, remains the reference point for all institu-tional development and political negotiation despite its mutilation and emasculation at the hands various despots. Democracy will be the worst route to Pakistan’s deve-lopment, except for all those other paths that have been tried from time to time.Looming Crises This brings us to the looming crises and the performance of the new government. Yes, pinch yourself, it is very new and at four months old has completed just 6 per cent of its statutory life. In human years, this government is barely four. It is a coali-tion, the first of its kind in Pakistan. It is led by men and women who were imprisoned, exiled, vilified, or otherwise marginalised over much of the previous 10 years, and the main coalition party lost its popular and towering leader barely eight months ago. It must work with a president who en-joys de jure powers to pull the plug on the arrangement, and discern the divided loyalties of bureaucrats and military officers as it goes along. Most of all, the government must front a state apparatus – including conspiracy-prone secret agencies – it does not fully fathom let alone control.The challenges are institutional, political, economic and strategic, and nearly all of them inherited from the previous regime. The judges’ issue left over from Musharraf’s emergency remains unresolved, despite many public promises and has become cause célèbre of the new government detractors. Its most significant impact is the strain it puts on intra-coalition

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