Political development: which way is Pakistan headed? – The Express Tribune

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India managed to write its constitution within four years, Pakistan struggled for more than a quarter of a century
I have often quoted in my writings the conclusions reached by Francis Fukuyama in his book The End of History which was written soon after the fall of the Soviet Union and the move away by Eastern Europe from communism. What distinguished the communist state from those in the West was that it owned and operated all means of economic production. Individuals owned little or no property. They also did not have any rights other than those bestowed on them by the state.
The Communist Party was the only organisation allowed to operate in the political field. For some time, it was believed that the communists delivered high rates of economic growth and reduced the incidence of poverty. Jawaharlal Nehru who served as India’s Prime Minister for 17 years was so impressed by the Soviet system that he copied some aspects of it. The system that he introduced came to be called the ‘License Raj’.
Some analysts such as Harvard University’s Economic Historian Alexander Gerschenkron showed that the rates of growth put out by Moscow were based on wrong assumptions and that the Soviet Union’s economy had fared much worse than suggested by official data. In India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did away with the License Raj and set India on a path toward rapid growth.
With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 into its constituent parts, Francis Fukuyama believed that Communist Europe would soon fall in line with the West and adopt representative democracy as the principle of governance. However, that did not happen and Fukuyama in his later works revised his analysis as well as his conclusions about the direction of political change across the world. Democracy, he thought, would prevail but not without struggle.
Like so many other scholars, he was dismayed by the way Donald Trump conducted himself when he was in office and how he befriended autocratic rulers in the world. Viktar Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary, was one his favorite rulers. Among others were also those who had risen to power using military control.
Adam Taylor, a reporter for the Washington Post, recently wrote, “last year saw a rash of coup d’etats across the world from West Africa to Southeast Asia. According to the data compiled by the University of Florida and the University of Kentucky, there were at least five successful coups as well as one attempted military takeover in Niger. That’s more successful coups than in all five prior years and a record for the 21st century. But the reverberations of 2021 are continuing in Sudan, Myanmar, and elsewhere.”
Such developments occurring in several continents around the same time forced UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to offer his assessment on the situation: “The fact that we have strong political divides; the fact that the Security Council has lost the ability to take strong measures; the impact and the problems of Covid-19 and the difficulties that many countries face from the economic and social point of view — these three factors are creating an environment in which some military leaders feel that they have total impunity.”
Watching these developments, the US, currently operating under the leadership of President Joe Biden, believes that it could influence the direction of political change in parts of the world where democracy has not been not fully established. There was the hope that the convening of the virtual democracy summit in December 2021 attended by heads of state would lead to greater global political stability. The law in the US forbids supporting coup d’états. Section 508 of the Foreign Assistance Act says that the US is required to suspend aid to nations that undergo a military coup.
However, following that route, Washington runs the risk of turning nations toward geopolitical rivals like Russia and China, both of whom are now proclaiming that their systems are better than those followed and advocated by the West under the leadership of the US. President Xi Jinping of China, as he heads towards being elected for the third presidential term, has been quite open in declaring that the Chinese system delivers the results the citizenry wants.
This is the background against which we should study the direction of politics in Pakistan. There is no dearth of serious scholarship on Pakistan’s political development, which has been described in great depth by several scholars when Pakistan was still a young state. At that time, it was normal to compare India’s political performance with that of Pakistan.
While India had managed to write its constitution within four years of achieving independence, Pakistan struggled for more than a quarter of a century before a working constitution was adopted. That was possible after the country split in two parts and East Pakistan became Bangladesh. East Pakistan’s departure demonstrated that ethnicity was a stronger basis for nationhood than just the promise of economic development.
India’s success was celebrated by historian Sunil Khilnani in his well-known book The Idea of India. India succeeded in building the nation by putting in place political and economic systems that accommodated all segments of a diverse population. There are for instance 120 different languages spoken in India. But now, it has drifted away from these systems — a subject I will take up in a later article.
One essential element of political success is the presence of political parties that represent broad segments of the population and are not captured by families or small economic groups. Political parties as we know them today took shape after what historians call the Glorious Revolution that occurred in late 17th century in Britain. The Glorious Revolution was a revolt in November 1688 against James II, the ruling monarch of the time. After ascending to the throne in 1685, he alienated his supporters by suspending the parliaments of Scotland and England and ruled by issuing decrees for the next three years. The elites who were bypassed managed to organise themselves in political parties, which shifted power away from the monarch and towards the parliament.
Who should sit in the parliament was the first question that was asked. It took time to find a satisfactory answer. Eventually most parliamentary systems across the world gave the power to vote to the people. The next question was about the form of expression that should be used to put forward the interests of the parties that were represented in the system. Pakistan’s political system is still in the formative stage since two of its main political parties are controlled by families and don’t represent broad segments of the population. This system can’t deliver what people want and it is evident that dynastic politics can’t be the basis of a mature political system. Pakistan will have to move away from such a political structure.
 
Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2022.
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