The Charade of Democracy


‘Representative government is artifice, a political myth, designed to conceal from the masses the dominance of a self-selected, self-perpetuating and self-serving traditional ruling class.’ — Giuseppe Prezzolini

This may come as news to some, surprise to others and disappointment to the uninitiated: We are not a democracy. Yet, this is the perceived democracy people want to protect from people such as myself, and argue that more of the same is the real secret to success. But we never were a democracy. We have labelled our political activity as such, but still, we were not a democracy. We were an oligarchy that has now morphed and evolved into a plutocracy. The former is a system of government, which is in the hands of a privileged few, while the latter is one which is a government in the hands of a wealthy few.

In our case, we started with an oligarchy and those having made their fortune, transformed into plutocrats. From a governance point of view, the difference is very little but what is common between both is that the value of the vote or the significance of an individual citizen, is of no concern to them. Thus democracy remains a dream for many, just an exercise in pretensions and posturing, as if there is a democratic order, when there is none – it cannot be found and does not exist in Pakistan.

President Pervez Musharaf proliferated mass media and allowed people access to it. He also experimented with his enlightened moderation (Akbar’s Din-Elahi) which was rejected by the people too radicalized to allow such liberal thought. Nevertheless, political awareness permeated society and people now are better informed than what they had been. Imran Khan, on the other hand, caused a change in political thought by instilling into society that people do matter. The combination of both, the media awareness and the political thought, has brought about a change as to how people want to do politics – there is greater involvement, a sense of entitlement and expectations – with it hope!

The practical manifestation of this hope will unfold on July 17, 2022. By-elections will be held in Punjab and would have a strategic implication and effect. There are a lot of things that will be affected and depend on the outcome of these elections. The first would be the legitimacy of the Punjab Government, the second, a popular call for the rejection of an artificial government, third, the direction Pakistan must take thereon in terms of its economy and its foreign policy. So, these elections do have a huge significance and could be a game changer.

Yet people on the streets have already spoken and there is a fair perception of how things will turn out if there is a free and fair election. The ground situation and reality points towards a massive PTI win and a total PML-N rout; but reality does not matter in a system that is served by an oligarchy and a plutocracy cocktail. The government machinery will be manipulated, the election commission influenced, constituencies fiddled with, voter’s lists amended, administration will be subjective, the law will be prejudiced and every attempt will be made to keep the PTI out of the equation. There will be arrests, accusations, false or real through selective cases, incarceration of the PTI workers and essentially unfair one-sided elections. The PTI seems to be confident that they can overcome these shenanigans and have some sort of a plan. I do not share their confidence since I see no evidence to support it. I expect there will be a manufactured victory for the PML-N and the PDM will be here to rule over us — the irrelevant people.

Expectations that such a turn of events would bring people onto the street are exaggerated. That there will be riots and street protests is skewed anticipation.  People in Pakistan lack the determination, will and character to do a ‘Sri Lanka.’ But I would be pleasantly surprised if they did and pray that they do. However, what is likely to happen is that this artificial coalition will remain in power and we the people will quietly put up with it. International oil prices will fall, this government will pass it on to the public and claim it’s their political acumen that has come to the help of the people. The IMF will extend loans, easing the economic situation. Load shedding will reduce and the government will be on track, claiming to have brought Pakistan back from the brink. People will be given a story of vindication and be suitably appeased.

Thomas Jefferson had said, ‘You seem to consider the Supreme Court judges as the ultimate arbiters of constitutional questions; a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under despotism of an oligarchy.’ And so, as before and as always, there will be no legal, administrative, moral or ethical recourse to this aberration. These artificial leaders will return with cymbals clashing in celebration of a PDM victory, we will continue to have more of the same, nothing will change. Yet, the way one sees it, the tyranny of a ruler in an oligarchy is not as dangerous to the public welfare, as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy. This is where we are and shall remain – submissive, resigned, and fatalistic and accept it as a divine ruling.  There will be no mass movement, no protests, no riots and no demonstrations. Pakistan will continue to limp on, stumbling from day to day, living off the largesse of others to survive. There will be some rallies where people will assemble to insult one another, talk shows stating the obvious with people repeating themselves, totally lost in their own rhetoric and a lot of ineffectual writs in courts who remain indifferent to justice, propriety and decency.  So, while bragging about the great things we do and all that we have achieved in Pakistan, slogans without substance, we consciously hide the obnoxious fact that by the corruption of a democratic order and a conventional governance system, we have effectively nationalised a system of oppression and subjugation thus enslaving our own people by it. Yet, when this charade is all over, when the dust settles, when we go back to living as we always do, it will be announced, with fanfares blaring, that democracy in Pakistan has triumphed once again and the people are themselves managing the affairs of their day to day lives, as ‘those in power must spend a lot of time laughing at us’, Alice Walker. There will be some that will keep saying, ‘democracy is the best revenge’ and others who will demand that they want more of the same. It’s their answer to the way forward and the road to redemption. Let the show go on!!!

Tariq Khan HI(M)
Tariq Khan HI(M)
The writer is a retired Lt General of the Pakistan Army. He is noted for his services as the Commander of I Strike Corps at Mangla and Inspector General of the Frontier Corps.


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