Democracy in Pakistan and the White Past


The glorious European past thumps like a parallel beat in the heart of Pakistani intellectuals. They look back at the series of revolutions and movements of enlightenment that occurred in Europe and America with such a nostalgic longing that had humans not learned the craft of spotting a lie, our intellectuals would have claimed that their forefathers fought under Napoleon against the monarchy.

However, if events that lead to revolutions in France or in America were to occur in Pakistan, nobody would probably bat an eye. The Stamp Act of 1765, for example, under which the British sought to tax the Americans on official documents, does not sound nearly as bad as to fuel a revolutionary fire. But it certainly did. Or the Boston Tea Party, when the Americans threw chests of tea into the Boston harbor as a reaction to the Tea Act of 1773. A Pakistani reading the act in 2022 would be just as shocked as the American who would have read it in 1773 with the difference being that the Pakistani would think how something so little could cause a revolution, while the American had thought how it could not.

Despite that Pakistan’s academic and intellectual circles cannot be acquitted of their intellectual corruption and barrenness. Their immortal infatuation with the White past forces them to merely criticize the Pakistani society rather than simultaneously addressing the root causes of the destructive patterns existing among the people. Indeed, it is understandable as well: those key elements that perpetrated European societies to revolt against monarchies and establish democracies are missing in our society. For that purpose, criticism is acceptable, inevitable, and in most cases, necessary. However, while discussing the success of those societies, our analysts forget the most basic elements integral to the ultimate supremacy of democratic values.

I have mapped out three causes below in no specific order as to why democracy is failing in Pakistan. It is left up to the reader to think which issue requires foremost attention. However, all three causes are to be read keeping the moral corruption of our intellectuals in mind.

The first postulate is that there can be no democracy without enlightenment. Enlightenment is essentially believing in the superiority of reason and individualism over tradition. So, our intellectuals sit at high-end cafes, sip overpriced coffees, and discuss the issues of a common man who is in majority, all the while being completely oblivious and disengaged from ground realities. What they ought to be doing, however, is to try and enlighten the people. At the moment, the discussions concerning the worsening political, economic, and social issues are confined to a small elite. However, one of the events that led to the French revolution, for example, was that the voices of economic and political dissent were heard from all over European society. Those conversations were not limited to the walls of elite coffeehouses. For how long will the intellectuals of this country sit and criticize the lack of democratic values and revolutionary spirit in this country? When will they start contributing great ideas in a common man’s language rather than being consistently sarcastic towards those who don’t even know what sarcasm is? Democracy is not possible in a country where intellectuals belong to a class impossible for the poor majority to dream of.

The same European enlightenment that makes a Pakistani intellectual’s mouth water, occurred because minds such as Descartes, Locke, Voltaire, Kant, Goethe, and Rousseau had contributed individually to the society. Had they been born in modern-day Pakistan, a certain political party thriving because of feudalism would have offered them huge bribes to somehow produce theories justifying their right to rule. Is it not mind-baffling that in the 21st century, the ideas of the enlightened and liberal Pakistani minds coincidentally align with the ideologies of a party thriving on feudalism? The French Revolution of 1789 paved the way for most of the fundamental principles of liberal democracy. One of those principles was the abolition of feudalism. This brings us to the second postulate of why democracy is impossible in Pakistan: feudalism.

There is already enough evidence, in case common sense does not help, to suggest why feudalism is one of the biggest hindrances to achieving democracy. I will not bother to explain the intricate and bamboozling schemes of how a person living on somebody else’s land cannot choose to vote against the latter’s will. The trouble is that when the hollow think tanks of Pakistan give examples of the European past, they once again choose to use their intellect for corrupt purposes and conveniently gulp the entire chapter of European history when it transitioned from being a feudal society to a capitalist one. Even the heads of those political parties of Pakistan who claim to be the direct descendants of Marx and portray themselves as the ultimate revolutionaries of the country, shamelessly and openly interact with well-known feudal lords. The irony is unending.

The writers of the European Age of Enlightenment mocked the times when feudalism existed in the West. They called the Middle Ages, the “Dark Ages”, knowing that feudalism was a massive part of it. Is it not surprising to think that in today’s Pakistan, those who are supposed to help the vassals stand with the lord instead? If memory serves me correctly, I cannot seem to recall any well-known intellectual having struggled against feudalism. Quite the contrary, numerous names rush to mind when the word “feudal” rings in it. If one gets too optimistic and thinks that feudalism is mostly gone from Pakistan, a glance at the lifestyles of the uniformed elite, civil servants, and politicians would be a good reality check.

Finally, it is ironic that every person in Pakistan is an expert when it comes to societal matters and yet the country has failed to produce a single good sociologist. The lack of good social scientists is hurting the country more than the lack of good natural scientists is. This is yet another matter that our intellectuals have failed to address: until the country excels in social sciences, no progress is possible in natural sciences.

The undemocratic and toxic family values based on tradition rather than individual freedom produce adults too feeble to raise their voice against the abuse of power. But they cannot be blamed for it; how can you produce normal adults with abnormal childhoods? A country that is bringing up new generations of adults with no concept of individualism and private space will not be able to absorb democratic norms. When there is no concept of personal space in families, no genius will have the time and space to prosper as well. The death of tradition is the birth of enlightenment.

Therefore, when a society does not permit its adults to make their personal decisions, the social fabric is embroidered with brains too lazy to think for themselves. As a consequence, when it comes to voting, everybody relies on the other person to elect the least bad politician out of the given superficial choices.

Does all that matter to our intellectuals? It does not. Because a corrupt politician ruling the country needs to normalize his corruption. And how does he do that? He intellectualizes it. He pays his loyalists to tell the people in fancy lingo how corruption does not damage society as much as they think it does. Had the people, at a societal level, been pushed into taking difficult decisions for themselves at an early age, and then had those decisions been respected by elements of society such as parents, normalizing moral decline would not be as easy as it currently is in Pakistan.

Well, then, is Pakistan doomed? Have we not been bestowed with anything pure, whether it is grain, ideology, or intellect? I am going to go on a stretch here and say, no, we are not doomed. From the recent series of political events occurring in the country, I would say that there is still hope. We owe it to the existence of social media, without a doubt. It is a brilliant sight: seeing old, wrinkly intellectuals trying to defend corrupt, dynastic political parties in the name of democracy and getting wrecked by the youth for their hypocrisy. It definitely spreads out slivers of hope in an otherwise somber atmosphere. 

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Still in the Game

The writer is a businessman and the author of three books including Muslims: The Real History.