Categorized | South Asian Politics

Democracy survives in Pakistan in 2015

Posted on 31 December 2015 by admin


Dr. Hasan Askari

  Democracy in Pakistan faced several challenges in 2015 but it managed to survive. The political leaders may view this as their success but they need to recognize that democracy will face stronger challenges in 2016. The ordinary people prefer an elected political system but express disappointment on the inability of democratic institutions and processes to solve their socio-economic problems.

  The long delayed local government elections were completed in Sindh and Punjab in October-December 2015.

 Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa held these elections earlier in 2015 and Balochistan completed the electoral process at the local level in 2014-15.

 The introduction of elected councils at the local level engendered the hope that these could help to improve the image of democracy at the common people level and strengthen their attachment with these institutions and processes. However, much depends on the performance of local council in rendering basic civic services to the people and improving the quality of life for their electorate.

 The provincial governments in Sindh and Punjab have kept a lot of powers with them.

 In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the position of local government is somewhat better.

 In Balochistan, these councils cannot be effective without the support of the provincial government.

 If sufficient development funds are made available to local government councils and committees by the provincial governments and these funds are used transparently and judiciously, the people will benefit. This will strengthen their attachment not only with the locally elected councils but also with the democratic process as a whole.

  The key tests of endurance of democracy are fair and free elections and the delivery of basic services to the citizens. These institutions and processes can evoke voluntary loyalty if the elected governments pay attention to societal security and human welfare and development. Hopefully, elected local governments achieve these goals.

  Democracy in Pakistan faced four major challenges in 2015: less frequent use of democratic institutions for policy making and political management; inability to address human development problems that has hampered the strengthening popular attachment with democracy; the growing role of the military; and the challenge of extremism and terrorism.

  The elected institutions and processes have to be made relevant to policy making and political management. The elected parliament has not been able to acquire the focal place for law making and accountability of the rulers. The Prime Minister hardly attends its sessions and the federal cabinet members often shy away from its sessions. If the Prime Minister attends the sessions, the presence of cabinet members will increase. This will enhance the centrality and prestige of the parliament, especially the National Assembly. Further, the habit of holding All-Parties Conferences for discussing important issues devalues the parliament. All the major parties are represented in the parliament. All key issues should be taken up in the parliament. The meetings of federal and provincial cabinets are held less frequently. Instead, the Apex Committees meet more frequently at the provincial level and, at the federal level, the High powered meetings of top civilian and military officials, presided over by the Prime Minister, take important policy decisions. No meeting of the National Security Committee was held in 2015.

  The post-18th amendment Constitution requires that the Council of Common Interest should meet at least once in 90 days. This principle was ignored during 2015, thereby showing that there is hardly any serious attention being given to making the constitutionally recognized institutions relevant to policy making and its enforcement.

  The data on poverty and under-development as well as on children out of schools has not shown any improvement. Similarly education and health care continue to suffer from lack of official attention. The shortages of electricity and gas continue to add to the misery of people. These shortage is more acute in the areas where less privileged people live. The Report of the State Bank of Pakistan showed that electricity generation increased by 1.6 percent during 2015 and that if the existing electricity generating units produce to their capacity the transmission lines will not be able to carry all the electricity. The poor performance of the government will continue to haunt the political system in the years to come.

  The military continues to stay on the sidelines of the political system but its role and influence has expanded in 2015 partly because of its increased role in managing internal security and fighting terrorism. The civilian federal and provincial governments have sought the cooperation of the military quite frequently under the rubric of the “aid to civil.”

  The introduction of the system of Apex Committees and the military courts have provided an institutional framework for the expanded military role in civilian affairs. The Corps Commanders based in the provincial capitals are now linked with the provincial affairs with reference to the implementation of the National Action Plan. At the federal level the Army Chief and the Prime Minister have established a functional arrangement for decision making on selected issues.

  There has been a noticeable decline in terrorist incidents in the tribal areas, Karachi and the rest of Pakistan in 2015. The government has periodically come hard on public display of religious and cultural extremism and intolerance, although the challenges of extremism and terrorism still require much attention to bring them under control. The question of madrassa management and the projection of moderate and Pakistan based discourse to counter the narratives of extremists and terrorists have remained poorly addressed.

  The year is ending with confrontation between the federal government and the Sindh government on the determination of the scope of action for the security operation by the Rangers in Karachi. The federal government is standing by the Army on this issue. However, if the demand for a similar action by the Rangers and other federal agencies like the FIA and the NAB in the Punjab is accepted, the political interests of the PMLN will be threatened in the same manner as the security operation in Karachi has threatened the political interests of the PPP.

  There will be several difficult political and security developments in 2016 which can upset the current stable relations between the Prime Minister and the Army. If this happens this will be the toughest challenge to democracy in Pakistan.

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