Pakistan: An Ailing Democracy


Pakistan: An Ailing Democracy
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Sumera B. Reshi

June 2017 proved a watershed in the political history of Pakistan. For the first time, its sitting Prime Minister was questioned on disproportionate assets off shores. National Accountability Bureau (NAB) took away contentment and ease from the life of Nawaz Sharief. None thought that NAB will continue the unrelenting crusade on the politicians.

On 29 March 2018, a federal anti-corruption court indicted former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and 25 others in a corruption case pertaining to the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP). Y. Raza Gilani and other senior TDAP officials were booked for their alleged involvement in the scandal. Unfortunately, the problem with Pakistan is that it lacks a credible and independent judiciary.

It has been acknowledged that the judiciary is under the thumb of the military and the judges have a proclivity for accepting bribes. The fate met by Nawaaz Sharif last year is erratic, and powerful business and political figures are rarely & occasionally challenged for their crimes, because corruption in Pakistan is what oxygen is to the blood.

Dynasticism rules in Pakistan. The system is not only based on land ownership or feudal power; it is also based on capital and industry. However, there is no accountability, access to easy money is aplenty. The ensuing result has adversely impacted national politics. Since June 2017, things have changed.

At present, the most prevalent issue in Pakistan is the anti-corruption stride which has put all other issues on hold. People in Pakistan, as of now, want accountability and the drive has gained support since 2017 when Panama Leaks and Paradise Papers surfaced on Pakistani media.

Indeed corruption in Pakistan is so much ingrained into the system that the Panama leaks and Paradise Papers (which lists hundreds of families of Pakistan for siphoning off billions of rupees overseas) is just the tip of an iceberg. Corruption and embezzlement are an integral part of the Pakistani polity since its inception.

As a matter of fact, an absence of constitutional writ and rule of law, corruption has seeped in every vein and nerve of it. In actuality, there is no institution in Pakistan which is free from corruption and nepotism`.

Thanks to the wrongdoings by the people in authority, corruption has become the order of the day; many analysts see corruption or “elite bargains” as constituting a factor of stability in some cases, as long as competing networks divide the spoils rather than fighting over them.

There are many who argue that elite corruption has been very decisive in creating political stability and promoting developmental goals.

“Corruption,” they insist, “must be accepted as an undesirable but nonetheless potentially legitimate mechanism for engaging with societies organized along different lines.

In one of the interviews on BBC in 2009, the ex -US, President Barack Obama, described the then Egyptian president Husni Mubarak as a “force for stability and good in the region.”

Today, there are thousands of corruption cases in the Pakistani courts awaiting to see the light of the day and in a country like Pakistan where almost all the institutions are weak, corruption has gained more weight and corrupt officials assumed greater power. Only the military and the judiciary enjoy unwarranted power and influence than the Parliament and the executive, thus putting Pakistan in the spotlight.

To the outsiders, Pakistan is a messy place, with only unpalatable and unpleasant choices, which is why many believe that in the land of the blind, Pervez Musharraf was the king.

Previous warlords like George W. Bush, Gordon Brown, and Nicolas Sarkozy all had bet on Musharraf. He wasn’t perfect, in their view, but he was a bold leader who fought terrorism and had the competence to move the complex country in a modern direction.

During Musharraf’s tenure, his struggle to stay in power had also reinforced his alliance with thoroughly illiberal forces. Having packed the courts, amended the Constitution, muzzled the media and battled with the major political parties, Musharraf had alienated all the modern, secular and liberal forces in Pakistan, with the exception of some businessmen and his own community of “mohajirs” in Sindh.

Amid all this, Musharraf’s selling point had always been that even though he was not elected, he had been a liberalizing dictator.

Undoubtedly, corruption in Pakistan has spread like a contagious disease which has no cure at sight. As per the Corruption Perception Index (CPI), Pakistan is ranked the 34th most corrupt country in the world. Survey polls reveal a ubiquitous culture of fraud, bribery, nepotism, cronyism and misappropriation of funds.

Moreover, Pakistan has had a painful history of corrupt leadership for instance, with the Bhutto family and more recently, Nawaz Sharif, a wealthy steel magnate wrestled hard to stay out of jail on a range of corruption charges, before defeating Benazir Bhutto’s government which had been brought down by serious economic and financial scandals.

According to Bilal Hussain (who is an advocate in the Lahore High Court and regular contributor for the Guardian newspaper) wrote in the Guardian in April 2011, “the basic problem in Pakistan is not just corruption. Many countries are corrupt but at least they are competent.


Today “a terrifying level of incompetence pervades the entire sphere of governance in Pakistan. Because of bribery, jobbery and nepotism, the lower ranks of our civil bureaucracy are filled with incompetent and under-educated people.”


In another article published in the Guardian on 16 October 2010 “Pakistan the dying democracy”, Hussain wrote that from Ayub Khan to Pervez Musharraf, military rule devastated the state of Pakistan. In this process, only elites survived and gained the control, however, the general public remained high and dry.

Instead of peace and prosperity, military policies have given the country cross-border and internal terrorism, which has resulted in the internal displacement of the people and a fragile economy. Sardonically people of Pakistan have accepted them with open arms not realizing what they are doing.

Pakistan is a young nation hasn’t yet got rid of feudalism. Social scientists believe that feudalism is one of the cardinal factors responsible for the weakness of the democratic politics in Pakistan and the supremacy of the bureaucracy. The landed aristocracy has always dominated Pakistan’s political, social and economic life.

Ironically, land reforms introduced in 1953 played a major role in creating a democratic Indian state. On the contrary, no such reforms were ever introduced in Pakistan for which reason the poor masses remained under the control of feudalism.

Unquestionably, political turbulence and insecurity have controlled and subjugated Pakistan over the last 70 years and these years were marked by frequent regime changes and unrest. Between 1990 and 1999, four different democratically-elected governments held power under the same two political leaders. Each administration was either dismissed or toppled, often as a result of corruption charges and allegations of power misuse.

Benazir Bhutto of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) first came to power in August 1990 but later was dismissed.

This era of democratic government ended in October 1999 following a military coup led by General Pervez Musharraf. After declaring himself the chief executive, the Supreme Court validated Musharraf’s claim to the presidency in May 2000.

In 2002 a parliamentary election returned civilian rule, yet the Musharraf presidency was extended for another five years.

During Musharraf’s tenure, former Prime Minister Bhutto was indicted and convicted on corruption charges at home (in April 1999) and abroad (in Switzerland in July 2003).  Former Prime Minister Sharif was also tried and sentenced for acts of terrorism in April 2000 although he was eventually pardoned and went into exile.

Against this backdrop, the political situation in Pakistan deteriorated. In March 2007, further turbulence arose after the dismissal of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry for alleged misuse of office.

Meanwhile, Northern Province of Waziristan and Baluchistan blazed with violence. The chaos and confusion in these provinces served a blow to already ailing Pakistan. Waziristan and Baluchistan were in utter turmoil, however, Musharraf was trying hard to legalize his hold on the presidency.

Under the mishmash of events, Musharraf declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution. Thus, he became de facto ruler of a country which was in a complete disarray.

Further, Pakistan’s Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), an independent research group threw light on the intricacies of corruption. The data compiled by CIR reveal that almost 50 per cent of lawmakers in Pakistan don’t pay tax at all and more than 1 in 10 have never registered with tax authorities.

Moreover, the Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (ILDT) figures in 2010 state that legislators in Pakistan have a net worth, on average of $800,000. As per CIR report, many pay less than $100 in tax, with some contributions as low as $17.

Further, digging deep into the state structures and their performance in Pakistan, Reuter’s report indicate that less than one per cent of Pakistanis file tax returns, giving the country a 9 per cent tax to GDP ratio, which certainly is one of the lowest in the world. Another data collected by the Express Tribune, a newspaper in Pakistan, the cost of corruption to Pakistan’s economy amounts to $133 million /day, $66 million of which is fudged taxes.

The figures gathered by CIR, the express tribune and ILDT substantiate that corruption manifests itself in all forms of Pakistan, including widespread financial and political corruption, nepotism, and misuse of power. Since fraud is widespread in Pakistan, it has threatened to undermine the flow of billions of dollars of investment and aid in the country.

Fighting corruption is one of the conditions of a $6.7 billion IMF aid programme and its major donor the UK is reconsidering its aid commitment in view of Pakistan’s permanent failure to combat corruption. One of the major crisis in Pakistan is energy crisis which aroused because the funds were drained out of this sector, thus impeded the country’s economic growth.

As a result of the persistent corruption, there is a deep mistrust of Pakistan’s policy elite and concerns over the security, thus further eroding investor confidence. With an afflicting economy, authorities in Pakistan can ill afford to allow these streams of finance to dry up. With the least doubt, most of the key players in Pakistani politics involved have been politicians.

It is said that in Pakistan, everything can be negotiated because the rules are hardly fixed, for the right price, through right connections just for a favor so that things could be done.

In return, politicians justify corrupt practices as if they are serving a noble purpose. During Benazir’s tenure, her husband Asif Ali Zardari was nicknamed ‘Mr 10 per cent’. A West Asia gold dealer reportedly gave Asif Ali Zardari a 10 million bribe after he was given a monopoly on gold imports in Pakistan, according to the New York Times report.

German Philosopher Nietzsche rightly said, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.” This adage holds true for Pakistan. Therefore, in such an environment, democracy becomes a victim

Even Robert Hutchins, American educational philosopher said that “The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.” With no moves expected in the right direction any time soon, democracy is, if not already dead, dying in Pakistan”.


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