Social structure and democracy in Pakistan By Dr Raza Khan

Even after more than 70 years of existence and around 17 years of continuous rule by elected governments, Pakistan could not attain the desirable levels of political stability and economic growth. The political and economic situation in the country currently has become so adverse that nothing could be forecast with certainty about the future of the present government. The foremost reason for this is the lack of political and economic stability in Pakistan and the resultant social chaos has been that democracy as a culture and institution has failed to flourish and evolve in the country. Various related factors have been responsible for the failure of democracy to evolve as an institution in Pakistan. These factors need to be identified, analysed and documented by the policymakers so that a sustainable political and economic stability can be achieved.
At the outset it must be understood that the culture of society determines the nature, structure and functions of institutions of that society, including the state. Looking at the institutions of democracy from that standpoint reveals that the foremost and underlying cause that a democratic culture has not evolved in Pakistan has been the incompatibility between the social structure of the country and the essence and values of a democratic culture. The nature of social structure, which comprises social institutions, social values, social roles and social statuses of Pakistan has fundamentally been undemocratic in form. As democratic culture primarily is based on the values of equality, equity, justice, freedom and individualism (together creating a culture of merit, inventiveness and amity) these values have hardly been prevalent in Pakistan’s social structure.
Pakistan’s social structure is profoundly and extensively tribal, ultraconservative and thus anti-change. The culture which such social structure promotes hardly has any space for the above-mentioned democratic ideals to be attained. Such social structure is hierarchical in orientation which functions primarily on the institutionalisation and reverence of traditional figures of authorities like tribal and clan chiefs and religious figures. That is the fundamental reason that symbols of traditional authorities like Khan, Malik, Chaudhry, Wadera and Sardar on the one hand and maulvis on the other hand have been dominating the society through their societal power and influence to the exclusion of the masses and their consciously and freely-elected democratic and liberal leaders. These symbols and figures of traditional authorities have been colluding to entrench their respective power base on the one hand and to ricochet any challenge to it. As this challenge could only come from liberal and democratic figures, values and institutions under the umbrella of democratic political structure, tribal chieftains and clerical leadership have been trying their utmost to prevent democracy evolve. Many of the traditional figures also joined the political system by appealing to the conservative constituency to make it hostage to their vested interests and in this way make it unviable. Innumerable feudal lords and maulvis have joined the political system of Pakistan over the decades and their efforts to dominate it have seriously compromised the vitality and functionality of the system, whose biggest victim has been democracy.
The success of traditional authorities in this connection has mainly been due to the strategy of traditional power brokers to infiltrate and dominate the institutions of democracy like parliament, political parties and elected governments. Therefore, it is no surprise that most Pakistani political parties have evolved into family-limited companies with politics being their prime business. Traditional authorities have used their power base to domineer the institutions and values of democracy. Thus the very institutions which could otherwise have been a guarantee of flourishing democracy in Pakistan, have served as stumbling blocks for evolution of democracy.
Institutions of a tribal culture intrinsically operate on the principle of inequality and top-down flow of power and authority. Therefore, the values of a tribal culture, like that of Pakistan, are incompatible rather in conflict with the values of democracy. So in a society based on tribal principles equality is hard to be attained. Contrarily, democracy functions on the very principle of equality to all members of society and the state. For instance, every member of society and citizen of the state, has only one vote to exercise and is expected to have equal opportunity of social and economic mobility. Although in theory the Pakistani political system, which is outwardly democratic but inwardly not, operates on the principle of one-person-one-vote (universal suffrage) but most of the people cannot use vote freely either because of the pressure of the respective traditional authorities or bonds or because of their lack of education and information. Resultantly, the government which gets elected is based on what German political thinker-cum-political sociologist Noelle Neumann called ‘loud minority’ while the majority becomes ‘silent.’
Another very important aspect of the failure of democracy to evolve in Pakistan is that the auxiliary institutions, which otherwise ought to provide support to Parliament, people and political leadership to build their capacities of policymaking and their execution by providing them education and information have been working at cross purposes. These institutions which include the bureaucracy and all the government departments, due to relatively good education and administrative skills of their human resource, have been working for personal and institutional benefits by taking advantage of the ignorance of the masses. This is the basic reason that bureaucrats and top civil servants have been enjoying all kinds of perks and privileges out of the taxpayers’ money while the very purpose of good governance remains a pipedream in the state of Pakistan. As the flourishing of true democracy is thus against the interest of the bigwigs of the government institutions, they develop a natural affinity with members of traditional authorities to stunt the growth of democracy.
Moreover, the institutions of the state get their human resources mostly from among the masses socialised into highly tribal and ultraconservative social structures, therefore, they do not have the capacity and comprehension of how to support democracy. Principally and ideally these state institutions must support democracy and more importantly promote the values of democracy: equality, equity, justice and freedom by ensuring good governance through transparency, accountability, rule of law and participation. However, this ideal has been unachievable because the parliamentary political system has reinforced the traditional and reactionary social structure instead of overcoming its shortcomings.

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