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Repair or replace democracy


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When I draw correlations between Pakistan and the United States, many readers have commented that no such similarity can ever be made, as the two countries are incomparable. While usually I disagree, their point is well taken in the context of the political and consumer cultures in both countries, which are polar opposites.

The American consumer culture is predisposed to replacing a broken product instead of refurbishing it, whereas Pakistan’s consumers demand ingenious repairs to keep products functioning far past manufacturer expectations. Conversely, America’s political culture is inclined to repair any malfunctions that arise through democratic rule, while Pakistan’s people repeatedly scrap democratic regimes and “start fresh” out of frustration at politicians who fail to satisfy their needs.

The United States has an obsessive quality about replacing broken items, partly because consumers often have limited options for repair. Though there are repair shops across the country, they pale in comparison to the amount of retail stores that dot the American landscape offering new items. With so many stores competing against one another, the cost of new items is lowered and becomes an obvious choice for many consumers. Computers are perhaps the best example, where the cost of repairing a laptop is sometimes greater than or equal to the price of a new one.

This is a far cry from Pakistan, which I noticed during my last trip to the country. The ratio of repair shops to retails stores was astounding to me not only in metropolises like Lahore, but also smaller cities like Sahiwal. Even my father’s village had a repair shop for almost every product used by people, including footwear, farming equipment, and cell phones. The practice of most people was to repair an item to keep it functioning, and with such a large amount of repairmen competing to serve the public’s demand, it is far more inexpensive to repair an item rather than replace it.

The political culture in the United States resembles Pakistan’s consumer culture, where there are repairmen at every corner and salesmen are seen as outliers. The US Constitution is one “product” that has withstood the test of time. Even in the aftermath of a Civil War that threatened to break the nation in two, there was no suspension or major alteration to the document. The Constitution, and the democratic system it prescribes, has remained a central and unchangeable part of the American political culture.

However, the document has evolved along with the society. In the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movements, where leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. were accepted by mainstream America, the demands for equality were met by a constitutional amendment. The Civil Rights Act guaranteed equal rights to all races, and was used to amend the apartheid African-Americans suffered under following slavery.

It is interesting to note that Mr. King’s contemporary, Malcolm X, is now cast as a fanatic because he believed the American democracy was built and fueled by the enslavement of minorities, and thus could never be amended to any just end. Rather, he argued that the system had to be replaced all together, and for that, he is remembered as an enigma of American history rather than a critical mind.

The American political culture not only prefers those willing to “play ball” with the existing system, but also castigates the others who question its foundation. This has led to a stable system, albeit dysfunctional and unjust at times, but a system that applies laws consistently. While there is a rising chorus of voices challenging the foundation of the government like the Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street, it is important to note that most do not advocate for the suspension of the Constitution or the immediate removal of Congress.

The same cannot be said for Pakistan, where people seem to be attracted to the melodrama of intense power-politics. Every decade plays host to some sort of upheaval in the country, whether it is through the dissolution of a civilian government, a military coup, or the reentry of elected officials. The pattern seems to continually repeat itself, but one would be unfair in blaming the ‘awam’ or public for the fact that the nation lacks democratic repairmen, yet has a slew of salesmen inundating them with offers of “alterative, new, corruption-free” systems.

The blame cannot be afforded to any one party, but the military has certainly fostered a spirit amongst the people that calls for the ouster of democratic regimes rather than allowing them time to develop.

Today is no different, as supporters of PTI and the military are calling for the ouster of the civilian government to hold new elections. This comes as the civilian-military showdown has heated up and after PM Gilani and President Zardari’s attempts to place civilian oversight on the military. One cannot help but correlate the rising calls to eject the government with attempts by the military to, once again, convince the public to replace rather than repair its civilian governance.

But the elected politicians have certainly not been innocent in the game of losing the public’s trust; civilians have also used the document to malign political rivals. On top of this, while some politicians can validly refute claims of corruption as mere lies spread by the military, many leaders are not so innocent. The deplorable state of poverty and crime in the nation is proof that there is either rampant corruption or government inaction to blame. But this is just one example of many in Pakistan’s history of civilian governments, who mismanage the country’s affairs to such an extent as to warrant questions about its capability to lead the people.

There is certainly value in critically examining the services and capabilities offered by elected officials, but long-term prosperity cannot be developed in a democratic system unless it is given time to mature. Though the American public shuns most revolutionaries who challenge the foundation of their society, the respect awarded to the Constitution allows people to consistently express their political views at ballot box. If the same could be said for Pakistan, Imran Khan would have banners reading “Vote for Imran 2013”, rather than chants of “Go Zardari Go” dominating his rallies.


The writer holds a Juris Doctorate in the US and is a researcher on comparative law and international law issues.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (34) Closed

Falcon Dec 31, 2011 01:40pm
Agree with the thesis of your article. Furthermore, disruption of the political process creates political martyrs who keep coming back to haunt us while they should have been discarded by the political process otherwise. However, I would like to dispel an assumption the author seems to have made that PTI is interested in fresh elections before the current govt. completes its tenure. To be honest, PTI benefits the most if the current govt. completes its term because it will give them the time to expand and re-structure. That is why you will hardly see IK or PTI pushing for re-elections.
malik Dec 31, 2011 02:24pm
Comparing the richest country in the world to the poorest is like comparing apples and oranges. Maybe Tumbuktu would be a better example.
Maaz Pasha Dec 31, 2011 03:40pm
Read it carefully what the writer means.. Mr.Waris, u r right ,majority of the Pakistani people still believe ARMY or ISLAM is the solution after every time the democratically elected Govt failed to fix the problems. very sad.
Nasah (USA) Dec 31, 2011 06:38pm
Or may be PTI still suffers from an aversion to wet its feet in cold election waters. Election fighting organizational activities of PTI are conspicuously absent from rural Pakistan where most of the electorate lives.
Agha Ata Dec 31, 2011 07:12pm
The point is well taken.
Mohammad Ali Khan Dec 31, 2011 07:17pm
 To run a society,existing traditions and ideas are an asset, and it is important that the leadership and members should study and acknowledge and enrich them.This is a proper way to grow an institution. We inherited an administrative system from Brits.This system wasn't be so bad,if it resulted in our freedom.Instead slowly improving it,the vested interests destroyed it. Ayub Khan,ZA Bhutto,Zia,and Musharraf tried to implement system of their vision. If a group has developed a system,or a set of rules with honest intentions,with the input of its members, the followers should respect their effort and enrich them, rather then ignoring them.
Badar Shaikh Dec 31, 2011 07:56pm
Realistic & rational evaluation - thought provoking, hope folks will take in a positive manner..
Shayan Elahi Dec 31, 2011 08:06pm
Actually, asking for mid-term elections is a constituntional demand. The Pakistani constitution anticipates mid-term demands for elections if the govt. loses confidence of the majority. Thus under your own thesis, that would fall under "repair" and not "replace".
Tariq Dec 31, 2011 08:20pm
A far more"apples to apples" comparison would be between India and Pakistan. Both were created at the same time. Both inherited the British democratic structure as a starting point. Today after 64 years India is a thriving democracy with strong institution while Pakistanis are still waiting for its first an elected government to finish a full term in office. The reasons for this divergence between India and Pakistan since 1947 are many and complex. The poor health of Mr. Jinnah at the time of independence, the unfortunate events leading to the war over Kashmir, and to a lesser extent Mr. Jinnah's own controlling personality set the nation in an anti-democratic course right from the beginning. Mr. Jinnah made a huge mistake by becoming the Governor General of Pakistan instead of the Prime Minister. The office of the Prime Minister and the Parliament were thus cast as inferior institutions from the start. Then the war over Kashmir before the nation was even six months old gave the military a golden opportunity to cement its power over civilians which they have never relinquished.
Walayat Malik Dec 31, 2011 09:16pm
THe writer has very accurate analysis of the situation in Pakistan. Biggest problem in Pakistan is its governing systems that no govt.-military or civilian, has tried to change or reform. These systems are century old and colonial in nature. It is sad no writer mention it EVER.
Afaq Sher Dec 31, 2011 09:17pm
Let the system of democracy work with all its problem and glitches. It will filter some of these problem and glitches on the road. People and the politician will get better in it too.
Mustafa Dec 31, 2011 11:21pm
America and Canada appear to be on different planets, there is nothing in common. The most important feature of both countries is that in America an American is an American first then a Christian, Jew, Latino, Black, Hispanic etc, etc. In Pakistan a Pakistani is Punjabee, Pushtoon, Sindhi, Balooch, Mohajir, Syed, Sheikh, Pathaan first then Pakistani.
Asif Jan 01, 2012 12:27am
Last night I passed an Inter-city Govt Subsidized housing neighbourhood here in Texas and noticed a man crossing the road with a Grocery cart. I am pretty sure he knew that the cart doesnt belong to him. Point is, there is a direct correlation between poverty and breakdown of morality. Food comes before everything, even democracy.
sja Jan 01, 2012 01:12am
“The writer holds a Juris Doctorate in the US and is a researcher on comparative law and international law issues.” ——–The writer has impressive qualifications, and if he practices Law in US then it should be evident on him in each and every court room when you to get justice — besides the time clock the inscription says IN GOD WE TRUST. From this I can tell the esteemed writer, in the matter of comparison between Pakistan and the USA, it all starts with the believe and the convictions — US constitution says in pursuit of happiness, justice and liberty for all and One Nation Under God. So starts their Unity and believe and trust for a nationhood that has existed since 1776. There was a time that in 1860 a man named Charles Davis tried to make the US into two Nations but Abraham Lincoln successfully met the challenge and kept this great nation not only one but to continue to get to 50 contigous states as a source of encouragement for its 350 millions people not like us fighting Urdu speaking, muhajirs and the like but from all over the world. I would like to tell the writer of this article that it is in the leadership how they keep national interests above self interests. In the matter of the Costitution of Pakistan in the preamble it says: Whereas sovereignty over the entire Universe belongs to Almighty Allah alone, and the authority to be exercised by the people of Pakistan within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust; ——- we acknowledge the sovereignity of Allah but succumb to the democracy of Peoples Party who framed this constitution after the country was halved under their best rule. What I think you missed in your article was the handling of the opportunities and the potential. Due to greed and misuse of the powers of banking institutions US has met its financial debacle too and there would be a long time for recovery if possible at all. So is the tragedy with Pakistan the greed of its politicians has bankrupted this nation with great potential still. So to me it is not comparing oranges and apples as Mr Malik says in his comment it is actually mismatching the trusts, values, believes and leadership above self that makes a big difference in Pakistan and in the United States of America.
Enter your name... Jan 01, 2012 01:35am
Who said PK is poor, look at the cars on roads, resturants in markets. People have money but lack the knowledge on how to use that to make more money Education is the answer not self pity
AAA Jan 01, 2012 03:44am
First of all democracy is not for a poor country as the rich can influence it. Same is try for US and Pakistan. The difference in US is poor and middle class is much stronger than in Pakistan. The first presidents of US were much better than pakistan who thought about the country If you read about George Washington he was asked to become king of US and he refused it point blank. He told that he fought for freedom of common person and he also gave up presidentship himself after 2 terms. I doubt any of our presidents were like that.
Zia (USA) Jan 01, 2012 04:08am
The political systems of the two countries are very different. The US system has pre-planned elections every 2 and 4 years and there is no provision for early elections unless a seat is vacated. The Pakistani system is parliamentary and early elections can be held, and are held, through a no confidence vote. Thus any party, PTI or PML etc. can call for early elections, something that is unheard of in America.
orlandolawyer Jan 01, 2012 04:13am
Pakistani constitution allows for mid-term election when the govt. loses the confidence of the majority. Therefore those who are demanding this would fit under the "repair" and not "replace" category, under your own thesis. No one is asking that the system of govt. be scrapped, instead that it be allowed to be repaired by a chance at a new govt. Of course if the same people win another round, than they get another term. Might I humbly suggest that the reason things are easily replaced in the US consumer market is 1) more goods are available for reasonable prices and 2) more people are able to afford more goods; 3) the cost benefit analysis leads them to buy instead of fixing. I am not sure why you bring up the 14th amendment, passed in 1868. Regardless Malcolm X and MLK are both great leaders of the civil rights movement and revered in their own way. We have to understand that they were in different areas of the country, with very different backgrounds, therefore different in their methods and politics but worked for the same aim.
farhan Jan 01, 2012 04:59am
I disagree with your thesis. The so called liberals are unable to accept Imran Khan because he used word Islam in his vocabulary and generating plethora of analysis to prove him no worthy of higher office, something which they never did for existing set of political leaders. A leader is in the business of selling hope and for the time being, he is doing it very well where hope is non existent with Sharif brothers and Zardari. Give him a chance to come and prove himself and even if he fails, that would still be better than a successful Zardari or Sharif
Syed Jan 01, 2012 05:39am
There is one more important difference between the politicians and people of the two countries. In US we abide by the court decisions. For example when the SC decided ( and wrongly in the opinion of the majority of Americans) in favor of Bush in 2000, Gore accepted the decision and moved on.The politicians in America are also power thirsty, but not to the extend of their counterparts in pakistan. After that fraudulent election decision buy the US SC which gave the presidency to Bush ( who took America to two tragic wars) there was no political turmoil, no processions on the street and no break in Law and order. Everybody bowed before the SC decision. In Pakistan the court decisions are regularly flouted,ridiculed and made fun of by the President, the Pm, Babar Awan and Madame Asma Jehnagir !
Naeem Khan, Kansas Jan 01, 2012 06:07am
Tell me how do you repair this government,most of them came in with NRO blessing and ridicule the decisions of the Supreme court.The irony is that the same people will be pleading the Courts to help them avoid the gallows or jail.It is true that comparing Pakistan with US will be like comparing apples and oranges.The abundant repair shops is the indication of poverty and job availability.No doubt that Army has done tremendous damage to the political system in Pakistan but most of the blame goes to the politicians who are either corrupt to the core or it is their right to rule because of these dynasties.
Hopeful Jan 01, 2012 06:18am
I am so happy to see and read at last some in the media finally saying plz wait for the election because I personally want to reject zardari and co but by me at the polling booth not by anyone else and Imran khan has lost my support because the way he is been acting and also he is allowing people of other parties to join him and those people are nothing but lotas so sad and he seems proud what a sad story
Solomon2 Jan 01, 2012 09:31am
Pakistani democracy is from the top down; American democracy is from the bottom up. The first is a grumpily-granted concession; the second an inherent right and foundation.
Zia R Qureshi Jan 01, 2012 09:54am
Very well written article Mr Waris... If only this article can help the leaders in Pakistan to understand how to run a country in a methodical and organized manner, I would be glad with its ultimate outcome. At present, my heart cries out when I hear, read and see the agony and pain the people of Pakistan go through. They are being deprived of the basic necessities of life. We see daily issues with Electricity, water, CNG, Sugar, Flour as well as law and order situation prevailing in the country. There is no health care or education infra structure in place. Crime rate is sky rocketing and even then there are no significant signs of improvement. While I still believe that even US can do better in various aspects but compared to Pakistan its by leaps and bounds organized and trust worthy. They treat their citizens with respect and dignity and provide healthcare, convenience and peace of mind. The leadership might still be involved in all kinds of politics throughout the world but the people living within the US do not suffer the way people in Pakistan and suffering. I wish and pray that the people of Pakistan educate themselves enough to be able to understand these politicians and their plans. The exploitation and abuse should not continue. Pakistan should be able to regain its respect it deserves. May almighty Allah bless Pakistan and its citizens and keep them away from these corrupt politicians and poor leadership. Pakistan has a lot of talent and the people are fully capable of making a difference in the world in any field and industry. Best wishes-n-prayers for all from an overseas well wisher from New York! Zia R Qureshi
Shafi Jan 01, 2012 04:50pm
Nixon resigned because overstepped. Would this Pakistani government resign because of bad governance? The answer is no because they are nothing but power grabbers who want to stay in power by hook or by crook. In a good democracy one does not see dynastic heads of parties for perpetuity. None of the western presidents/premiers comes from established dynasties. What have we in Pakistan? Bhutto clan, Sharif clan, Altaf clan etc etc That is a sham democracy which these leaders flout. Repair this by getting rid of these clans and bring fresh blood into politics through the ballot box.
Malik Mushtaq Hussai Jan 02, 2012 01:11am
Congratulations Mr. Waris Husain on an eye opening blog. You are exactly right. But the problem is? In America the American's rule their own country so they are answerable to their public. Here in Pakistan The Political Leaders are not Pakistanies. They are either American or British, They have no concern with the votes of the public because they have never asked the public to vote for them. They get the vote by force, they use their own gun men under the protection of Police to get votes. They expand money because they know that they are doing a business and joining the parliament is a very beneficial service. Here they have nothing to do but to sweep the money by any means. Look in four years 172 members of National Assembly has not spoken a word at the assemblies floor. Mr. Nazir Naji has very rightly said in his coloumn in Daily Jang News that the PPP voters have no concern with TV/newspapers, they just have to vote only, irrespective of the fact that to whom their vote is going. The developing countries seek investment for their countries but Pakistani leaders earn from Pakistan and invests in foreign countries. Waris Husain Sahib this is the issue of this country/countrymen which can only be changed by an Inqlab which is not far away now.
Seema Jan 02, 2012 01:45am
This is a wonderful article, writer has valid points but none of these responses show that any of them got the message of the writer.
Jawaid Ekram Jan 02, 2012 04:08am
Your statement that “supporters of PTI and the military are calling for the ouster of the civilian government to hold new election”. Couple of things that are completely inaccurate in your statement. 1) There is no evidence that military is calling for new election or a show down with PPP. The military have been unusually patient and has not intervened in the democratic process. On the contrary the Giliani and Zardari have invented this crisis that there is a civilian-military show down. Their own messages are not consistent. One day there is a slow down and next day there is none. If there was a bit of honesty in their statements then they should have the guts to fire the military. After four years of total corruption and incompetence they want to go out as victims. 2) It is not only that PTI is calling for early election, there are number of other political parties calling for early election. There is nothing wrong when these political parties are making these statements. It is their right. May be you should brush up on your definition of democracy. The current government or the opposition should call for “No confidence” in parliament and should process with rest of the term or do a early election. In all likely hood PPP with their collation partners will get the support to complete the term. That is the proper democratic process. For you to say “One cannot help but correlate the rising calls to eject the government with attempts by the military to……”. I do not know where you get your correlation from. You think in common person in Karachi and Lahore was told by the military to attend the PTI julsa? I am sorry to say this that your article showed biased and showed ignorance. If you want to write something please get you facts together first.
Musharraf Sultan Jan 02, 2012 06:10am
Dear Mr. Qureshi, Thank you for your good wishes and prayers for the well being of the people of Pakistan. Unfortunately however, the now is for action in the right direction with sincere nationalistic and humanitarian efforts to help pull Pakistan out of present quagmire of social, economic, political and strategic problems. Along with prayers, the time has come to make choices and take positive actions to rid Pakistan of nepotism, horse trading, political farce, socio-economic injustice, inequalities, lawlessness, moral and financial corruption at all levels of society. Lets do it.
Falcon Jan 02, 2012 09:05am
Well said. This is the most concise comparison I have seen between the two systems.
Anil Sharma ( India Jan 02, 2012 03:46pm
Comparison is okay if it is between some-what equals. Pakistan may be compared with other poverty-ridden third-world countries such as India, Bangladesh, Srilanka, Indonesia and their political systems, constitutions and the role their armed forces play. Any military organisation calling the civilian govt corrupt is just kettle calling the pot black. World over, the most corrupt institutions are Military; they just suck the blood out of its own country and impoverish them economically.
Amir Jan 02, 2012 07:16pm
Yes there is a no confidence clause in the constitution of Pakistan, and no it should not always be used. It is interesting to note that readers point to the no confidence vote as incomparable to the U.S. That is plain false when it comes to the executive and how it relates to party politics in the US. The impeachment process in the U.S. can be started by any political opposition, and serves to weaken whichever party that President belongs to in the next election. Did Obama call for Bush to be impeached for his acts as President? No he campaigned for the next election and won- thats the point! The PTI has termed itself a revolution, and focuses on all the ills of the current government and how to get them out. Mr. Khan might be smart enough to not call for snap elections now, but the massive migration of Musharraf Allies and land-owning elites in Sindh to his party shows that he wont have to wait for this govt to complete its term to remove it from power and replay the politics of Pakistan's past 60 years.
Raheela Jan 02, 2012 10:43pm
I just want to point out the non political comparisons between the US and costs more to repair than to buy new products . It is the capitalist agenda that drives all aspects of life here.Yes the people have basic rights and provisions for health and education but only to the extent that can be spared by the army . We are witnessing that pot of gold shrinking in size everyday. The glory is borrowed my friends and true wealth is confined to a handful who mechanize without even being noticed and watch the monkeys in pursuit of life liberty and happiness only chasing their own tails.
SOOMRO Jan 03, 2012 12:06am
I have never favourd Democracy, rather i sugest Army Rule. Which is the best, because of its discipline. Army has always workd for the betterment of nation, weather peoples "awam" say they are corupt & rule as dictators. But who is not corupt when it comes to politics. & speaking about dictators, all democratic govt: runs nation with their own views. No buddy go out & ask public, what they want, instead they create political issues To hide their weaknes, & use showoff to blind peoples from real problems but Army never showoff what they are doing, they do work only to serve, instead of creating illusion like democratics. But main thing i learnd from this articl is that if democracy is weak then it is because of awam itself & their narrow mineds, whenever they see a new guy on stage making promises in air, they just want to replace democracy rather then repair current govt mistakes, prevent coruption. Besides nation is a system which is based on & for Peoples which are part of it