A recently released report by the Pew Research Centre showed that unlike Pakistan, the overwhelming majority of respondents in the other five Muslim majority countries preferred democracy. And while Pakistanis demonstrated a half-hearted appreciation for democratic principles, an overwhelming majority (82 per cent) expressed preference for the laws to follow the Quranic injunctions. In comparison, only 60 per cent of Egyptians wanted their laws to follow Quran.
These statistics may lead some to believe that Pakistanis may be following the fundamentalist Taliban or al Qaeda. This, I would argue, will be an erroneous conclusion, which ignores the complex socio-economic realities of Pakistan.
Given that the democratic rule and institutions have been in place in Pakistan since 2008 and that the democratic forces have, more than once, prevailed over military dictatorship in Pakistan, the lack of enthusiasm from democracy amongst Pakistanis should be a concern for all. At the same time one wonders why the remaining 58 per cent Pakistanis no longer see democracy as the preferred system of governance.
‘It’s the economy, stupid’
A careful review of the Pew survey offers hints of why democracy is no longer favoured by most Pakistanis. It appears that James Carville’s adage “It’s the economy, stupid” also holds true for Pakistan where 58 per cent of Pakistanis preferred strong economy over a good democracy (34 per cent). While I see the two as not mutually exclusive, still Pakistanis appear more prudent to prefer bread, clothing, and shelter over empty promises of the same from the beneficiaries of the electoral processes.
The Zardari government, which came to power in 2008, is partially responsible for people losing faith in democracy in Pakistan. Their mismanagement and poor governance has made the lives of ordinary Pakistanis difficult who now live in a country where water and power supplies are intermittent at best, law and order do not exist, and unemployment amongst the youth has reached unprecedented highs.
In 2007, when Pakistan was ruled by a military dictator, 59 per cent of Pakistanis expressed faith in the nation’s economy. A mere 9 per cent of Pakistanis today are optimistic about their economic outlook. Pakistan’s civil bureaucracy and political leadership of all stripes must wonder why most Pakistanis were confident about the state of the nation’s economy under a military dictator and why more than 90 per cent of Pakistanis have no faith in the nation’s economy when the electoral democracy prevails in the country. In fact, 43 per cent Pakistanis today believe that the economic situation in the country will worsen over the next year; hardly a reason to celebrate democracy in Pakistan.
Is the fundamentalist Islam the answer?
If democracy is not their preferred model of governance, do Pakistanis favour a Taliban style fundamentalist Islamic state? After all, 62 per cent of Pakistanis, up from 46 per cent in 2010, would like to see Islam play a major role in politics.
These numbers may give some comfort to the leaders of Pakistan Defence Council (PDC). However, their optimism in these numbers will be extremely misguided. An overwhelming majority of Pakistanis is distressed about the sorry state of economic affairs. Given that PDC has nothing more to its credit than holding rallies and marches, the electorate is unlikely to handover the government to clerics who have nothing to show for economic plans.
Pakistanis, unlike the respondents in other Muslim majority countries, deserve a lot of credit for not becoming entangled in the rhetoric of the fundamentalist groups. Note that only 13 per cent of Pakistanis holds a favourable view of al Qaeda and the Taliban. In comparison, one in five Egyptians holds a favourable view of al Qaeda and the Taliban. At the same time, 39 per cent of Egyptians and 44 per cent Jordanians hold a favourable view of Hamas and one in every two Tunisians also favours Hamas.
What then, explains the enigma that 82 per cent of Pakistanis want to have their laws adhere to the Quran, but only 13 per cent support the Taliban and others who champion similar causes. The answer to this question is rather complex. I am of the view that Pakistanis see Islam as a benevolent religion and by following its principles they believe they may be able to restore justice and prosperity in the country. This may be the reason that while being religious, still an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis do not conform to the orthodoxies portrayed as the religion by al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Do Pakistanis recognise democracy?