KARACHI, Sept 24: Amidst a lively debate about the merits and pitfalls of democracy, especially in the developing world, it was suggested here on Tuesday that though the European Union has played a “great role” in reforming Pakistan’s economy, no effort has been made by the bloc to reform this country’s political system.

Dr Ashfaque Hasan Khan of Islamabad’s National University of Science and Technology highlighted this issue while speaking on the first day of a two-day international seminar on the subject of ‘Competing approaches to democratisation? Developing world and European Union in comparison’.

The event has been organised by the University of Karachi’s Area Study Centre for Europe (ASCE) in collaboration with the Hanns Seidel Foundation, Islamabad.

“The Western world has never asked why our political parties don’t have internal democracy. Political parties in Pakistan act like a private limited company. These companies are only concerned with their market share,” said Dr Khan, who has served in the federal ministry of finance.

“This type of democracy promotes ‘apna aadmi’ culture”, where personal interests trump national interests, he added. “The EU can reward countries where political parties are democratised. More political and electoral reforms are needed along with economic reforms [in Pakistan].”

Earlier, in his keynote speech, Johan Sorensen, counsellor and head of the political, trade and communication section, Delegation of the European Union to Pakistan, said the recent general elections showed that democracy was gaining strength in Pakistan, though the democratic system continued to be under pressure from “internal and external factors.”

There was no country where all the requirements of democracy were met, he said, adding that while the idea of a strongman wielding power was tempting, it was naïve considering that absolute power corrupts. “We need to accept democracy with all its flaws,” he observed.Dr Ejaz Akram of the Lahore University of Management Sciences said “democracy meant so many things to so many people” and that it was a “slippery” concept. “I have never seen the people rule anywhere. The elites rule in the name of the people. The people are left behind.”

‘Pursuit of progress’

He said progress, particularly of the material variety, had been delivered to only a very tiny segment of humanity. “The pursuit of progress had produced the world we are living in,” he said, adding that the growth-based economy has been outdated. “A different world requires a different consciousness, different from the one that has produced the problems.”

Dr Syed Jaffar Ahmed, Director of KU’s Pakistan Study Centre, said the British ruled the subcontinent through the policy of control, giving undivided India the “steel frame” in the shape of the bureaucracy and a military. He said the British controlled the masses as well as the elite; in fact, the colonialists created the elite through their economic policies. He added that the British also gave the subcontinent representative institutions to consolidate their control.

After independence, Dr Ahmed said that while the Indian National Congress and the Indian bureaucracy were on the same page, in Pakistan “the Muslim League could not serve as a countervailing force to the bureaucracy; the bureaucracy prevailed over the political class.” He said since the civilian bureaucrats believed in a national security paradigm, they found ready partners in the military; he termed 1958’s martial law a joint effort between these two powerful forces.

The scholar said 2010’s 18th Amendment “was the first significant departure from 1935’s Government of India Act. Pakistan has suffered due to a strong central apparatus. The spirit of devolution demands that what has been devolved to the provinces reaches muhallas.”

Prof Dr Tanweer Khalid of Ziauddin University said there was no single theory of democracy but there appeared to be a consensus that it was a government of free and equal citizens who participate in their own governance. She added that modern democracy ensured that the rights of minorities were not infringed upon.

She said: “Democracy is never perfect, it is never complete”, however it is up to the people to carry it forward. She added that the foundations of democracy remained shaky in Pakistan, and that democracy remained “the most original experiment in contemporary history”. Dr Khalid observed it was unwise to judge new democracies as per the criteria of older ones.

Dr Tasneem Sultana of the ASCE said that most developing states were unable to come out of the ‘ruler-subject syndrome’ that she termed a result of European colonialism. She said the elites were also responsible for the woes of developing states as they preferred the status quo.

German scholar Prof Dr Aurel Croissant of Heidelberg University said the relation between socio-economic development and democracy was widely studied. He said most rich countries were democratic, while most democracies remained poor [in the economic sense]. “There are tremendous variations within democracies.” He observed that there was weak correlation between democracies and most performance indicators. Interestingly, he noted that while rich democracies performed well, rich dictatorships also performed well. On the other hand “poor democracies acted like poor dictatorships”.

Speaking about the growth of institutions, Dr Croissant gave the example of South Korea. He said three factors aided South Korea in its journey towards development; the fact that it had been a state for centuries, the fact that it was occupied by Japan in the 20th century and the process of land reforms initiated during the American occupation. “These factors did not lead towards democracy; Korea witnessed 25 years of military rule. But they did allow the military to create policies that led to economic development.”

ASCE Director Prof Dr Uzma Shujaat, KU’s Dean, Faculty of Arts Prof Malahat Kaleem Sherwani and Jacqueline Wilk of the Hanns Seidel Foundation also spoke during the seminar’s inaugural session.

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