Illustration by Abro
Illustration by Abro

In 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, its disintegration was described by various political scientists as the triumph of liberal democracy. In 1992, the American scholar Francis Fukuyama declared that the fall of Soviet Union/communism marked the elimination of the last major obstacle faced by democracy to become the globally preferred system of government.

Various former communist dictatorships did begin to transform. But the same was the case in regions that were once dominated by non-communist dictatorships. The 1990s were, thus, a period of euphoria for political scientists and activists who had for long advocated the globalisation of democracy.

The new-found democracies were called ‘transitional democracies.’ They were expected to evolve into becoming established liberal democracies.

But by the early 2000s, some political scientists began to warn that transitional democracies were unwilling to fully dislodge their former authoritarian tendencies and structures. Instead, most had adopted a facade of democracy to shape a more diluted form of authoritarianism.

A political system which is neither fully democratic nor fully autocratic is vulnerable to political instability

Authoritarian centres of power did retreat from the foreground. But they were now using electoral politics to engineer ‘democratic’ vessels, through which they looked to safeguard their dominance. The result of this was hybrid regimes or systems that were neither fully democratic nor fully autocratic. Citizens enjoyed some elements of democratic rule, but many fundamental rights remained elusive.

Hybrid regimes often emerge in what are referred to as ‘anocracies’. The term ‘anocracy’ first appeared in the 1950s. But its usage increased manifold after the end of the Cold War, more so from the early 2000s, when many transitional democracies failed to transform into established democracies.

Anocracies are transitional in nature but the process is non-linear. They are quasi-democracies which can move forward and become full democracies, or they may collapse back into becoming autocracies. They can also get stuck in an uncertain and vulnerable limbo. Data suggests that, between the 1990s and 2010s, only a handful of transitional democracies succeeded in becoming full democracies.

Transitional democracy was once perceived as an optimistic notion. The belief was that, just as the early Western anocracies had evolved into becoming full democracies, so would the new post-Cold War transitional democracies. But this didn’t happen. Anocracy is now seen as a minacious condition, in which a country becomes overtly exposed to serious internal strife.

Authoritarian set-ups do not entertain any democratic pretensions. So factors that may lead to civil strife are ruthlessly crushed. This requires the squashing of many fundamental rights and the absence of a civil society which can push back.

Established democracies, on the other hand, address issues and strife through empowered democratic institutions, which have inherent course-correcting mechanisms. These are often able to mitigate the threat posed by certain issues. The democratic rights of the citizens remain intact.

Anocracies neither have the muscle of authoritarian rule, nor the empowered institutions of established democracies. In an anocracy, authoritarian tendencies are active in the background. They use engineered democrats to maintain their influence. The engineered democrats function through weak democratic institutions and are easily dispensable. This triggers unmanageable polarisation, because democratic institutions are too weak to resolve this through consensus-building processes.

Contributing to the polarisation are state institutions in an anocracy that use repression in a highly selective manner, by going after one lot of discontents while ignoring and even aiding the other lot, in the hope of keeping them on their side, no matter how damaging they can be to society as a whole.

This should suggest that Pakistan is an anocracy. It is. There is debate whether it is a ‘closed anocracy’ or an ‘open anocracy’. A 2015 report — ‘Political Regime: Distinction Democracies and Full Democracies’ in Our World in Data — positioned the country as an ‘open anocracy’.

A closed anocracy is dominated by authoritarian forces who only allow a select group from the polity to take part as candidates in the electoral process. In open anocracies, certain dominant non-electoral forces remain influential, but a larger number of candidates from the polity can compete in an election.

The report described Pakistan as an open anocracy in the 1950s, a closed anocracy in the mid-1960s, a full democracy in the 1970s, an authoritarian system in the 1980s, an open anocracy in the 1990s, an authoritarian system in the early and mid-2000s, and an open anocracy from 2008 onwards.

But this does not mean that an open anocracy is any less problematic than a closed one. For example, in the 1970s, Pakistan moved from being a closed anocracy to becoming a relatively fuller democracy, before sliding into authoritarianism in the 1980s.

It was an open anocracy in the 1990s, but slid back into authoritarianism in the early 2000s. Also, despite the fact that Pakistan is presently an open anocracy, it is still plagued by the threats that any nature of anocracy poses. This mainly constitutes the opening up of spaces for anti-state and anti-democracy forces and ‘fascist’ ideas, because of weakening state institutions that are simply trying to retain some power in a fluid anocratic landscape, and even weaker democratic institutions.

Between 2008 and 2018, the erstwhile authoritarian tendencies in Pakistan had begun to slowly retreat. Especially from 2015 till 2017, it seemed that the country’s anocratic system was heading towards becoming a fuller version of democracy. But in a rather brazen manner, the military establishment, despite being conscious of the threats posed by anti-state actors in an anocracy, chose to launch another anocratic experiment to oust established political groups and introduce a new, more manageable vessel. The ploy was a disaster which is still ripe.

The reason why political observers have become more alarmed by anocracy is because of the manner in which even established democracies have started showing signs of sliding into anocracy. During the second half of Donald Trump’s presidency, the Centre for Systemic Peace (CSP) stated that, for the first time in more than two centuries, the US had become an anocracy.

In March 2021, Sweden’s The V-Dem Institute concluded that India (during the Modi regime) has become an “electoral autocracy”, which is a form of closed anocracy. The increase in the number of anocracies is disconcerting.

Anocracy has weak democratic institutions and the state itself is weakened. This bolsters forces that are militant in nature or those who might use a fragile and desperate political system to either create civil strife that will be tough to manage, or through which the forces can storm into power. This is exactly where Pakistan stands today.

Published in Dawn, EOS, September 25th, 2022

Opinion

Editorial

Breaking the deadlock
09 Dec, 2022

Breaking the deadlock

It is time for PDM and PTI to show flexibility and realise that the future of over 240m people is at stake.
A targeted killing
09 Dec, 2022

A targeted killing

IF there were any doubts about a sinister, transnational plot to kill journalist Arshad Sharif, the 592-page report...
Dog-bite epidemic
09 Dec, 2022

Dog-bite epidemic

AN exploding population of stray canines has fuelled a dog-bite epidemic in Sindh, with the provincial health...
Worsening hunger
Updated 08 Dec, 2022

Worsening hunger

THAT the dollar liquidity crunch has started hurting the import of essential items such as vegetables and raw...
Bannu beheading
Updated 08 Dec, 2022

Bannu beheading

The state must take up the cudgels and neutralise barbarism before it spreads.
Smog misery
08 Dec, 2022

Smog misery

IF 2022 has taught us anything, it is that generations of reckless disregard for Mother Nature has accrued very ...