Dial K for ‘Khakistocracy’

The fourth estate has a sacred responsibility to the people. It should not continue to be selective in its outrage when it comes to matters of principle.
Published March 17, 2023

An age-old children’s tale has recently started seeming like the perfect metaphor for our latest experiment with democracy.

The story goes like this: A king was once presented with robes so fantastic that only the wisest people in his land could see them. The king eagerly clothed himself in these wondrous threads before presenting himself to his subjects to see whether they too were smart enough to admire them. As he paraded through their ranks, all he could hear was the people murmuring their praises. It took a small child to finally blurt out what the gathered crowd dared not say: “The emperor had no clothes!”

A year ago, the two main components of our political system undertook a similar change of clothes. While the army swapped khaki for a more ‘neutral’ shade, parties from across the political spectrum fashioned themselves as the Pakistan ‘Democratic’ Movement. Together, they would go on to overthrow the ‘puppet prime minister’ of the ‘hybrid regime’.

The return of ‘true democracy’ heralded the restoration of the primacy of the Constitution and the supremacy of our Parliament. We were told that the political system would heal as it slowly returned to its ‘Purana Pakistan’ normalcy.

Few among those in this country who consider themselves wise questioned the legitimacy of the incoming regime. The assurance that the PTI government was being ousted through a vote of confidence — in other words, parliamentary procedure — was enough. Short shrift was given to how the votes required for the VOC were actually rounded up.

In with the old

And so the country was returned to the wise old hands of Pakistan’s democratic elite. These were people whose sacrifices for our right to self-rule had no parallel — those who introduced ‘Democracy is the best revenge’ and ‘Vote ko izzat dau’ to our political parlance. We had been delivered, or so we were told. Turns out, we were once again having the wool pulled over our eyes.

There is an excellent Twitter account, titled ‘The Cultural Tutor’, which shares fascinating curations from the history of western civilisations. It recently shared a list of political systems to ask followers which one they lived in.

The list began with democracy — rule by the people — and had some rather interesting inclusions, such as isocracy, algocracy and ochlocracy. It ended with kakistocracy — rule by the worst, the least qualified and most unscrupulous citizens.

It was difficult, as a born and raised underseas Pakistani, to make an honest choice. After all, our political system isn’t exactly on the continuum of the various paradigms that evolved from the Greek tradition.

For example, no matter how loudly we may insist otherwise, our democracy’s most recent iteration does not even represent the aspirations of the majority. In fact, it does not seem to want those aspirations to be expressed at all.

The country cannot also be described as a plutocracy, and it seems unfair to dismiss it as a kakistocracy, no matter how strong the temptation to do so. More importantly, nothing in that list captured the role of our military ‘establishment’ in political affairs, which has either overtly or covertly ruled the country for much of its history and seemingly continues to do so despite all pretensions to the contrary.

The powers that be

Sharing that last thought with a dear friend proved greatly upsetting for their continence. They protested that our new government’s reversion to the pseudo-fascistic tendencies of the old regime ought not to be pinned on the boys.

I begged to disagree. No civilian government in its right mind dares defy straightforward, self-evident constitutional edicts with impunity, not least one that has squandered most of its political capital. No organ of the state risks inviting contempt charges by refusing their constitutional duty. You do not just bin both court and Constitution unless a greater force has provided guarantees to protect you from the consequences of doing so.

The institutions of our state are known for perpetual sloth, not the energy and enthusiasm with which they have recently sought to serve and execute warrants of arrest for cases predestined for the ash heaps of history. Such alacrity has usually been seen only in times when someone needs to be taught a lesson for defying the true powers that be.

Democracy with no clothes

The wise among us may continue not acknowledging the obvious, but it is high time someone pointed out that our democracy has no clothes. We are, in fact, being ruled by yet another khakistocracy, and one that would be little different from a full-blown kakistocracy but for that strategically placed ‘h’.

One wonders why this clever portmanteau hasn’t been used more often in the Pakistani context. Hybrid regime stopped being an insult the moment our civilian leaders started boasting about sharing same pages with their uniformed overlords. The sting got taken out from ‘puppet prime minister’ when it became evident that all our leaders are eager to give an arm and a limb to be marionettes as long as they can pretend to be kings while at it.

The normalised hypocrisy of our political class, when in power and when without, has eroded any sense of democratic propriety in our people. The decay is now getting worse. As many have persistently pointed out, you cannot save democracy by suspending or subverting it. Here, it is the means that must justify the ends, not the other way around.

There is little point lamenting the proto-fascism taking root in this nation’s youthful populace if our intelligentsia will continue to fail them in providing a working moral compass with which they can navigate their increasingly hostile world. The fourth estate has a sacred responsibility to the people. It should not continue to be selective in its outrage when it comes to matters of principle.