Democracy or Dictatorship?

Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.

Reinhold Niebuhr


The freeman, casting with unpurchased hand the vote that shakes the turrets of the land.

Oliver Wendell Holmes

IN AN auditorium at a prestigious school of Karachi, a large number of students sit restlessly. They are all members of the Young Leader’s Society of Karachi Grammar School and are here today to participate in a discussion forum. The topic of the forum is “Democracy vs. Dictatorship”. Ahead of them, the projector displays a large picture of the former President General Pervez Musharraf.

I was very excited to be a part of this forum. My interest in politics had been steadily increasing since the previous year and I looked forward to participate in what was sure to be an engaging debate. I was ill prepared for the rude shock soon to come.

The moderator asked for a simple show of hands for those who believed that democracy was what our country needed. I raised my hand and, to my surprise, discovered that apart from one or two more students, the rest sat with their hands firmly on their laps. I had unwisely decided to sit near the centre and now many of my peers were looking at me with less than favourable glances.

Although the ensuing debate was quite balanced and fair, my faith in my peers was shaken. Here I was, surrounded by some of the most brilliant youth this country has produced; students who, in years past, had gone on to become the movers and shakers of Pakistan. But excluding a handful, they preferred a fascist, totalitarian, police state to democracy.

Perhaps I exaggerate. Maybe a few had noble intentions. Perhaps they felt that someone without a formal education is less of a human; he is unfit to vote or to lead. Or perhaps they feel safer knowing that they have no say in the government and their fundamental rights can be taken away at a moment’s notice. Maybe they don’t want an independent judiciary.

Truth be told, the blame cannot be placed solely on the students. A major portion of it deserves to be lavished on our education system, specifically on the way history is taught in schools across the nation.

Students are not shown how to analyse major events and connect them to previous ones. All they are taught is that Muslims are good, Hindus are bad, India is behind everything nefarious and we are a great nation because we defeated the Soviet Union. Oh and of course 1971 is glossed over in a few words (read: pretend it never happened).

A case in point is the origin of our history syllabi. It seems that before Muhammad bin Qasim landed on the shores of Sindh, there was nothing of note here. No mention of the great Indus Valley Civilisation. Forget about other religions, even the tolerant and liberal Sufi saints are not mentioned.

Skip a few pages and we read that first of Mr Jinnah’s fourteen points was the demand for a federal form of government in India. This is not contrasted with the One Unit scheme of Mr Iskander Mirza nor does it bear any comparison with the Awami League’s demand for a loose federation. The words of the Lahore Resolution that clearly state that Muslim majority regions of India ‘should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign’ are likewise glossed over without any analysis.

We are not taught that Pakistan was hijacked by the bureaucrats (Mr. Malik Ghulam Mohammad and Mr Iskander Mirza) and military dictators. Only a brief period of democratic rule was allowed before the other powers take over the reigns of our country and decide that democracy is not for us. No… we are stupid, rabid animals that deserve, and are desperately in need of, a ‘danda’ to keep us in line.

We don’t question the fact that the 1965 war was fought under General Ayub Khan. We are not told about Operation Gibraltar. No, we are a peace-loving nation. We could never start a war. Similarly, we don’t think that it was under General Yahya Khan that East Pakistan was brutally raped. Nor do we see that the terrorist attacks that bleed our nation today are a direct consequence of another military dictator, the Amir-ul-Mumineen, General Zia-ul-Haq and his glorious defeat of the atheist Soviet Union at the behest of another superpower. We do not think because we are not taught how to.

No one can question the Two Nation Theory, even though Hindus and Muslims lived together peacefully for hundreds of years. No one questions our draconian laws which are misused time and again to persecute the minorities of this country. Mr Jinnah’s crucial 11th August speech to the Constituent Assembly is hidden and obfuscated.

I wrote this article to encourage my fellows to think and question the status quo. Do not take things for granted as it leads only to stagnation and repetition of past follies. My friends, we are the future of this country… you and I. We want to live in a vibrant, stable and progressive Pakistan. A country we can be proud to call home. The dictators have had their chance. Our flawed democracy is due to their erosion of the very institutions that are vital for ensuring a strong democracy. It’s true that we face many hardships but this is only because we have been denied the inevitable for over 60 years. As you are well aware that it is an awkward and difficult phase; one in which we may question the futility of even trying. But it must be passed in order for us to get back on track. It must be passed for us to mature as a nation.

We can all play our part in this by creating awareness on vital issues, by talking out our differences instead of resorting to personal attacks or violence, by not resorting to conspiracy theories at every turn, and by understanding that democracy – with its guarantees of free speech, protection of fundamental rights and inbuilt checks and balances – is the only way forward for Pakistan.


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