Does Pakistan have a chance at democracy?

Is Pakistan truly a democracy?Nawaz_Pakistan_Thumbnail

In order to answer that question, one has to explore what democracy means.

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, democracy is defined as: “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”

So, for Pakistan to truly be a democracy, it 1) has to have supreme power vested in the people, or the majority, and 2) have periodic free elections.

But is that the case? Or is Pakistan actually a bureaucracy, with a few privileged elite running the country and the majority being crushed?

Pakistan was founded in 1947, after independence from the British and partition from India. In the bitter fight over land and resources, landowners in Pakistan hoarded as much land and wealth as possible, trying to preserve their way of life. These landowners would later become involved in the political process of the country and continue to accumulate wealth and power. Pakistan’s legislature is composed of a 100-member Senate and a 342-member National Assembly (or House of Representatives). Most of the representatives of the National Assembly are part of the landowning class. Not only would they control the farmers or poor working class populations of their constituencies through economic subjugation, they would further assert authority by making sure they alone had political power. Never will you hear about a poor farmer in Pakistan’s history who was able to become elected as a minister or state representative. As long as the landowning class flourishes in Pakistan and rises up by stepping on the backs of the poor, how can economic or political equality ever be a possibility?

The landowners or zamindar own hundreds, some even thousands of acres of land, mainly in the states of Punjab and Sindh. While they do little work on the land themselves because of an elitist mentality, their farmers or serfs do backbreaking labor for a few dollars a day. More than half of these farmers are in debt, most of whom have had to borrow money from the landowners themselves. Some spend their entire lives trying to pay back the debt, but dismally low wages and lack of supplementary income prevent these farmers from ever breaking free. Furthermore, as almost all of the farming class is illiterate, they have no other opportunities for progress. The mentality that farmers have no need for a proper education still prevails in Pakistan, with trade and agricultural know-how taking priority over a conventional degree. An added social stigma that they are from the farming class follows them everywhere even if they are educated, making it difficult for them to secure jobs in business, the civil service, or other industries.

Can such a fractured and troubled nation be democratic? The answer is not until the power-hungry landowning class’s power is checked. Not until the zamindar class pays the millions of rupees it owes in taxes. Furthermore, not until the average Pakistani is equipped with political awareness and an education, will they be able to vote for the right candidates to represent them in the government. As long as the literacy rate of Pakistan remains a dismal 56%, how can we expect Pakistanis to vote independently or freely in a fair election?

The people must take matters into their own hands and start with their communities. It is an uphill battle but with dedication and commitment, as well as time, it can be won. There are examples of regular Pakistanis who became inspired to truly build their nation and succeeded in causing positive change.

For such change, most importantly, tax evasion and corruption must be challenged head-on and those responsible must face consequences, no matter how many acres of land they own. It is because the zamindar class believes it is above the law that it is able to buy its way out of every situation. This mindset of entitlement is not exclusive to Pakistanis but it has succeeded in permeating every part of the country’s social structure and must be challenged if democracy is to be attempted. Until poor farmers from villages “owned” by landowners stop being subjugated and told who to vote for, democracy cannot become a reality. There must be an overhaul of this elitist system of government with distribution of power if elections and votes are to have any real meaning.

Until then, democracy will be an ideal, not a reality in Pakistan.

Pakistan: A Pandora’s Box of Societal Ills

Original article: Pakistan: A Pandora’s Box of Societal Ills

A man from Khanewal, Pakistan buried his newborn daughter alive after doctors informed him that she was physically disabled. The shocking news, once again, raised questions of law and order, ethics, societal norms, and most importantly, women’s rights in the nation. The incident is a solemn reminder and effect of the basic lack of education in Pakistan, where 60% of the population is illiterate. Girls’ schools are few and far between in villages and even boys are encouraged to take up a trade or artisanship instead of getting an education.

In rural areas such as Kacha Koh, where this heinous crime was committed, such activities are commonplace and perpetrators are seldom punished seriously. A patriarchal society such as Pakistan, which treats men as superior to women in the household, gives husbands and fathers license to subjugate and demean women in their families. Another major factor that creates prejudice against physically disabled people is the lack of infrastructure and facilities, which makes life difficult for people with disabilities and discourages their families from accepting them as active members of the society.

In a culture where young women are considered a drain on the family because of the outdated tradition of dowry, a female infant being buried alive because of a physical deformity is not unheard of. It is a reaction to the larger issues of ignorance and superstition which give way to such behavior. Another problem which faces Pakistan today is poverty and inflation which forces the public to take extreme measures.

If a family of four cannot afford to feed themselves, they will most likely turn to illegal or criminal activity. Without education, without community support, without the planning or resources necessary to survive, they will certainly not be able to earn an honest living. Without a doubt, these are the basic reasons for the distressing rise in criminal activity in Pakistan. It is also expected that going to the police or through the court system will only hurt the family, not help them.

If this wasn’t enough, in many rural areas, contraception is either not available or majorly distrusted. Such communities use religion as a political tool in order to make their own law and order and excuse having more kids than they can afford by giving made-up justifications for their actions. It is also a way of forcing women to stay inside the home and create a separation of the genders so that women stay disempowered.

Moving forward, Pakistan desperately needs to invest in education. Like food, water, and shelter, education is a fundamental human right and if a society does not make a conscious effort to educate its population, it will never succeed. Secondly, it is essential for the nation to focus on implementation of law so that such crimes and atrocities are lessened, if not uprooted altogether. Furthermore, Pakistani society needs to empower and value its women who are just as capable, intelligent, persevering, and strong as women in any other society or country. Without these changes, Pakistan will only regress towards inequality, ignorance, and infamy.

NATO Supply Routes to Afghanistan – Reopened

Original article: NATO Supply Routes to Afghanistan – Reopened

Pakistani customs officials have reported that two trucks from Pakistan carrying NATO supplies crossed into Afghanistan through the Chaman border on Thursday, July 5th. This is the first time since last November that Pakistan has allowed the US to use its supply routes in order to strengthen American troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan had refused to let US supplies be brought into Afghanistan through its borders after the Salala check post incident on November 26th, 2011. In the incident US-led NATO aircraft had attacked and killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and wounded 13 others who were stationed near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

The Pakistani government’s decision to reopen the supply routes into Afghan territory comes two days after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement in which she admitted that the U.S. is sorry for the losses the Pakistan military suffered during the regrettable incident and offered condolences to her Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar. According to Clinton, Pakistan will also continue to not charge any transit fees for incoming materials, which will save the US hundreds of thousands of dollars in transport costs.

The US relies heavily on Pakistan to supplement its war against the Afghan Taliban, not only to steadily transport supplies across the border, but also to gradually withdraw US and NATO reservoirs from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, when the US plans to leave the country. The closure had forced NATO countries to bring supplies into landlocked Afghanistan through an alternate route to the north; a tedious, longwinded process that costs more than twice as much as shipping them to, and then across, Pakistan.

Several militant groups have threatened to attack supply vehicles in Pakistani territory, which makes this route a dangerous and difficult one. Before the closure, hundreds of supply trucks, which travel in convoys, were targeted in different areas of the country.

Pakistan, which has had a long history of enabling the US to carry out its conflicts against other countries in the name of diplomacy and alliances, is facing domestic backlash. The rampant anti-American sentiment in the country is a direct result of the Pakistani government’s failure to force the U.S. to stop drone strikes targeting militants, but often killing civilians, and agree to other demands made by parliament.

According to modest estimates, more than 2,000 Pakistani civilians have been killed by US drone attacks in the country and more than 5,000 civilians have died because of suicide bombings which were virtually unheard of before 2001, when Pakistan agreed to support the US in its war on terror. Critics of the Pakistani government’s foreign policy say that Pakistan’s leadership is more interested in promoting US imperialist goals and western capitalist interests rather than protecting the interests of its own people: the US has promised to give more than a billion dollars in military aid to Pakistan on the condition that it keeps these supply routes open; an offer that Pakistan is expected to take advantage of.

Simultaneously, President Barack Obama, currently battling for reelection, also faces criticism from Republicans who are angry his administration apologized to a country allegedly giving safe haven to militants attacking American troops in Afghanistan.