Friday, December 28, 2007

Post Bhutto...

Listening to CBC's "The Current" this morning, I heard a rather interesting conversation between several Pakistani people in Karachi discussing Bhutto's assassination, and the concept of democracy as it applies to a country like Pakistan.

Interestingly, several points that I have claimed/suspected about introducing democracy came up as observed deficiencies in Pakistan:

1. The notion of a "civil society" as a prerequisite for any meaningful stability.

Without a set of social structures in place that effectively proscribe the notion of killing people. In Pakistan where "honor killings" are still commonplace, and tribal rivalries still boil over into violence routinely, it's hard to say that the "civil society" that is a prerequisite to democracy is anywhere near existing.

Naturally, this is required for any kind of meaningful democracy - no sane discourse of ideas and vision can take place when your opponent (or their family) may decide to kill you for some perceived slight.

2. Comprehension of the Concept of Democracy

In general, only a handful of people in Pakistan seem to actually have some idea what the concept of democracy means. The "average" person on the street is perceived to be pretty cynical about government in general - and generally just wants a government that will be more or less stable ... even if it is a dictatorship.

This is a matter of education, and dovetails with the concept of civil society. Democracy tends to require a long term commitment to education and literacy for all layers of society in an effort to instill a certain level of civic knowledge and responsibility in the population overall. {BTW - I suspect strongly that one can trace a line between degraded investment in education and increasing voter apathy in both Canada and the United States, going back to the late 1980s}

3. Desire to Participate in Government

Again, this ties back to my first two prerequisite points. Government in general tends to produce a certain degree of cynicism in the public as a whole at the best of times. If people are overly skeptical about their government, and generally feel that it is a toy of the elite to exploit for gain, you will have little or no desire for them to participate.

Pakistan's history in some respects is interesting - born of the British withdrawal from India, it is a radical distinction from India, which has managed to adapt and sustain a recognizable democracy. Pakistan's history has been one of a few dalliances with democracy, and mostly various forms of dictatorship.

While I would be quite happy to see a meaningful democracy emerge in Pakistan (or Afganistan for that matter), I simply do not believe that the social preconditions for what we recognize as democracy exist in that region. The political instability of the region, both a natural outcome of the society and geography as well as the ongoing military conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq guarantee that the preconditions for a sustainable democracy to emerge are unlikely to emerge in the forseeable future.

The insistence of "Western Powers" that Pakistan move towards democracy is naive posturing at best, and potentially undermines their stated goals in the long run.

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