Socratic Discussions on Democracy, Pakistan’s Middle Class and Terrorism

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Sahar Pirzada*

*The author is an editor of the journal and an educationist.


(If society is to avoid all the evils and shortcomings of democracy as outlined by Socrates, Plato, Marx; if a democracy’s mismanagement has led to income disparities, class stratification and conflict; if its shortcomings have resulted in educational deprivation and perhaps bred extremism then what form of government is the answer? There might be little consensus on the matter but, collectively and individually, we must endeavor to find an answer. Author)

Any democracy is only as good as its rulers. Truly if that is the case we are all doomed.

However, having said that, if a democracy is representative of the people who have participated in electoral endorsement, what gives the general populace the requisite qualifications to merit a vote? Is society cognizant of the responsibilities of a freedom for all to vote? Should merely choice be emphasized as a basic right or rationality be taken into account? The great Greek philosopher Socrates had much to say about the flaws of democracy. Plato felt the same and suggested solutions to better democratic practices.

Is the consequence of democracy contained within a Parliament for debate alone or does it bleed into the fabric of society at every level, define its national character, its social and financial prowess, its class stratification due to the traps of government policies, the rights of the privileged and the limitations of its middle economic strata of citizens and the subsequent thinking and narrative that eventuates as a consequence of the popular vote? Does there exist a causal relationship between them?

The easy way out is to hold the rulers accountable but rather, should we hold our vote accountable for everything from a tortured middle class to terrorism and the links between them? How important is politics to the growth of society? In recognizing the power of the enfranchised, should we only strive to increase the number of those enfranchised or their quality of thought; which would of course be a very subjective assessment of what merits quality in any social milieu.

‘Socratic discussion’ is the Greek philosopher Plato’s concept of disciplined questioning that can be used to pursue thought in many directions and for many purposes, including the exploration of complex ideas, truth- seeking, uncovering assumptions and analysis of concepts. Of Plato’s 4 great ideas, Socratic discussion enabled the concept of ‘know yourself’ which meant subjecting your ideas to examination rather than acting on impulse. It was his answer to the Greek concept of ‘doxa’, that is the people’s susceptibility to just go along with popular opinion. This points back to his first great idea, ‘think more’.

Both these ideas are to be taken in the context of government and as a grounds for a comment on democracy; the dynamics of which are shockingly similar today to what they were 2400 years ago in ancient Greece where the concept of democracy took birth.

It is interesting that one of the greatest achievements of the Greeks, philosophy, is suspicious of its other great achievement, democracy. Socrates speaks of the flaws of democracy 1 by comparing it to a ship in stormy seas. Would we want a crew experienced in seafaring to navigate it or just anyone? Similarly for choosing leaders, voting in elections is a skill and not just intuition which needs to be taught systematically to people. Socrates was not an elitist in saying that by that logic not everyone should have the power to vote but that voting should be by people who have thought about issues rationally and deeply. It is the difference that we tend to forget between an intellectual democracy and democracy by birthright. We have given the vote to all without connecting it to wisdom.

Here we can introduce to the discussion the absolute essentiality as laid down by the Greek philosophers of the relationship between education and the vote. Education is extremely relevant to today’s vote because voting on impulse, or under pressure, or due to lack of knowledge on the issues being impacted or Plato’s ‘doxa’ i.e. being led by popular opinion, can seriously damage democratic outcomes and create demagogues.

It would be interesting to compare some of Pakistan’s electoral trends to the caveats laid down by the inventors of democracy itself, the Greeks.

Firstly, the charm of wealthy, aristocratic leaders like that of Alcibiades of ancient Greece can lead to individual success but may lead to erosion of basic human freedoms. On the other hand, charm leads to electoral success in an uneducated public.

How easily we can be exploited for quick answers by people seeking election. Socrates asked us to imagine an electoral debate between a doctor and a sweet shop owner. The sweet shop owner would say look at him he hurts you, gives you potions and does not let you eat what you like. He will never serve you feasts and lovely things like I will. Socrates asks you to consider the audiences response. Do you think the doctor will be able to reply effectively? If he said I will give you discomfort to help you, the voters would be in an uproar. Do our more sophisticated models of democracy, especially the model based in Pakistan, not work on the same basic principle of false and unhelpful promises, on the power of money or on the cult of personality?

We look at democracy as an unambiguous good but in fact a democracy is only as effective as our education system and we have thus displayed a propensity to elect sweet shop owners and few doctors.

An uneducated electorate drives us towards Plato’s doxa or popular opinion which he argues is riddled with superstitions, error and prejudice; that fame is great, follow your heart and belief that money is the key to a good life. Popular thought edges us towards the wrong values, opinions and careers. Plato believed that it was our duty to reform society.

People today are very focused on the rich and charismatic alike as they were then on the aristocrat Alcibiades and sports celebrities like the boxer Milo of Croton. This can be seen as a direct analogy to Pakistan’s political landscape and its two leading contenders.

Plato believed it really mattered who we admired because celebrities influenced our outlook, ideas and conduct. Bad heroes give glamour to flaws of character. Plato wanted to give Athens good celebrities/leaders called Guardians. If only we in Pakistan could aspire to the same. They would be models of good development. They would be distinguished by their record of public service, modesty and simple habits and their dislike for the limelight as the most honoured people in society.

He wanted to end democracy but not for it to be replaced by dictatorship. Rather he wanted people to think rationally before they voted otherwise government would just become mob-rule. One cannot help but be drawn in by the irony of it all today.

So is democracy the answer to everything? Or do the lapses in our systems reflect our own shortcomings of character and education. We are who we empower. Is it not our responsibility to educate the electorate with quality education and rationale before we hand them the power to make long lasting mistakes with their vote?

Is democracy the best answer in a country like Pakistan where according to the Economic Survey of Pakistan (2016-2017) the education rate is only 58%? According to Thom Brooks of Durham University every major philosophy from Plato to Hegel has argued that democracy is an inferior form of government yet every contemporary political philosophy today endorses it in some form or another.

Democracy needs to be safeguarded, especially in developing countries like Pakistan where education levels are low and people do not yet understand the power of their vote. A vote must come from informed minds. All rights and freedoms gained must be strictly coupled with responsibility and accountability. The pillars of democracy – the judiciary, the executive, the legislature and the media – should stand free and independent and work for the greater good of the republic. They should provide a solid law and order framework for economies to thrive. Democratic governments need to survive long enough to frame long term development policies and not just be caught up in survival tactics to appease a fickle public opinion that can be riled up with a blurry understanding of what freedom implies. Patriotism should be a key driving force in both government and populace and, to amalgamate this utopian version of a democracy, a strong economic backbone should be developed for the health and longevity of a democracy. Though Platonic thought discourages the ideals of wealth being a gauge of happiness, financial integrity of the state and the individual is key to success. For this reason it is important to look at the state of the economy and its backbone, the middle class.

Also for this reason successful government does not consist simply in following popular attitudes wherever they may lead but true leaders must follow what the Soviet–British philosopher Isaiah Berlin referred to as the ‘hoofbeat of history” – learn from the mistakes of history and discern the deeper currents of opinion that lie behind superficial manifestations and address those issues. The success of democracy depends upon the active cooperation of the people in the affairs of the government and upon their capacity of fully realizing their responsibility. Education: Lack of consciousness is dangerous in a democracy. Without a spirit of reasonableness, democracy is bound to degenerate into mob rule. Vigilance: Democracy requires constant vigilance and apathy on the part of people can lead to perversion of democracy, a kind of resignation and acceptance of status quo. Civic Sense & Tolerance: Democracies require people to develop a consciousness beyond the self for the greater good of the collective. Removal of Gross Inequalities of Wealth: To a great extent extremes of wealth impede democracy and scholars believe political equality is evasive without economic equality. In the opinion of Karl Marx, the state is not a neutral agency. The state tends to favour political power, in any form of government, towards those who wield economic power and if the government is set up to let the rich get richer and the poor poorer democracy comes under siege. It, therefore, demands a re-adjustment of economic relations in such a way that vast differences of wealth may disappear and every citizen be provided with the material means of a decent existence and adequate leisure for public affairs.

Thus it is imperative to look towards the economy and the middle class.

The Middle Class in Pakistan & its Relationship with Democracy:

The good news is, research suggests Pakistan’s middle class is rising. But what does that really mean?

Before any further discourse on the middle class, discernment regarding the term is warranted. Zeitgeist stresses that social categories such as class no longer exist and carry a negative connotation having been replaced with terms like institutions, military, gender, economically strong, etc. If this stratification is to be discussed narrowly in terms of income distribution and in more simplistic terms of the past such as the feudals, industrialist and the working class, then sometimes the categories overlap; in speaking of the middle class, however, we will refer to what is really the middle-income working class.

The middle class is the backbone of any country both socio-politically and as a yard-stick of the functioning of the economy and though the definitions vary, its importance cannot be sidelined in any meaningful discussion about growth or stability. According to Durree Nayab of PIDE, “the middle class has held centre-stage in most economic discourses, and depending on the stage of its development and state of the economy the middle class has been attributed to be, among other things, ‘growing’ ‘stressed’, ‘shrinking’, ‘powerful’, ‘threatened’, ‘burgeoning’, mobilised’, ‘rising’, or ‘marginalised’. In a world of globalised economies this raises the crucial question, ‘who  constitutes the middle class’? An Indian schoolteacher with an annual income of $2,500 is considered middle class but for an American family the amount may have to be around $200,000 before it considers itself middle class [Aho (2009) ] making any income based universal definition meaningless.” A study made in 2000 2 suggests that middle class is the backbone of both market economy and democracy in the face of globalization. A large middle class accelerates national growth. In 306 BC Aristotle had to say the following about the middle class, “Thus it is manifest that the best political community is formed by citizens of the middle class, and that those states are likely to be well administered in which the middle class is large …. where the middleclass is large, there are least likely to be factions and dissension”. 3

The middle class is increasingly seen as a group gaining more political influence. The middle class, according to the same research, is linked to the ‘nature’ of the government associating democracy with the middle class pushing for a more inclusive political systems. On the other hand it was also found that the middle class in allying with the upper classes tolerate a restrictive democracy and even dictatorship.4 In any event, the middle class holds sway and is a determinant of the political tide and temperature in a country. Its skew either towards extremist or moderate thought will play an important role in these precarious and ever-morphing relationships and the evolving narrative of a country. A similar relationship was also observed regarding this ambivalent behaviour of the middle class during political transition. Depending on the situation, the middle class could act as an agent of change or work for maintaining the status quo.5

Putting on hold for a moment the political aspirations and power of the middle class let us analyse it in economic terms and revert to the research being hailed that the middle class of Pakistan is growing. A study by the Development Policy Research and the Washington DC based Urban Institute classified Pakistan’s middle class as those with incomes between $11 and $110 a day. Based on these assumptions Pakistan’s middle class is around 50 million individuals or just under 25% of the total population.6 However, in February last year the Wall Street Journal hailed the growing domestic market and increasing purchasing power and spending of the middle class which should by extension propel the GDP. An article in the New York times commented on the gains made against terrorism during this period. Figures quoted by Dr Shahid Burki show that the GDP of Pakistan is underestimated and lies somewhere close to $ 350 billion.7 Dr Burki also projects that Pakistan’s per capita GDP will increase by 25%.8 According to a PIDE study, Dr Durre Nayab has estimated Pakistan’s middle class as constituting 35% of Pakistan’s population. Despite the variation in figures, this suggests that’s Pakistan’s economy is about to take off.

This study however talks about middle class, and not middle income which can also mean that not everyone has the same spending power or disposable income needed to generate a thrust in aggregate demand to propel the economy. The spending and consumption patterns of what is traditionally the ‘middle class’ are different from the newer upwardly mobile group that might fall into this income strata. The Wall Street Journal is exuberant in quoting sales figures of MNCs like Nestle in Pakistan where sales have doubled in the last five years to $1 billion. Also it highlights the increase in ownership of motorcycles which is considered an indicator of middle class growth. Work done in the last census by Reza Ali also suggests that urban population has grown from 30% to 50% of the total population,9 indicating middle class growth.

It however, takes one a short lesson in Economics 101 to realize that these patterns constitute a short term growth. Increased spending indicates the boom of the middle class but if it is not backed up by increased foreign and domestic investment these bubbles are short lived. Savings equal investment and if all augmented income is utilized on consumer spending, growth in the long run will be stunted slowing the economy and diverting government priorities away from public spending and responsibility in education, health and infrastructure etc. Education in turn effects the quality of a democracy as previously argued.

Having said that and having rejoiced in the optimism of these bullish projections, if one looks around perhaps the true saga of the middle class remains unclear.

Perhaps this surge in consumer spending stems from the inequalities in income distribution that exist in Pakistan. The rich are very rich and the poor very poor. Maybe a large portion of increased consumer power does not come entirely from middle class consumer activity but only in part and the rest from increased spending in the upper classes? Statistics always have a tale to tell but one wonders whether they have been manipulated to script fact or fiction.

Increased consumer spending in the middle classes can be attributed to 2 assumptions. First, easy consumer financing by banks and second the probability of a parallel income stream running through middle class seas. How does a middle income individual earning between Rs 35,000 to Rs 350,000 per month keep up with the inflationary trends and pay school fees, enjoy lifestyle amenities and own property in a country where real estate prices are comparable to some of the steepest around the world and in an environment which is not at all taxation-friendly to the middle classes?

Easy access to consumer finance has helped improve the standard of living of the middle class in terms of more spending, ownership of cars and motorcycles but that still does not explain much. The disposable income to spending ratio does not add up keeping salary scales in view. A discussion with anyone across the middle class strata inevitably leads to a gripe about inflationary trends and how urban living is becoming increasingly difficult financially. How then is property in millions and billions being constantly bought and sold with the price of land is increasing exponentially with ready buyers in the market? In a rather grim and pessimistic acknowledgement it can be conjectured that there is a parallel stream of income running in the country in both the upper and lower middle class. Keeping foreign remittances aside (which make up approximately $20 billion) where is all this cash coming from? Whether it is a failure of the moral makeup of society or a designed impediment to civic process, due to the contradiction in earning and cost of living index individuals are forced to look at unconventional and sometimes illegitimate means of income. Thus enters corruption, tax evasion and perhaps income linked to black money and financial liquidity through ill-gotten sources. We know that our tax structure is not designed for the middle class to thrive. Taxation in spirit is not just a tool of governmental revenue collection but is meant to generate economic activity and be a source of individual and collective incentives for growth and investment including through subsidy. Instead it feels to the average man a penalty for his hard work. The more you work the less you take home.

Unfortunately in Pakistan, due to irresponsible government spending and an inability to generate revenue for loan repayments and social sector development, the government reverts to heavy taxation on everything from imports to consumer goods, medicine, gross income and increased GST. A casual look at the structure and taxation trends show us that the agriculture sector faces limited taxation. With the help of creative accounting and downright tax evasion big industrialists pay meagre tax, laying the entire burden on the middle class to fill in the gaps of the governments revenue deficits with institutions like the IMF breathing down its neck.

Yes, the middle class is growing. But so are its burdens. How long can these superficial booms in economy last before it all comes crashing down due to, if nothing else, the existing political instability and politics of agitation. It is after all a country where key parliamentarians go into Parliament only twice in two years and conduct the rest of their party manifesto on the streets. If nothing else, this highlights the dangers of democratic choice.

Middle income groups exhibit great variations in political and social positioning. A majority of these households are found in urban areas. They are more inclined towards investment in educational attainment. This increased enrollment in schools and colleges reflects upward mobility. Traditionally this mobility was more centred on male members of the middle class but has increasingly become more inclusive of females. Female participation in the work force has increased and the gender-gap in political participation has decreased. The popular trend in perception lends weight to the assumption that the middle class will demand better public services and broad-based improvements in governance and push for purer democratization. The problem with this assumption is that studies consider the middle class to be a monolith that does not exist in actual fact and that they are a unified group interested in universal change. The middle class is not simply constituent of ‘educated, white collar, striving groups’ but equally inclusive of farmers, wholesale traders, manufacturers, construction workers, etc.’ Each has their own agenda. Some work through patronage of political parties and perhaps fewer through better services and governmental structures. According to researcher Ghazala Mansuri, though the middle class is assumed to be ‘more vocal in demanding better services this may not extend beyond their immediate selves.’10

Class/Income Dynamics and Terrorism:

To begin with it is a commonly held perception that terrorism or extremism is born in the crèches of illiteracy. That the lower classes breed religious fervor; that Islamization is a reaction and not a response or ideology and that this is a regressive trend to be feared and distrusted. The answers to these assumptions lie somewhere between the ‘no’ to ‘perhaps’ continuum. The phenomenon is not so simplistic.

Most are quick to label the middle class for its more conservative religious values which is not a new phenomenon but history has witnessed the evolution of the cliché ‘middle class morality’. The middle class in Pakistan may still embrace conservatism but contrary to popular perception do not all consider themselves as churned out Saudi-sponsored replicas. Conservatism today is popularly understood as being synonymous with future terrorism. Ironically, the middle class view themselves as progressive.

This correlation lies somewhere in the relation between the division of the old and new middle class. Before partition the middle class constituted government officials, lawyers, teachers, etc. including many from aristocratic landed backgrounds and displayed the ambitions of the ‘modernizing English middle class’ including their values and mannerisms. Post partition this class preferred mid-level to top positions in the private sector. The new middle class is considered a legacy of General Zia emerging post 1980s and is a direct result of the education imperatives and religious positioning of the time. As a product of a time when everything from social endorsement to educational curriculums emphasized religious alignment, the present middle class which is a product of that era is conversant with the discourses of Islamic groups and embrace Islamic identity. However, though many are sympathetic to Islamist parties and have affiliations with their issues, few are lasting members beyond a short-lived emotional allegiance to trending topics. These seldom translate to votes either.

This group has a strong sense that the solution to Pakistan’s multifaceted problems lies in becoming better Muslims and in embracing and promoting Islamic values. This modern middle class displays the same patterns of consumption and an affinity for modern amenities like phones, foreign foods, etc. This ability to have shifted group status economically, however, has strongly been fueled by money accrued though jobs in the Middle East. Therefore, though in part it might be correct to assume that they are Saudi – sponsored ideologues of sorts, it might be more accurate to understand that it is a melding of cultures due to the strong connection to their ameliorated financial status linked to a particular part of the world. A status that was achieved through ties and socio-cultural influences emergent through a non-ideological motive. This image of a chaddar-clad female and religious emphasis in lifestyle is representative of an affluent modernity in the Muslim world. They view the marriage of consumer power and a new-found cultural identity as a symbol of progressive choice trending in the Muslim world. It is a class symbol and an instant tool of inclusion in this realm of the new global group. Having faced isolation in both thought and society from the old middle class which itself has stagnated, resting on the laurels of its ancestors, the emerging, upwardly mobile middle class has donned the avatar of the Muslim world where in this garb they are accepted as progressive in thought and social choices and wield economic power. Whatever weight can be attached to this argument it makes for an interesting perspective.

So what then turned the different strata of Pakistanis from leftist to extremist? If we are to shift the onus from the middle class for promoting extremist fervor should we steer focus towards the more economically depressed segments? Does poverty breed extremism?

Poverty is extremism – not in mindset but life-limitations. In a state of extreme deprivation, extreme lack of choice, extreme hunger and extreme desperation, either one has no time for God or God is the only choice one has to turn to for salvation. An empty stomach is already at war. Thus the war it fights can easily be manipulated. It is not an epiphany in analysis that mercenaries are born in poverty to fight man’s war in the name of God. Neither is it a fresh idea that education matters in how a generation or social group thinks.

Lack of education, especially in the poorer classes is our next best bet. Religious seminaries popularly referred to as ‘madrassas’, though lambasted for their very existence, fill in where the government has failed in its responsibilities to educate and provide people with the tools for improving their life. Here a space is created for content in education that the state does not regulate or mainstream with linkages to traditional learning structures in the disciplines of mathematics, language and science. There is nothing wrong with a religious education, it is essential for the soul but the missing link of the component on life skills in educational curriculum drives the problems society gets faced with.

It is important to realize though that a madrassa education cannot be blamed for extremist thought. Many successful, educated, progressive leaders have been associated with learning in Madrasas, including people like the Turkish President Tayyib Erdogan who is himself a graduate of an ‘imam training school’11 and Siraj ul Haq of the JUI, the most internally democratic political party in Pakistan.

In a paper titled ‘ The Madrassa Conundrum- The State of Religious Seminaries in Pakistan’ by Umair Khalil, the notion that madrasas are extensively involved in the production of militants, is challenged referencing Christine Fair. “In her book on religious education in Pakistan Fair presents multiple evidences that counter this popular perception, among which is her survey of 141 families in Pakistan that had lost at least one son to militancy in Kashmir and Afghanistan. Of the 141 militants, only nineteen were recruited at a madrasa which, incidentally, is the same number recruited at a public school. None of the militants were recruited at a private school. The majority of militants (fifty) were recruited through friends, thirty-two at mosques, twenty-seven through proselytizing (tabligh) groups and thirteen from relatives. While expounding on the results of her survey, Fair observes: Madaris are not the most prominent recruitment venue; indeed fewer than a quarter of the militants (thirty-three of 141) ever attended madaris. Of those thirty-three madrasa products, twenty-seven attended a madrasah for four or fewer years, and most also attended public schools. In contrast, 82 of the 141 were very well educated by Pakistani standards with at least a matriculation qualification (10th grade education), in stark contrast to the average level for Pakistani males (6th grade). Only nine out of 141 had no formal education. Militants in this sample are much better educated than the average Pakistani male.” 12

The dominant fact worth pondering in this study is that the democratically elected governments have failed to provide adequate educational structures to meet population demands and that they have failed to regulate the content of education in any form, governmental or private, which has led to ideological indoctrination by interest groups generating extremist thought and religious militancy. That appears to be an additional strike against democracy. Also the fallacious assumption that extremists are less educated.

It is not that merely that more education is needed to counter extremism, but better education is required in both the middle classes and the lower financial strata of society. When existing structures fail societies, people are more susceptible to alternative means and ideology.

Much of the discussion about the links between economics and terrorism has revolved around how inequality, poverty and limits on opportunity shape terrorist responses but these explanations are incomplete at best. According to David Gold, Professor of Economics at New School University, “not all terrorists are poor, or even come from societies that are poor, and not all poor people or people from poor societies become terrorists. To the extent that poverty, inequality and other elements of underdevelopment are determinants of terrorism, the links are subtle and difficult to bring to light.”

In the same study Gold refers to a research by Alan Krueger and Jitka Maleckova who examined available evidence on links between poverty and education on the one hand and the incidence of terrorism on the other and found “ little direct connection between poverty or education and participation in terror.” This conclusion I feel may not apply so freely to the context of Pakistan, however, it may hold true in a wider global perspective. They also explored data on education levels and income levels of those engaged in terrorist activities and as it turns out often these people possess higher education or incomes than the societies from which they are drawn. People engaged in extremist activities do not belong to one class; some are even educated abroad and come from economically stable families.

In fact, as pointed out in the work by Ethan Bueno de Mesquita in Christian Fair’s book, “game theory is employed to understand the interaction between a government, a terrorist organization, and a population of terrorist sympathizers. He argues:[A]s a result of an endogenous choice between economic activity and terrorist mobilization, individuals with low ability or little education(and consequently few economic opportunities) and strong anti-government dispositions are most likely to volunteer to become terrorists. However, the terrorist organization wants to recruit only the most effective, highly skilled terrorists ” They prefer the more educated. This rules out most of the madrassa students but where they need action such as suicide attacks these organizations relax their quality standards. Therefore, according to him “ even if the direct contribution of madrassas in the supply of militants is low, one cannot rule out entirely their significance and potential in contributing to militancy.”

This supports the assumption that it is not a particular class or level of education only but extremist action may rest on other factors such as absence of civil liberties that teach men and women to think of alternative solutions to a State, democratic or otherwise, that ignores their plight. A certain worldview may be a more significant factor influencing extremist acts than education or income position.

So again, what turned the different strata of Pakistanis from leftist to extremist? Perhaps exclusion – social, economic, class-directed and governmental – exposure to lifestyles of the global Muslim populace due to relatives working abroad who influence much from the sense to dress to social manner(whether considered progressive or oppressive) or foreign funding to madrassas and teaching institutes which the country has readily embraced as a way of life. Funding is never a gift it is always backed by an agenda. Also an absence of civil liberties alone without any direct link to education levels or economics might be the cause. In any scenario governmental failure to address these issues is a trigger to extremist action.

If Not Democracy…..

If society is to avoid all the evils and shortcomings of democracy as outlined by Socrates, Plato, Marx; if a democracy’s mismanagement has led to income disparities, class stratification and conflict; if its shortcomings have resulted in educational deprivation and perhaps bred extremism then what form of government is the answer? Is it dictatorship? Enlightened despotism? A plutocracy? A theocracy? A meritocracy or democracy in another shape and form more suited to today’s needs? Has democracy led us to Pakistan’s growing but ideologically divided middle class? Is the middle class really a growing strata? Has it spawned terror? Is there any connection at all between them? There might be little consensus on the matter but, collectively and individually, we must endeavor to find an answer.

Our democracy rests on open franchise of an uneducated populace to vote in people who are perhaps not the best suited to govern with public interest as their primary motive. Giving power to such people results in the death of what a true democracy should entail because power lies in the wrong hands. Pakistan’s present day democracy can best be described as an analogy to the trial of Socrates which resulted in his death as told by Plato in ‘the Apology’ – ‘a doctor being persecuted by a pastry chef and judged by a jury of children.’

Democracy is not an idea to be done away with completely and so perhaps we could finally consider a form of democracy that the founding father of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, envisioned for Pakistan to begin with. The Quaid realized early on that due to the feudal stranglehold on the system of governance, a parliamentary democracy was not best suited for Pakistan. He often stressed on the need for investment in education and warned against the potential dangers of a feudal system. He wrote that the Presidential form of government would be more suited to Pakistan.13 General Zia ul Haq unsealed this note from File 42 of 1947 and handed over a copy to Sharifuddin Pirzada. In a book published by Oxford University Press titled “The Jinnah Anthology” under a chapter titled “Constitutional Setup of Pakistan as visualized by Quaid e Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah” Pirzada states, “the note was jotted down by Jinnah on or about July 16th 1947. The note clearly states that in the future constitution of Pakistan, regarding the form of government, there would be a Presidential form of government. It was not specified which Presidential form. However, the manner in which the government functioned from August 15th 1947 to September 11th 1948, it seems it was more on the pattern of the French system.”14

A Presidential system allows an elected president to choose his Parliament from those best suited to execute their respective ministerial portfolios professionally and the President is not restricted to choosing from those elected in by popular vote or the feudal system of patronage. It also reduces the chance that law makers in parliament will manipulate or tailor laws to ensure their survival and longevity in politics at the cost of those they are meant to serve.

Taking our argument a step further, perhaps it is time to think outside the existing model of democracy and government in Pakistan that impacts everything from economics and socio political society to extremist dynamics. Say for instance Singapore. As a political model it is not a democracy and according to an article by Donna Meadows “achieved the American dream but not in the American way.” In 1965 it became an independent state and in the next 20 years its economy grew eight fold and per capita income rose fourfold. Poverty dropped to 0.3%. No one is homeless and life expectancy has gone up to 71 years. It runs as smoothly as a Swiss watch. “Singapore just does not fit the world’s categories. It’s a dictatorship with free speech, no fear and no corruption. It is a country that uses capitalist means to attain socialist ends. Singapore University professors call it a “meritocratic, elitist, Confucianist, bureaucratic state.”

Though the Singapore model has found such astounding success is it wise to concentrate such immense power in one or a few hands? How would one keep a check on the vulnerabilities of the system of such concentrated power?

In the end one has to inevitably accept Sir Winston Churchill’s statement, “ Democracy is the worst form of government, except all other forms of government.”


1- As told in the dialogues of book 6 of Plato’s, The Republic

2- Graham and Pettinato (2000)


4- ibid

5- Ibid (Leventouglu (2003)

6- The Dawn newspaper – Umair Javed – 20-11-2017

7- Express Tribune – 6th March

8- The Friday Times- Safiya Aftab – 10th March 2017

9- ibid

10- The Dawn newspaper – Umair Javed – 20-11-2017


12- page13

13- The News- The way to Genuine Democracy by Atta ur Rehman – 7th Feb 2017

14- ibid