Democracy in Pakistan: hopes and hurdles

saddam hussain samo
The writer wrote the same essay in CSS-2018 and passed it. He can be reached at
Democracy in Pakistan: hopes and hurdles

Successive events and activities have taken place that make it crystal clear that there are hopes as well as hurdles in the way of democracy in Pakistan. One the one hand, the imposition of martial law by the military has become a distant dream now. Democratic leaders have turned mature. The democratic governments have not only shown distinguish performance, but also smoothly transferred power to another government as per election results for the first time in the history of Pakistan. The ECP has also improved its performance and the citizens have become aware of their rights to rule. These all events have created hopes for the democracy in Pakistan. One the other hand, indirect military interference in the democratic governments, feudal lord system, corruption of democratic leaders, poor literacy rate and ailing economy of the country, these all events act as hurdles in the way of democracy in Pakistan. Thus, it is established that the democracy in Pakistan encounters both hopes and hurdles.

Since the creation of Pakistan in 1947, democracy in the country has been witnessing both hopes and hurdles. The founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was keen to introduce democratic system in Pakistan. However, his sudden death impeded its proper imposition. Liaquat Ali Khan, afterward, carried the vision of Jinnah, but he also failed to give it a practical shape. Imposition of martial law by dictator Ayub khan closed all the door of democracy. Zulifqar ali Bhuttto appeared on the political screen and injected a new blood of hope for democracy in Pakistan. He pressurized General Yahya to hold elections. Consequently, he won the elections with a great margin in the West Pakistan and took an oath as the first democratic leader of the country. However, the hope could not sustained for a long time as General Zia imposed martial law and blocked the road of democratic progress. After Zia, democracy was seen, but it remained fragile and weak and gave green signal to another dictator General Pervez Musharraf, who ruled till 2008. After Musharraf, the democracy in Pakistan has been witnessing good days because it continues till today without any hurdle. Hence, Democracy in Pakistan witnessed both hopes and hurdles in Past.

A major hope for democracy in Pakistan lies in the fact the military will not come forward to impose its direct rule by dismantling the democratic system, as it did in past, because of two major reasons:  Firstly, the military government is not recognized by the international community and is subject to various economic sanctions. Pakistan, is currently in the process of development because of the initiation of CPEC, cannot afford sanctions at this critical stage. Our sensible and well-trained army knows this fact very well. Secondly, martial law is often imposed under the patronage of a super power. At present, Pakistan’s relations with the USA remain abysmal. Therefore, the army will avoid taking rein of the government directly. As such, martial law is now obsolete and the democratic government will continue to rule Pakistan.

Another hope for democracy in Pakistan is created in the form of maturity among the democratic leaders. In past, one Democratic Party conspired against another ruling party and stalled democratic progress.  For example, Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) staged protest against Zulifqar Ali Bhutto after 1977 general elections claiming the elections being rigged. The issue could have been resolved through political settlement, but they demanded the removal of Bhutto and imposition of Islamic rule. Consequently, the military got an opportunity to impose martial law under Zia in 1977 and obstructed the path of democracy. Besides, Nawaz Sharif, while Chief Minister of Punjab, created problems for Benazir Bhutto and tried hard to remove her government. Similarly, Benazir Bhutto played a role to remove Nawaz Sharif in 1993. The both democratic leader celebrated ouster of each other from the government and distributed sweets among their supporters. At present, the democratic leaders avoid taking such actions that could impede the democratic progress. For example, during 2008 PPP government, Nawaz Sharif was engaged in verbal war with Zardari, but did not stage protest to remove him. On the other hand, Zardari got an opportunity to remove Nawaz government during Imran Khan continuous protest in Islamabad. However, he realized that it would play in the hand of anti-democratic elements. Thus, the democratic leaders have now turned mature and avoiding taking any step that could harm the civilian rule.

The good performance of successive democratic governments has also contributed towards the well being of the democracy in Pakistan. The democratic governments are heading towards betterment. For instance, the existing government is better than previous government and the upcoming will have undergone even more improvement. The democratic government of Pakistan Peoples Party, from 2008 to 2013, faced numerous challenges of extremism and terrorism. However, the next democratic government under Nawaz Sharif successfully resolved those challenges and brought peace. The existing government under PTI is facing daunting economic challenges but is taking stringent measures to overcome them. Thus, the better performance of the governments has proved that fact that civilian can also run the country effectively and has left no room for the army to interfere in the administration directly.

The smooth transfer of power by two democratic parties to another one has enhanced the chances of democracy to flourish in the country too. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, two democratic parties have completed and transferred their power to the third one. It has created a proper line for power transfer in the future, which is fundamental pre-requisite for the glory of democracy in any country. Before, it was witnessed that the transfer was not smooth and created room for the anti-democratic elements. For instance, as mentioned above, had the democratic leader, after the elections of 1977, not created problems for power transfer, the military would have not imposed martial law. It was because of non-agreement on the transfer of power in past, democracy could not survive for a long time. Thus, the smooth transfer of power, now, will ensure the continuation of democracy in Pakistan.

The reform in the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and its improved performance is another ingredient that creates a hope for democracy in Pakistan. At present, the prime minister with the consultation of leader of opposition appoints the chief election commissioner. The ruling government cannot appoint its own commissioner to get the election rigged. Besides, a proper mechanism for the appointment of the members has also been devised to ensure the transparent elections. It can be proved from the recent appointment of the two members of the ECP. In 2019, the two vacant seats of the members of the ECP could not been filled since eight months despite the constitutional provision for filling the seats in 45 days. It was because the federal government under Imran Khan and opposition could not reach a consensus on the names. In a surprise move, the government appointed the members without consultation, but the chief election commissioner refused to administer the oath of office to these appointees and claimed that the appointment was not based in accordance with the provision of constitution. Thus, it is reached that the reforms in the ECP is playing a vital role in promoting the democracy by conducting smooth and transparent elections.

The citizen of Pakistan have, now, turned aware about their rights to rule the country and it is a good sign for the development of democracy. Before, many citizens welcomed the dictator because the democratic leaders failed to improve their lifestyle. However, the people in uniform could not satisfy their needs as well. As a result, they have turned against dictators too. At present, almost all the citizens speak against the martial law and blame the military for their present poor conditions. Now, instead of welcoming their rule, they will stand against them in the same way the people of turkey blocked the prospects of military rule by lying before the tanks. Thus, the local citizen, now, loathes martial law and it is a good for the prosperity of democracy in the country.

A major hurdle, of course, is the indirect interference of the military in the democratic government. The military not only frame foreign policy of Pakistan, but also implement it. The civilian has no say in the policies towards India, Afghanistan and the US. Besides, the head of Intelligence bureau or other sensitive institutions like defense is always retired military officer. It means that the civilians are not trusted with the sensitive policies. Currently, many retired military officers are occupying some important posts. For instance, the federal Interior minister is Ijaz Ahmed Shah. He is a former head of Intelligence bureau and a retired army officer. Besides, Lieutenant General Asim Saleem Bajwa is serving as the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting. He is retired Pakistani three-star general. Thus, the indirect rule of the military does not bode well for the democracy in Pakistan.

The feudal lord system is acting as the stumbling rock in the way of democracy in Pakistan. Democracy relies on the votes of the local citizens. However, in Pakistan, some feudal lords enjoy full control over the authority and decisions of people in their respective areas. Normally, these feudal lords own thousands of acres agriculture lands and almost all the people living in the villages act as their farmers. These people rely on them economically. It is, therefore, during elections, they vote only a candidate told by their feudal lords. They do not act on their own interest, but over the command of their superiors. In many cases, these feudal lords contest elections themselves. Consequently, they win the elections no matter how corrupt they are and from which political party they contest. Thus, the system of feudal lord is the basic hurdle in the way of democracy in Pakistan.

The fact that, almost all the democratic leaders are corrupt, also contributes to the fragility of the democracy in Pakistan. They mostly work for the wider self-interest rather than the interest of the country and its citizens after being elected. They also favor the non-transparent appointment of the government servants to fill the institutions with their own people. Besides, they use the public funds for their personal expenditure and deem it below their dignity to not make piles of illegal money. They use the same money to win the elections. It was proved by the recent accountability campaign of PM Imran Khan. Under his drive, the main leaders of the two main democratic parties were arrested on the account of corruptions. The panama leaks also revealed some names of the democratic leaders including farmer PM Nawaz Sharif. Because of their corruption, the local people dislike democracy and some time talk in the favor of the authoritarian rule. Hence, the corruption of the democratic leaders is blocking the route of democracy in the country.

The poor literacy rate of Pakistan is negatively affecting the performance of the democratic governments very badly. It is known fact that the democratic system is successful in the countries where the literacy rate is good. It is because; a person with good education background, knows the importance of his vote and uses it properly for the betterment of the country. As a result, efficient democratic leaders are elected that grab the rein of the country. Because of this reason, democracies are bearing fruitful results in the developed countries like the US and is completely collapsing in those countries where the literacy rate is poor. In Pakistan, with around 50 per cent illiterate people, democracy has failed to improve the lifestyle of the people and solve the existing crisis faced by the country. Thus, it is not wrong to say that inadequate literacy rate is causing damage to democracy in Pakistan.

The cripple economy of Pakistan also hampers the democratic progress. The better economic position of any country is directly proportional to the prosperity of democracy. The democratic system evolved from Greece because the export of the wine improved its economic position and thus a demand was raised for the civilian rule. The system remained successful. However, democracy has performed poorly in the countries facing the economic crisis. Take a classical example of Pakistan. The biggest hurdle faced by the PM Imran Khan is the major economic challenges faced by the country. These crises have not only made it difficult for his democratic government to focus on the other issues, but also created bad feelings among the citizen regarding the system. As such, the poor economy of Pakistan is acting as a biggest hurdle in the way of democracy.

An association of democratic nations must be formed to protect young democracies around the world including Pakistan from the threat of the dictators. The strong democratic nations like the US and European countries should extend their support to the civilian rules during crisis. Democracy needs support and the best support for democracy can come from other democracies. Had there been an association of democratic nations, it would have been difficult for the dictators like Zia and Musharraf to impose martial law in Pakistan. Alarmingly, in Pakistan, the military rule received generous financial support from the US, while the civilians were sidelined every time. Thus, the only way to sustain democracy in Pakistan is to form an association of democratic nations at the global level.

It is imperative for the indigenous democratic leaders to improve their performance and work hard for the betterment of the civilian to win their support. Democracy needs the cooperation of the local citizens to flourish in any country. However, the most of the democratic leaders are corrupt in Pakistan and has failed to show distinguish performance. As a result, democracy has become infamous in the country. Had they worked with faithfulness and honesty to improve the lifestyle of the people, it would have been nearly impossible for the dictators to impose direct rule. It was because of the inefficient of the democratic leaders that the citizens never resisted the military. Otherwise, they would have lay before the tanks the same way the citizens did in Turkey when a dictator tried to impose martial law there. Thus, the democratic leaders need to improve their performance to block all the route of anti democratic elements.

As such, it is reached that there is hopes as well as hurdles in the way of democracy in Pakistan. Some events like inability of the military to impose direct rule under current circumstances, mature leadership as compared to past, better performance of successive democratic governments, smooth transfer of powers by the democratic parties, improvement in the performance of the ECP and awareness among the people regarding the civilian rule, have created hope for democracy in Pakistan. In the contrast, some other events like, indirect interference of the military in the democratic governments, feudal lords system, corruption of democratic leaders, alarming literacy rate and poor economy of the country, have caused hurdles in the way of democracy in Pakistan. Keeping in view this situation, an association of democratic nations must be formed to save democracy from the anti-democratic elements. Besides, it is imperative for the democratic leaders to strive for improving the lifestyle of the local citizens to win their cooperation. Thus, democracy in Pakistan faces both hopes and hurdles and it is important to remove impediments to further flourish the civilian rule.


  1. Well-written and well-updated essay, more power to you. However, an important part is missing- transitory paragraph. You have directly jumped from hopes to hurdles without giving any pause for recap and promo.

  2. Amazing!
    I was not in the mood to read such long essays, but, the presentation skills of the author compelled me to read it completely.

    Loved it!


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