Globalisation & democracy

gPosted by Faheem Belharvi

Wednesday, April 24, 2013 – Faith in Democracy has been a major characteristic of Western political thought since Enlightenment. It was held that democracy is the best and moreover, the only valid system of governance and only people who have accepted the underlying values of democracy are modern, progressive and good. With globalization of the financial and other markets Western values were exported to the rest of the world keeping in mind that this was ‘progress’. In some cases like the former colonial societies in Africa and

South Asia including Pakistan parliamentary democracy was a colonial heritage and since decolonization those societies try to fill the empty democracy shell with matching content. In Pakistan as well as in other societies this has not been successful even after the passage of 66 years. And then there are those places like Afghanistan where the West has tried –unsuccessfully- to put democracy into place through war and manipulation. Export of democracy thus has been a main feature of western-driven globalization together with economic and cultural imperialism as a tool to maintain the Western dominance over the rest of the world.

But this staunch believe in democracy has been undermined by the political realties in the developing countries like Pakistan. In Pakistan we have seen a constant deterioration of the political system that the British had put into place before leaving because only a very small minority of western educated people could understand its main features and even less people could embrace the underlying values of democracy such as respect for an impersonal and secular law and equality of men regardless of their economic or social position.

Feudal lords and even many people without landholding living in cities have a feudal mindset which does not allow for equality. They believe in ‘good families’ and ‘poor’ family backgrounds and they keep separate crockery for the servants in their cupboards. Moreover, other than in the West where society has been going through a long process of secularization and individualization as a result of which western societies consist of secularized individuals in Asian and African countries these processes have never taken place and thus our societies are based on communities such s religious communities, ethnic communities, bradari and tribal affiliations that define our social fabric and basic value system. In our societies political affiliations are not defined by political ideologies but by allegiance to the social group to which we belong. That is why political parties in Pakistan are rather family enterprises than ideologically committed organizations.

Because of this basic underlying mismatch of democracy with our society democracy could not deliver. It worked worst in tribal societies like Balochistan and KPK/Fata and the former independent states of Swat and Dir. A weak and uncommitted to common good central government could not establish law and order and creditability in those areas. That is one of the reasons (among others) why we have a strong and growing demand for replacement of this type of political system called democracy by an Islamic state which seems to be a better choice and better match of the believes and aspirations of the people even the young generation as a recent report has found out.

This demand has been rejected by the west and western educated elites because they still believe in democracy bringing progress. It is therefore interesting and important to know that even in the West now this belief in democracy as the one and only political system leading to progress and prosperity has come under critique. With globalization progressing and the economic slowdown and financial crisis hitting many western economies and resulting in spending cut in educational systems among others Western scholars and scientists are looking for greener pastures in Asian countries where they would have refused to go just a couple of years ago. And so we find a growing number of western faculty teaching in oil-rich Arab Emirates and as well as in China. And it seems that this first-hand experience of a new culture and society in which they have lived is opening their eyes to new (for them) ideas and help them giving up old believes which they had taken for granted while in their Western homeland.

One such example was reported from a conference of economists that recently had taken place in Hongkong. A Canadian scholar Daniel A. Bell who has been teaching political philosophy in Singapore, Hongkong and lately in the Tsighua University in Beijing did explain what he learnt during his stay in East Asia in the Hongkong conference.

During his stay in East Asia he has come to know about the different value system of those societies based on Confucianism and that has changed his ideas in many regards fundamentally. In an interview he said “I’m no longer of the view that democracy in the form of one person, one vote is the best way of organizing political relations. I now think that other ways of choosing rulers, such as a combination of examinations and recommendations, are more likely to secure quality rule.” This sounds very much like Allama Iqbals critique of democracy who said in one of his poems that democracy is counting the heads only even if the host of the head is uneducated or a crook.

The substance of a man, his ability, moral standing and education or experience is neglected and not taken into account. Inspired by the teachings of Confucius Daniel Bell in his address in Hongkong has also criticized democracy for this and he has been advocating an alternative political system that chooses its ruling elite based on Confucian principles such as intellectual capacity and moral standing instead of universal franchise. He also expressed his opinion that this system -though far from a perfect way – is being promoted in the Communist Party of China already. With regard to elections he thinks that those are only useful on the local level where wrong decisions do less damage.

One should think that he is rejected with such views in the West and might even be on the observation list of some intelligence agencies for anti-democratic views. But no, not at all; he has gained access with these views to prominent circles; he is writing columns in the “Financial Times” and the “Guardian” and is a sought-after speaker at the conference of the ‘Institute for New Economic Thinking’ financed by George Soros, which goes to prove that a new Dete’nt has come into force between powers that matter .

Another main critical points against democracy is its short time horizon. Any government has to produce “change” within four or five years – until the next elections which is much too short a time. This should make us think when we hear pledges from our aspiring politicians like Imran Khan that miseries that have been building up for decades or centuries like corruption, nepotism or even energy shortage will be put right within months or a couple of years. This is impossible and who is promising such things is a liar.

But that doesn’t mean that change should not be attempted. It is high time for us in Pakistan to do away with our colonial heritage of ‘democracy’ that has never suited our society and has been used and abused by the feudal elite to perpetuate their hold to political power. Pakistan has become hostage in the hands of exploiters, recent experience of inducting caretaker in centre and province has been a shady deal between the power brokers in choosing their henchmen to bring their benefactors back into power without proper scrutiny of their credentials.

Tall claims are made by all and sundry but the fact is that every usurper has inducted amendments in 1973 constitution and Bhutto himself started the process. The party that claims the legacy of Bhutto also failed to thrash out all these amendments instead it inserted 18, 19 & 20th amendments that has led to making confusion more confounded. In the process of trying to please our former colonial rulers, western donors and the neo-colonialist US, we have ruined our own heritage and destroyed our own traditions.

Though created in the name of Islam Pakistan has become a place where the very essence of Islam has been forgotten and it has become a menace rather than a relief for the Muslims. The world is changing and we have to change if we want to improve our lives and that of the society. We remember till the 1960s we used to have the Imperial system of weights and measures, than it was replaced by the decimal system of weight and measures which is much easier and better system which is all over the world used except in the Commonwealth dominions.

So hanging on to old ideas is bad. Just another election will not do; without doing a complete surgery that is due since 1971 we will not progress. The confusion is clearly visible in the media debates and the handling of Articles 62 & 63 by the RO,s on the ideology and rationale of creating Pakistan. Today our biggest problem is foreign intervention in the domestic affairs and our complacency about it. The first thing that needs to be done is plug these holes from where they creep in, we have to be vigilant, and determined to face all the challenges that are there and the nation is prepared to sacrifice if an honest leadership emerges on the horizon of Pakistan for a better and prosperous future by standing on its own two feet and not on the crutches of IMF &US. God bless Pakistan.(Ali Ashraf Khan)

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