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Democratic Ideals and Political Culture

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Democratic Ideals and

Political Culture

Lessons for Pakistan

Since its independence in 1947, Pakistan has been following democracy as its political system, though with some breaks in the form of military interventions. Although the country should have developed a viable political culture, supported by certain democratic ideals, norms and values, it is unfortunate that even after more than seven decades of independence, Pakistan’s political environment lacks a viable political culture and still longs for having democratic ideals. A brief review of the past 75 years of Pakistan’s political culture suggests the following foremost lessons that the country must learn if it wants to tread the path of true democracy.
· Political parties and politicians are supposed to work for strengthening the political culture, increasing the level of tolerance, guaranteeing mutual co-existence, ensuring political harmony and helping the common interests prevail over vested interests. Unfortunately, there are hardly any examples where this duty has been performed.
· Political parties are considered the nurseries where political workers are trained to be responsible citizens of the state. The foremost objective of political training within a party should be to inculcate in its workers the virtues of patriotism and loyalty to the state and its constitution. Political agenda of that party should be a secondary thing as strengthening the state ought to be the top priority. However, it is commonplace in Pakistan that political debates here are often a no-holds-barred affair. So, political workers should also be trained to show high regard for leaders of opponent political parties and highest level of tolerance towards the opposition’s viewpoints. After all, all of them are the citizens of the same state and are, thus, collectively responsible for its development. Argumentative political discussions with fruitful endings should replace the culture of heated debates that turn friendships into animosities.
· Intra-party elections are a prerequisite for a robust political culture, where real representatives of the common people come to the top. All political leaders must be selected from amongst the spheres of the voters as it is only they that have deep knowledge of issues faced by their localities, ergo the whole country. Fielding imported and non-local candidates is against the spirit of a truly democratic political culture. Moreover, democracy must not be dealt as a process of voting only that is revised every four or five years; rather it should be treated as a way of life by the citizens, civil society and politicians, as well as the governments.
· A developed civic sense is a must for all in politically-cultured democracies. In the case of Pakistan, the level of acceptance of responsibility amongst the politicians and elected representatives has remained very low. The elected representatives in a democratic state have to bear the highest sense of responsibility and should act accordingly. They should have a deep insight into their constituencies and localities. The voters and political workers have to shoulder the responsibility of providing their representatives with essential help in staying aware of the problems of their constituencies. Similarly, a strong accountability process is also a fundamental feature of a democratic society.
· The freedom of speech, i.e. free press and independent media, are the indicators of politically-cultured societies. All citizens are free to hold peaceful protests and analyze and criticize the government and politicians for their policies on solid grounds. Media should not only be the people’s voice to highlight the real issues of the society, but must also show and appreciate the good decisions and policies of the government and criticize the wrongs. Media should also create awareness in the society and educate the people on the contemporary policies and decisions of the government.
· Strong and viable institutions, i.e. the parliament, the judiciary, the executive and political parties, indicate the level of stability of a democratic state and viability of the political culture. Separation of powers — of course, with a strong check-and-balance mechanism, and the notion of accountability of the institutions to the real stakeholders, i.e. the citizens — exhibits the strength and effectiveness of a political culture and prevalence of democratic ideals.
· Religion, a binding force of Pakistan’s social fabric, has always played a pivotal role in setting the agenda of political campaigns. Unfortunately, this has been misused and wrongly misinterpreted just to achieve some petty political goals. The exploitation of religious sentiments in politics has played havoc with the consolidation of political culture and prevalence of democratic ideals. Stemming the use of religion in politics is a must as this will, if continued, ultimately vanish the belief of the people in their party leaders and manifestos which would be lethal for the state itself.
· Involving foreign hands and their agenda, especially India and the United States, has long been a favourite political slogan in Pakistani politics. Candidly, naming some ‘foreign hand’ just to achieve one’s political interests is the highest level of dishonesty. There should be a fair play and voters should be allowed to decide who are loyal to the state and who are not.
To conclude, one can rightly point out that we as Pakistanis should abandon amateur and childish tactics in politics and should work for ensuring continuity of the political processes. These are the important lessons we and our political parties should learn, before it is too late!

The author teaches at department of Political Science, University of Malakand, Chakdara. He can be reached at

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