South Asia Democracy Watch Hails Continuation of Democratic Process in Pakistan

Despite Unresolved Issues, Completion of Political Term is a Major Milestone

Election in Pakistan

South Asia Democracy Watch (SADeW), in a special meeting in Dallas, Texas last week, commended the people of Pakistan for successfully completing five years of democratic rule for the first time in the nation’s political history. The meeting congratulated all political parties in and outside the parliament for supporting and strengthening democratic institutions in Pakistan including Pakistan People’s Party, Pakistan Muslim League N, Pakistan Muslim League Q, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Jamiat ul Ulamae Islam, Awami National Party, and Baluchistan National Party.

The nonprofit organization that supports democracy in South Asia expressed hope that an independent, transparent and nonpartisan election in the country will achieve another milestone in strengthening people’s confidence in the electoral process.

Recognizing the progress made and highlighting challenges to democracy in Pakistan, the group acknowledged that only a prolonged democratic process can ensure economic progress, security and stability in the country. The statement issued after the meeting said “the last five years of parliamentary democracy were full of challenges, however, maturity in political forces and institutional coordination played an important role in facing these challenges.”

Referring to several achievements during these five years, the statement pointed out that sacking of superior court justices during the last military dictatorship was reversed and they were re-instated.

The women’s protection bill and a number of legislations on welfare and women’s rights were passed and signed into law. Provincial autonomy, NFC award in distribution of resources among provinces improved harmony and coordination among provinces. A number of constitutional amendments returning presidential powers to parliament, naming of the Khyber Pakhtoon Khwa province, and formation of Election Commission also strengthened democratic institutions in the country.

“Although the role of superior courts was quite a deviation from constitutional rule, especially removal of elected Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and interfering in executive responsibilities, parliament and the elected executive, however, restraint and political insights of elected leaders effectively prevented tensions between constitutional institutions” the statement articulated.

The war against terrorism is cited in the statement as an ongoing challenge which has claimed about 40,000 lives including 5,000 armed forces personnel. The parliament handled the challenge fairly well and through consultations with other political parties launched a military operation in Swat as a last resort. Two enormous size floods and their destructions have caused setbacks on economic recoveries.

The meeting also recognized the unfulfilled agendas and shortcomings of the last five years in which, lack of local bodies elections and devolution of power to grassroots level, economic management and inflation were the top challenges. Minority religious communities and Shia Muslims were targeted by extremist elements in which lack of security presented a grave threat to the lives of millions of citizens. The energy crisis and lackluster performances of state in economic development and reducing unemployment also posed enormous challenges.

The meeting expressed its disappointment on the lack of political will to review the Blasphemy Law and Hudood Ordinance as serious hurdles to infringe fundamental rights of women and minorities as these laws are widely used for suppressing rights of the disadvantaged of the society.

Limited participation of women and minorities in elections was cited as a major weakness of democratic traditions. The practice of intimidation and denying voting rights to women initially seen in tribal areas are now spread into some urban areas. Restricting women’s voting in Swat and Mianwali posed a challenge which was not addressed by the elected leaders. The lack of progress in representation of minorities in parliament was also highlighted as a major hurdle in the political process.

The SADeW board members welcomed eminent South Asian scholars and democracy advocates in its Advisory Council which includes Dr. Parvez Hoodbhoy, Dr. Amanullah Khan, Mr. Davinder Singh Daman, Dr. Nyla Khan, Dr. Mehdi Hassan, Dr. Sandeep Pandey and Dr. Masood Raja.

The meeting was attended by the organization’s board members Dr. Qaisar Abbas, Syed Fayyaz Hassan, Raja Zahid Khanzada, Siraj Butt, Raja Muzaffar Kashmiri, Aftab Siddiqui, and Tausif Kamal. Plans were also approved for organizing an international symposium in May to highlight democratic progress, human rights and peace in South Asia.

Masood Raja

Originally from Pakistan, Dr. Masood Ashraf Raja is an Associate Professor of Postcolonial Literature and Theory at the University of North Texas and the author of "The Religious Right and the Talibanization of America" (Palgrave, 2016).