Pakistan’s Garrison State-III: The Reality of Politics, Elections and Democracy


Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and Pakistan army chief General Syed Asim Munir (File Image)

By Adnan Qaiser     June 10, 2023

Editor’s Note: In this nine-part study, Adnan Qaiser, a foreign affairs expert having had a distinguished career in the armed forces as well as international diplomacy examines:
Pakistan’s Garrison State-I: Courting East Pakistan Moment[1]
Pakistan’s Garrison State-II: Societal Paradoxes and Political-Military Divide[2]
Pakistan’s Garrison State-III: Reality of Politics, Elections and Democracy
Pakistan’s Garrison State-IV: Military Mindset, Support Base and Legitimacy
Pakistan’s Garrison State-V: Intelligence’s Preoccupation with National Security
Pakistan’s Garrison State-VI: General Musharraf’s Treason Trial and Civil-Military Divergence
Pakistan’s Garrison State-VII: From Religious Extremism to Radical Terrorism
Pakistan’s Garrison State-VIII: A Reluctant War on Terror Ally
Pakistan’s Garrison State-IX: From Water Scarcity to Water Starvation

The “power of people” is generally believed to be greater than the “people in power.” However, as social scientists Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson emphasize in their book “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty,” that for any stable democratic society, the “exclusivity of power” — only for the privileged few — must be changed into “inclusivity of choice” — for most in the society.[3]

Pakistan’s politics and democracy, however, remain a fiefdom of feudal elites and an autocratic military establishment.

Based on five cardinal elements, Pakistan’s electoral politics lack true democratic credentials:

1) Dharra-Bandi: Birds of same feather flock together. True to this idiom, Pakistan’s party politics rests on the affiliation of one’s tribe/clan (Baradari) or caste/sub-caste. Thus, regardless of the competence of a politician; or pressing social needs and national issues, people tend to vote a candidate from their own flock;

2) Taaqat, Dhons, Dhandli: Intimidation, abuse, kidnappings and gang-rapes of the destitute and election rigging by the influential, rich and powerful. Since Pakistan is largely an agrarian country, the hold of feudals over the masses dictates the outcome of an election. The agricultural landlords or tribal Sardars keep their own armies of goons, get (subservient) civil service administrators and police chiefs of their choice (baradari) appointed in their areas, and flout the law of the land at will;

3) Thana-Kutchery: Getting insubordinate (innocent) people framed in (criminal) police cases and (civil) land disputes in the courts-of-law and later helping them out for their continued allegiance;

4) Langar-Baazi: Charity, employment assistance, social welfare and civic-betterment of people by the feudals in their areas, as a show of their affluence, power, prestige and benevolence; and

5) The Hidden Hand of Aliens: Lastly, since the military establishment is known as the ultimate kingmaker in the country, the state’s Inter-Services Intelligence, the ISI, continues to be blamed for (allegedly) stealing the people’s mandate – as observed by the Supreme Court. Often referred to as “angels” or Khalai Makhlooq (aliens), the role of ISI – with its presence at the lowest Union Council (village) level – is believed to remain the final deciding factor in any electoral outcome of a constituency.[4]

Author Christine C. Fair, considered to be an authority on Pakistan, notes in her book Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War: “Thus, within a few years of the coup the army chief, with the help of the intelligence agencies, cobbles together a “king’s party,” which draws from established mainstream political parties and new entrants seeking to take advantage of the military regime’s patronage.”[5]

Real democracy in Pakistan, thus, remains light-years away. The country continues to be ruled by a sham dispensation in which only a handful of elites comprising of feudal landlords and tribal Sardars (Chieftains), plus some of the richest families of Pakistan, continue to hold and share power. Rather than issue-driven, Pakistan’s “personality oriented and patronage-ridden” politics does not represent people’s true aspirations.

As explained by me in Much Needed “Land Reforms” in Food Insecure Pakistan,”[6] as well as in Part-II of this study, denying meaningful land reforms in the country that would curtail and tax their large agricultural holdings, these feudal elites keep state institutions subservient through age-old British (colonial) magisterial, land revenue, forestry and irrigation system leading to institutional collapse. Pick any large land-owning family only to find their presence in all opposing political parties through intermarriages, constantly changing loyalties, only to stay in power.”[7]

In his chapter “Praetorians and the People,” Saeed Shafqat describes the traits of predatory politicians in the book Pakistan Beyond the Crisis State. [8] Through a turncoat practice – or horse-trading – derogatorily called as ‘Lotacracy,’ unprincipled politicians keep jumping ships (changing parties) only to stay in power. In the parliamentary democracy’s numbers game, votes are commonly bought and sold. Thus a Member of National or Provincial Assembly, who spends fortunes on his election, often recovers his losses by selling his vote for Senate’s (Upper House) election or during a “no confidence motion” against a sitting prime minister.

Driven by their self-interests and duly protected by constitutional caveats, a change in the “system” does not suit the Pakistani politicians. Over time, the elites realized that by staying disunited and running towards the military for their political gains and stints in power, they have been inadvertently weakening their ranks and strengthening the military establishment. Thus, when the two main political parties – Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) – found themselves out of power during President General Pervez Musharraf’s rule (1999 to 2008); they adopted a perfidious “friendly opposition” strategy, following the signing of a “Charter of Democracy” on May 15, 2006 to keep the Army out of the corridors of power.

While seeking to leverage expedient constitutional amendments – like the 18th Amendment, which has greatly weakened the state and the federation – these wealthy political elites also managed to get over 8,000 graft and criminal cases dropped in the name of “national reconciliation”.[9]

The infamous “National Reconciliation Ordinance” (NRO) – regretted by General Musharraf later as his “biggest political mistake,” – had whitewashed politicians’ murder, kidnapping, corruption and money laundering charges from January 1, 1986 to October 12, 1999. Desiring to see the return of civilian rule in Pakistan, the NRO had been ironically facilitated by the United States, as admitted by the former U.S. national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, in her memoir No Higher Honor. [10] Despite the Supreme Court declaring the illegitimate NRO “null and void,” successive governments refused to hold their fellow politicians accountable.[11]

Shrewd politicians further put aside their differences and huddled together to defeat internationally acclaimed religious scholar Allama Tahir-ul-Qadri an outcast who demanded genuine implementation of electoral checks and balances through his long march and 70-day sit-in in Islamabad in 2014.

Politicians’ hand-in-glove relationship was put on full public display at the farewell luncheon hosted by leader of PML-N, Nawaz Sharif in honour of outgoing President Asif Ali Zardari of PPP on September 5, 2014. Lauding each other’s “roles in [so-called] strengthening democracy,” Zardari pledged to resume his politics after the completion of Sharif’s five-year term.

Historian M. Ikram Rabbani describes Pakistani political mindset in his book ‘Pakistan Affairs:’ “Politicians had a very rudimentary understanding of power and acted with irresponsibility. They frequently mistook the state-​power, which was a trust reposed by the nation, as their personal power and glory. The leadership, equating with abuse of authority refused to be regulated by laws and rules meant for running the government considering themselves above the law. Behaving like medieval kings, they spent public money at their personal whims. Instead of institutionalizing the state authority, they personalized it.”[12]

The “industrialization drive” of one government (President General Ayub Khan) was changed overnight into “nationalization policy” by the next (Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto), only to be reversed again into a “privatization plan” by the third (Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif) for public popularity and making quick bucks.

Washington Post observed back in December 1997 that, “The widespread perception that the prime ministers and other elected leaders have used the government to enrich themselves has reduced faith in democracy and inspired in many Pakistanis a nostalgic yearning for martial law.

The irony is that during his rule, General Musharraf was also waylaid by the politics of nepotism, cronyism and favouritism in Pakistan. The general’s constitutional reforms, which included increasing the parliamentary seats for women for their better political representation through nomination by party heads – and not directly by contesting the elections – continues to be abused, as politicians keep appointing their spouses and other family members to the parliament and provincial assemblies.

National unity and state institutions thus remain the resultant casualties. Throughout its turbulent history, Pakistan could not evolve a constitutional model or a governing system that could address the needs of a struggling nation-state which is chaotically plural; ethnically fragmented; linguistically diverse; sectarian divided; insurgency rife; ideologically factionalized; security and law and order deficient; status and class-riven; caste split; minorities averse; critically infected with corruption; civil-militarily disjointed; institutionally eroded; economically marginalized, and politically directionless.

If Churchill were alive today, he may have said, ‘politics is too serious a business to be left only to Pakistani politicians.’

James P. Farwell in his book “The Pakistan Cauldron: Conspiracy, Assassination & Instability,” finds “Pakistani politics are devious, complicated, and nuanced. In a place where contriving conspiracy theories is a national sport, politicians are always suspects for possible betrayal,” which unfortunately turns-​out to be true.[13]

Reality of Pakistan’s Elections’ Façade: Einstein’s Parable of Insanity

Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results is an expression attributed to Einstein’s definition of insanity.

Likewise, Pakistan’s elections are a repeated process through which same old feudal landlords and mega-rich industrialists – who remain corrupt to boot, abjectly inefficient and disconnected from masses – are laundered as candidates using different party platforms, and brought to the parliament to represent their people whose issues they hardly understand. Except for the elections of 1970, all Pakistan’s elections are said to be fraudulent with results manipulated through a process called “election engineering.”

In the façade of elections, ordinary people are hyped-up to choose their leaders based on factional loyalties that are rooted in Pakistan’s feudalised/tribal political structure, only to be dumped and forgotten until the next general elections. Politicians and their beneficiaries meanwhile enrich themselves from money-making ministerial and departmental policies as well as public sector development funds for their constituencies. The coalition partners in the government attach a higher price-tag for their parliamentary support.

The elections, therefore, based on universal adult suffrage in a first-past-the-post or winner-takes-all electoral system have never been ‘issue-driven,’ rather ‘patronage-ridden’. With general turn-out in the elections remaining lowest in the world, people in the past already knew the election results due to elections manipulation (allegedly) by military establishment.

Moreover, through (alleged) election engineering, rarely a political party has attained – or granted – a two-third majority in the National Assembly or Senate to modify the constitution according to its wishes. With tools such as (erstwhile) Eighth Amendment’s Article 58(2) b, parliamentarians’ blackmail and coercion, horse-trading and instability through religious parties’ street power, the Army has reined-in successive civilian governments.

It was thus, erroneous to assume that after the so-called first peaceful transition of power in 2013 from one democratically elected government to another, democracy would prevail and strengthen in real sense, addressing all the ills of Pakistan. And it did not.[14]

Since Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) won a landslide victory in the elections of February 18, 2008 through “sympathy vote” due to former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination on December 27, 2007. Moreover, under a general impression that Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) was brought into power through (an alleged) “election engineering by the third umpire” (military establishment) in the elections held on July 25, 2018,[15] this study will analyse Pakistan’s 10th general elections held on May 11, 2013, through which Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) came to power.

Dissection of Pakistan’s 10th General Elections

Seen in the historical perspective, the 2013’s elections too could not escape from violence and rigging allegations. With serious allegations of vote manipulation, the opposition PTI carried out a 126-day long sit-in (Dharna) outside the parliament, disturbing civic life and government’s functioning – making international monitors to observe the country “not tied together.”

While the European Union’s Election Observer Mission expressed its “diplomatically couched satisfaction,” it did point out serious anomalies in its final report. Noting, for instance: “… fundamental problems remain with the legal framework and the implementation of certain provisions, leaving future processes vulnerable to malpractice and Pakistan not fully meeting its obligations to provide citizens the right and opportunity to stand as candidates and to vote. Furthermore, there are some omissions, specifically in regards to access to administrative remedy in case of dispute, and a lack of provisions for transparency. Requirements for transparency were not met. For example, the legislation does not provide for observer access and for results information to be made publicly accessible. Furthermore the ECP did not always make information of public interest easily available and in a timely manner. [T]he universality of the franchise continues to be undermined by the underregistration of women compared to men. Post election day there were a number of allegations of “rigging”, and thus the electoral process was challenged.”[16]

Widening Ethnic Faultlines

The 10th general elections further caused “regionalization” of Pakistan’s national politics, taking ethnic fragmentation, linguistic divide, and cultural dissensions wider apart. People related it to Pakistan’s first ever general elections held in December 1970, which led to the break-up of the country, a year later due to dispute over people’s mandate by two political parties.

With the marginalization of left-wing (liberal) Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) from its national stature to provincial confines of Sindh, owing to its abject governance failures in its five-year rule, no party could emerge at the national horizon to unify and represent the country.

The elections resulted in giving prominence to four major shifts:

1) First, it caused an ethnic surge among the Mohajir community (migrants of subcontinent’s Partition) in Karachi and Hyderabad, leading to its leader, Altaf Hussian, renewing his demand for secession from the rest of the country;

2) Secondly, the abnormal elections and Baluch non-representation further flared-up anti-Pakistan sentiments in the restive Baluchistan province:

(i) One, it intensified the Baluchistan separatist movement[17] with many more nationalist tribal chieftains getting alienated from the country after losing what they called “rigged elections;”

(ii) Two, with the middle class joining the rebellion against the state, the movement demanding independence gained impetus;

(iii) Three, a new wave of target-killings of Punjabi migrant workers and settlers caused a massive exodus of labour force from Baluchistan;[18] and

(iv) Four, the Pashtun-Baluch split got more pronounced in the restive province;

3) Third, the rise in Islamic extremism[19] escalated religious militancy and terrorism in the country – a trend which not only became a deciding factor in the elections but also grew into a governing force in the politics, intimidating moderate voices; and

4) Lastly, owing to their relentless persecution, the minorities developed a loss of faith in the country[20]

Representing the Mohajirs of Pakistan’s biggest cities of Karachi and Hyderabad, Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain’s tongue-in-cheek felicitations to a “Punjabi” Nawaz Sharif at his winning majority in the National Assembly (Lower House) underlined Pakistan’s deep-rooted ethnic fissures.

Moreover, rejecting the election results and openly threatening the lives of his opponents and media personnel for stealing MQM’s mandate, Mr. Hussain publicly demanded secession of Karachi from Pakistan (see my paper titled Pakistan’s Civil-Military Relations: Internal Battlefronts Exposed from Media Leak on MQM’s treachery).[21]

Such a flagrant assault on Pakistan’s integrity even unnerved Adam Thomson, the British High Commissioner to Pakistan – whose government had been sheltering Altaf Hussain since 1992 – to such an extent that he was forced to condemn Mr. Hussian’s statement by saying: “Under British laws promoting hatred and violence is liable to punishment and Altaf Hussain’s statements must be taken seriously.” British government further came under pressure when an unprecedented number of complaints against Altaf Hussain swarmed London Metropolitan Police. Finally, British Member of Parliament, George Galloway, demanded to strip MQM leader’s British citizenship granted in 1999.

Furthermore, the murder of Zahra Shahid, a senior vice-president of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) a night before the re-polling in Karachi led to further acrimony when PTI leader Imran Khan held Altaf Hussain and the British government responsible for the tragic loss of life.

Boycotts, Protests and Sit-ins on Rigging Allegations

Historically, the winning party only accepts Pakistan’s election results. Losers always boycott the process or refuse to accept the outcome on rigging or engineering charges. While Pakistan Election Commission promptly self-praised the elections as “largely free and fair,” major parties like Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Jamiat-Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP), MQM and Sunni Tehrik boycotted the election results on charges of rigging and mismanagement.

PTI, the popular “third force” expected to cause a major upset by coming out as a dark horse in the elections came third in the national race – after PML-N and PPP – despite winning in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province. Expectedly, PTI too came out on the roads protesting election discrepancies for days. Disconcerted for being robbed of its mandate, PTI even reached the 10 Downing Street, where it received a patient hearing by then British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Independent observers including former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter and Pakistan affairs expert at the Council on Foreign Affairs, Daniel Markey, also found Pakistan’s elections seriously rigged.[22]

Moreover, as Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) found “ghost ballots,” the nervous government of PML-N sacked the Chairman NADRA.

Pre-poll Violence against Liberal Parties

Notably, violence and terrorism during the run-up to the elections as well as on the election-day denied the progressive liberal parties an equal platform. Condemned by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), multiple terrorist attacks by Pakistan’s bête noire, the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP), killed scores of innocent people while maiming others including candidates and political workers belonging to the PPP, MQM and ANP, gravely affecting the election results.

At its complete rout-out Asfandyar Wali, President of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s (KPK) Awami National Party (ANP) criticized the Chief Election Commissioner for not acting as an honest referee, letting the TTP to decide the fate of elections. Former President Asif Ali Zardari also lamented his party’s losses on threats to the lives of PPP leaders due to which they could not physically reach out to the masses.

Punjab was largely spared from any terrorist attack because its leaders from centre-right Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) have always followed a policy of appeasement towards sectarian, extremist and militant outfits, considering them its vote-bank.

Such denial of a level-playing field to the left-wing political parties resulted in their dismal performance in the elections as they could not openly and freely run their election campaigns.

Imran Khan’s Phenomenon: ‘Third Force Ushering in a New Pakistan’

Imran Khan’s hero-worship and charisma failed in coming forward as a “third force” that could bring a change in the country reincarnating a “Naya” (new) Pakistan. Despite having struggled in the political wilderness for over 16 years, Mr. Khan’s naivety, stubbornness and flip-flop tendencies cost him dearly. Although Imran Khan clearly identified the two main parties’ – PPP and PML-N – hand-in-glove relationship, he failed in exploiting their ingeniousness purposefully.

Notably, an ostensibly modern and West-oriented cricketer of yesteryears, Imran Khan’s dangerous appeasement towards the terrorist Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) – that won him the epithet of “Taliban Khan” – demonstrated his inner contradictions; his vacillating ideology (to appease all segments of society); and his unprincipled political stand.

No doubt, Mr. Khan inspired over three million young voters besides mobilizing the upper middle class who had hardly ever participated in the elections in the past, considering it a waste of time due to election engineering. However, he could not convince people that his PTI had the wherewithal to steer the country out of its problems. More importantly, Pakistan’s powers-that-be – the military establishment – remained sceptical of Imran Khan’s political acumen and his public support – especially his subservience to the Army considering Mr. Khan’s eccentric nature – to put its weight behind PTI’s success.

Furthermore, a conflict-ridden Khan exposed his glaring contradictions by:

(i) Charming the educated lot on one side, while pandering to the religious right and tribal terrorists on the other;

(ii) Having recitations of Holy Quran in his public rallies right next to the blazing pop-music;

(iii) His pledge to enhance Pakistan’s international stature while talking about pulling out of “someone else’s War (on Terror)” and vowing to shoot down American drones in the same breath;

(iv) Having a destination for his nation – a welfare state – without delineating the route (policies); and

(v) Vouching to bring in a “clean team” while huddling together all the tainted political orphans, renegades and turncoats of other parties under his umbrella as “electables” at the first opportunity

Nawaz Sahrif’s Constituency Politics’ Success

Nawaz Sharif, on the other hand – having been nurtured by the military into politics in 1980s to become a two-time prime minister of Pakistan during 1990s – resorted to the established practices of “constituency politics.” Disregarding the soiled reputation of his chosen electoral heavyweights, people overwhelmingly voted Mr. Sharif third time into power.

Sharif also managed to strike a chord with the ordinary folks. First, he demonstrated his past accomplishments in the shape of tangible projects like motorway and the nuclear tests of May 1998 – feeling no contrite to justify his previous governments’ mega-scandals such as “Yellow Cab” and “Qarz Utaro Mulk Sanwaro” (National Debt Retirement Program) of 1997, when he was removed from power by a military coup on October 12, 1999.

Secondly, having an established right-wing Islamic leaning, Nawaz Sharif oriented himself with the growing conservative population of Pakistan – a phenomenon developed due to economic hardships of the masses and a blowback of President Musharraf’s “enlightened moderation” in the country (more on this in Part-VII).

Nawaz Sharif’s third-time premiership could not escape his right-wing past, having been:

(i) Consistently criticized by President Musharraf as a “Closet Taliban;”

(ii) Pursuing an election campaign to fulfil the unfinished mission of (Shaheed) General Zia-ul-Haq’s “Islamization;”

(iii) Introducing the “Sharia enforcement bill” in the National Assembly on the tenth-year commemorations of General Zia-ul-Haq in August 1998 and getting it passed from the National Assembly on October 15, 1998 to become a virtual “Ameer-ul-Momeneen” (leader of the virtuous);

(iv) Allegedly colluding with Osama-bin-Laden in the 1990s for the ouster of a (liberal) Benazir Bhutto;

(v) Doing seat adjustments with the banned sectarian militant groups of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ); and

(vi) Appeasing the tribal Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)

Sharif also made an effective use of anti-Amercianism in Pakistan by declaring to pull-out from the “war on terror” besides pledging to negotiate with the terrorist TTP, who had killed and injured some 49,000 Pakistanis by 2013.

Since “sympathy vote” always plays an important role in Pakistan’s eastern conservative society, Nawaz Sharif successfully exploited people’s sentiments by highlighting:

(i) The unconstitutional removal of his previous government[23] by (an already discredited) General Pervez Musharraf – notwithstanding his own intrigue leading to his dismissal by disingenuously replacing his army chief);

(ii) Nawaz’s seven-year forced exile in Saudi Arabia; and

(iii) Denial to attend his father’s funeral in November 2004

Moreover, a politically experienced Mr. Sharif, flanked by his brother Shahbaz Sharif, the two-time former chief minister of Punjab province, very smartly “titled the election outcome in their favour” by coming out with their “victory speech” very early in the day when ballot results were still pouring in.

PML-N’s smart use of public surveys and opinion polls – said to be paid and subscribed – showing party lead and forecasting its confirmed victory – further influenced the undecided voters to put their weight behind Messrs Sharifs.

Finally, Nawaz Sharif made full use of a “supportive” domestic and “favourable” international media – antagonized with President Musharraf – to ensure his election success.

Not an Easy Political Ride

A PEW Research Survey dated May 7, 2013 had worryingly noted: “As Pakistan prepares for national elections, the country’s public mood is exceedingly grim. Roughly nine-in-ten Pakistanis believe the country is on the wrong track, and about eight-in-ten say the economy is in poor shape.”[24]

However, fortunately, the election results did not solidify the masses’ – especially youth’s – disenchantment and disillusionment with the elections. A controversial election gave impetus to Imran Khan’s PTI, whose “Tsunami March” followed by a 126-day long sit-in (Dharna) in Islamabad brought a new culture of “political awakening” in Pakistan. The sit-in that halted the government in 2014 – with worries about a military coup in the country – ultimately paved way for Mr. Khan’s resounding victory in the next general elections on July 25, 2018.

However, true to Pakistan’s political history, PML-N too miserably failed in addressing the country’s monumental challenges that grew more formidable with each passing day such as:

(i) Fatal mismanagement of economy by successive governments;

(ii) Severe energy/power crisis keeping people without electricity for an average 12 to 14 hours a day;

(iii) Near-bankruptcy of almost all public sector enterprises owing to their over-staffing and under-performance;

(iv) Institutionalized corruption in almost all government departments;

(v) Serious law and order situation in the country with mafias running-riot in the biggest city of Karachi, holding people hostage with daily target-killings, kidnappings and extortions;

(vi) A resilient Baluchistan insurgency;

(vii) Continuation of sectarian Shia-Sunni feud;[25] and

(viii) The perpetual threat of terrorism emanating from the former tribal areas at the hands of terrorist TTP

The good news, however, came when Pakistan’s long-standing friends and economic stabilizing factors –who were alienated by PPP’s alleged corruption and fiscal mismanagement – came out to support Mr. Sharif. With Saudi Arabia’s pledge of US$15 billion in oil aid; and bypassing state protocol Chinese premier’s two-day reassuring visit on May 22-23, 2013 – even before the new government’s oath of office – brought some economic stability to Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Perilous and Precarious Political State

The repeated exercise of elections in a country with hardly any democratic credentials keeps proving Einstein’s theory of insanity.

Having half of its population living below poverty-line with hardly any investment in health and education sectors, Pakistan has been oscillating between 10th in 2010[26] and 13th in 2012 Failed State Index followed by 10th Fragile State in 2014. Moreover, it stood 146th in the United Nation’s Human Development Index in 2013. Pakistan’s head of the National Accountability Bureau himself acknowledged in 2012 that the country “loses Rs.5 to 7 billion (then US$51 to 72 million) each day” due to inefficiency, corruption and tax-evasion. Unsurprisingly, Pakistan stood as 35th most corrupt country in the world in 2012.[27]

Moreover, during the disastrous five-year rule of the PPP, the executive (government) kept clashing with the state institutions by refusing to implement superior judiciary’s verdicts besides undermining its own military. The discredited National Assembly that complimented itself for having met 50 times, passing 134 bills and adopting 85 resolutions in 665 session days had 51 of its members disqualified on forged educational degrees. Finally, 305 out of total 437 parliamentarians did not even file the mandatory income tax returns.

A 2013’s British Council Survey[28] of some 5,000 (pessimistic) Pakistani youth between the ages of 18 to 29 years found only a paltry 29% having faith in democracy, while 32% preferred military rule and 38% wanted the imposition of Shariah. An astonishing 94% were convinced that the country was heading in a wrong direction coming dangerously close to a precipice.[29]


Arguing the country’s strengths, scholarships like Pakistan: A Hard Country,”[30] and “Pakistan Beyond the “Crisis State”,” [31] although try to assuage apprehensions about Pakistan. However, Pakistan, in reality, seems to be bursting through its seams. Continued to be marred by serious societal imbalances, such as socio-economic inequality; judicial apartheid; income and wealth disparity; power and prestige exhibition; and a culture of political exploitation; Pakistan’s “malady malaises” call for serious introspection and prescription.

Notwithstanding its innumerable strengths, Pakistan has been fearfully coming close to a repeat of secession of East Pakistan due to widening ethnic gulf and the alienation of its people in the (governance) “system” due to non-representation, seeing bleak future ahead (Refer to Part-I and Part-II of this study).

Eminent observers like Stephen Cohen of Brookings Institute had predicted Pakistan’s disintegration in 5 to 6 years,[32] with maps said to be already demarcated and circulated internationally showing Pakistan’s Balkanization like Yugoslavia. Moreover, former U.S. National Security Advisor General James Jones had noted the country heading towards self-destruction. To avoid a collapse of state, Pakistan urgently needs a unique form of government as both models: military rule and parliamentary democracy have failed.

Since “the only lies for which we are truly punished are those we tell to ourselves,” Pakistanis are themselves responsible for many of their “self-inflicted injuries.”[33] They continue to live on the lies and false promises of their leaders and hide behind a world of “make-belief,” in which everything remains an international conspiracy against them.

The continued largess of international aid and assistance and easy loans have further made Pakistan a rentier state[34] with its elite leaders, addicted to free lunches, continue live in unabashed affluence duly securing their ill-gotten wealth offshore.[35]

However, the time has arrived when the world should demand critical reforms from Pakistan – like the British House of Common’s International Development Committee had proposed in 2013.[36] Unless meaningful land, economic, judicial and societal reforms are introduced in the country and Pakistan’s abjectly inefficacious state institutions[37] are brought out of political influence, no substantial progress can be made towards people’s empowerment.[38]

To develop national cohesion and unity in real sense, Pakistan has to bring a change in its outlook from within, which at the moment remains absent from the national ethos. The popular idea of having more elections for democracy to establish its roots is misleading. Unless the fundamentals of political architecture are changed in the country in favour of poverty-stricken ordinary Pakistanis, real democracy remains a distant dream.

Meanwhile, the age-old adage continues to remind us that nations who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it – including, of course, flawed elections. It seems Joseph Stalin had countries like Pakistan in mind when he had pointed out: ‘It is not the people who cast their vote but those who count their ballots that make you win an election.’

Adnan Qaiser can be reached at: [email protected] and Tweets @adnanqaiser01. Views are personal and do not represent any institutional thought.



[1] Adnan Qaiser (Author), Pakistan’s Garrison State-I: Courting East Pakistan Moment,South Asia Journal (USA), May 30, 2023

[2] Adnan Qaiser (Author) Pakistan’s Garrison State-II: Societal Paradoxes and Political-Military Divide, South Asia Journal (USA), June 2, 2023

[3] Daron Acemoglu (Author), James A. Robinson, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, Currency (September 17, 2013), pp 544

[4] Anatol Lieven, Pakistan: A Hard Country, Penguin Books (2012), pp. 204 to 208

[5] Christine C. Fair, ‘Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War, Oxford University Press (2014), p. 27

[6] Adnan Qaiser (Author), Much Needed “Land Reforms” in Food Insecure Pakistan, South Asia Journal (USA), July 25, 2022

[7] John R. Schmidt, “The Unravelling: Pakistan in the Age of Jihad,” Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York (2011), p. 4

[8] Saeed Shafqat, Praetorians and the People, Pakistan Beyond the Crisis State,” Oxford University Press (2011), pp. 95 to 112

[9] National Reconciliation Ordinance – NRO 2007: Analysis and Impact on the General Elections, Pildat’s Position Paper by Citizen’s Group on Election Process, Pakistan Institute for Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), Nov 01, 2007

[10] Condolezza Rice, No Higher Honor, Broadway Paperbacks, New York (2011), pp. 608 to 612

[11] Pamela Constable, Playing with Fire: Pakistan at War with Itself,’ Random House New York (2011), pp. 234-235

[12] M. Ikram Rabbani, “Pakistan Affairs, Caravan Book House, Lahore (2008), p. 202

[13] James P. Farwell, The Pakistan Cauldron: Conspiracy, Assassination & Instability, Potomac Books, Washington D.C. (2011), pp. xv to xvii

[14] Saeed Shafqat, Praetorians and the People, Pakistan Beyond the Crisis State, Oxford University Press (2011), pp. 95 to 112

[15] C. Christine Fair, Pakistan’s Sham Election: How the Army Chose Imran Khan, Foreign Affairs, July 27, 2018

[16] Final Report General Elections 11 May 2013 by the European Union Election Observation Mission, July 2013

[17] Frederic Grare, Balochistan: The State versus the Nation, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 11, 2013

[18] Settlers — caught in crossfire, Dawn, June 28, 2011

(2) Tushar Ranjan Mohanty, Pakistan: Ethnic Backlash In Balochistan – Analysis, Eurasia Review, May 21, 2019

[19] The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics And Society, Chapter 1: Beliefs About Sharia, Report, PEW Survey, April 30, 2013

[20] K.M. Seethi, Killings, Suppression and the Blasphemy Ruse: Pakistan’s Minorities Are Beleaguered, The Wire, Feb 3, 2022

(2) Abid Hussain, Pakistan’s top rights group raises ‘alarm’ on religious freedom, Al-Jazeera, Feb 8, 2023

[21] Adnan Qaiser (Author), Pakistan’s Civil-Military Relations: Internal Battlefronts Exposed from Media Leak, Global Village Space, Oct 14, 2016

[22] Media Conference Call: Daniel Markey and Cameron Munter, Council on Foreign Relations, May 15, 2013

[23] 1999 coup: Commission demanded to investigate ‘hijacking case’, The Express Tribune, May 25, 2013

[24] On Eve of Elections, a Dismal Public Mood in Pakistan, Report, PEW Research Center, May 7, 2013

[25] Huma Yusuf, ‘Sectarian violence: Pakistan’s greatest security threat’? Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre, Jul 2012

[26] Lidia Leoni, Analyzing Failure: Pakistan & the Failed States Index, IPCS Special Report 137, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, Oct 2012

[27] Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2012

[28] Next Generation Goes to the Ballot Box (Pakistan), British Council Survey, 2013

PDF Report:

[29] Shahid Ashraf, Tim Sowula, ‘Next generation in Pakistan pessimistic,British Council, April 3, 2013

[30] Anatol Lieven, Pakistan: A Hard Country,” Penguin Books (2012), pp 209 to 211

[31] Edited by Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan Beyond the “Crisis State,” Columbia University Press/Hurst, (June 7, 2011), pp. 320

[32] Pakistan’s Road to Disintegration, Interview with Stephen P. Cohen, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, Jan 6, 2011

[33] Aparna Pande, The fragile state of Pakistan, GIS Reports, Jan 25, 2023

[34] Christophe Jaffrelot, Pakistan at the Crossroads, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Apr 19, 2016

Also see:

(2) Zahid Hussain, State of a rentier economy, Dawn, May 18, 2022

[35] Pakistani Ministers, Political Allies, Military Officers Named in Offshore Financial Data Leak, The Wire, Oct 4, 2021

[36] UK Parliament, ‘International Development Committee publishes report on Pakistan’, United Kingdom Parliament, April 4, 2013

[37] Michael Kugelman & Ishrat Husain, Pakistan’s Institutions: We Know They Matter, But How Can They Work Better?, Asia Program, Wilson Center, 2018

PDF Report:

[38] Ishrat Hussain, ‘Retooling Institutions’,Pakistan Beyond the Crisis State, Oxford University Press, (2011), p-149

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A Canadian of Pakistani origin, Adnan Qaiser began his professional career as a commissioned officer in the Pakistan Army, taking early release as a Major. Working at various command and staff positions he developed a thorough understanding of national politics, civil and military relations, intelligence establishment, regional geopolitics and the security and policy issues that surround them. Moving on to international diplomacy on his next career ladder, he fostered political, economic and cultural relations at bilateral and multilateral platforms, watching closely some of the most turbulent times in the South Asian, Far Eastern and Middle Eastern politics from a G7 perspective. Immigrating to Canada in 2001, he kept upgrading his education, while maintaining memberships and affiliations with various industry verticals for his professional development. Adnan has worked at key positions in public, private and not-for-profit organizations. Speaking many of the languages and having deep insight into the region he keeps publishing papers on South Asia (Pakistan and India), Afghanistan, United States, China, Middle East, religious extremism and radicalization. Adnan has been a regular commentator at Canadian and Pakistani televisions and occasionally gives online talks at YouTube. Having been associated with the Conference of Defence Associations Institute, Canada since 2009, Adnan has delivered talks at think-tanks like CDA Institute and Canadian International Council (CIC). Adnan holds a Level-II (Secret) security clearance from the Government of Canada. He Tweets @adnanqaiser01 and can be reached at: [email protected]