“Politics is a dirty business” – this is what people in general believe. There is one convincing justification that is of great practical importance: since known human history politics has been a business of blood, lies, murders, destructive wars and all the mess.  Therefore, this is a dirty business. But we, in this limited context, do not agree with such views about politics. Per contra, we think it is the person who makes something bad or good and so is the case with politics. Politics, inherently, is not dirty but it has been made ignoble and mean-spirited by those who practice it.

The love of power in almost all human beings, as Bertrand Russell argues, is a natural phenomenon. Therefore, everyone struggles for it. In a broader perspective, we see in every society various groups that have competing and conflicting interests, struggle for war. And this struggle for power, as a rule, is politics.

In Pakistan, since its inception, there have been different groups having different strategies to gain power and glory. Because of vested interests of the political elite of Pakistan, politics has greatly become a dirty business. In this article we intend to present a historical account of Pakistani politics with an intention to draw reasonable conclusion as to what the political discourse in Pakistan will be in the years to come.

There have been various issues in the process of democratization of Pakistan and we, as the students of Pakistani politics, dare to point out those issue for the lay-public. And we end this article with a hopeful conclusion that soon Pakistan will become a true democracy.

Let’s move forward.

Religionization of Pakistani politics: The unforgettable past

Why was Pakistan created? What were the intentions of those who worked hard and played a fundamental part in the creation of this state? And what were the motives and vested interests of those who didn’t support the establishment of this country? These are very interesting and important questions to discuss, debate and answer. But the fact is that it has become almost an established norm in Pakistani intellectual culture to get stuck into this self-created debate and let nobody go beyond this deliberately generated confusion.  We, at any level, do not intend to undermine the great importance of these questions with reference to both the ideology and future of our dear homeland, yet we do not want to be indulged into this useless intellectual puzzle. Also, this is not in the scope of this brief piece that has certain limitations. So, let’s start the history of our politics from 14th August, 1947.

There has, since the inception of Pakistan, been a debate regarding religion and politics or to put it more accurately, to determine the role of religion in politics or state affairs, if any. In early days, the debate was perfectly on intellectual grounds and a battle was fought between two schools of thought: the conservatives and the modernists. Both had their own justifications in support of their views and ideologies, but there were very few who could actually comprehend and anticipate that those debates were actually determining and shaping the future discourse of Pakistani politics.  Being students of Muslim political thought we are well aware about conservative and modernists in Muslim intellectual heritage, so this debate at that level was nothing novel, at least not for us.  But that this debate would become the subject matter of Pakistani street politics perhaps, nobody knew at the time.

Since then there have been two active and one passive schools of thought in Pakistani society. The conservatives; who won the battle, and the modernists; who didn’t stop propagating and advocating their leftist ideologies, are active schools. A large segment of Pakistani society that is most of the time silent, is the passive school in this particular context. But now this silent spectator-like school is changing---may be changing more rapidly--- we will discuss it below in more detail.

First our society was religionized on the principles of brotherhood, tolerance, respect and high morals, but political complexities and narrow purposes of political and religious elite soon substantially changed the whole narrative. And the word 'kafir' (nonbeliever) become an easy tool for those who proclaim monopoly over, not only religion, but everything to exclude their religious and political opponents from the religious, social and political spheres. This was the beginning of extremism in our society. Sadly.

Military dictators did understand politics better than our confused civilian politicians and used religion in a more advanced manner to gain legitimacy. And in 1980s things become entirely changed when our society, with the help of foreign powers, was greatly radicalized. In such highly radicalized society everything got changed: education, religion, politics and whole society.

This bitter combination of extremism and radicalism ultimately made our society confused, short-tempered and politically un-aware. In this scenario, religion was greatly exploited and people have been fooled more than ever before. The focus of political elite remain power and for the masses the war of words turned into the war of bullets and suicide attacks.

Civilian political elite: A tale of demagogues

The fact is that gods of democracy have been worshipped by poor, illiterate and over-emotional Pakistanis throughout our political history for several reasons. In return, Pakistanis got nothing but poverty, illiteracy, religious extremism and an overall governance failure. 

Democracy, in its widest sense, is an attitude. Interestingly, almost all Pakistani politicians fit into some other category, if we talk about their attitudes in politics. Democracy, if it is to flourish, argues Bertrand Russell, should be subordinate to public opinion. Public opinion is important for various psychological and political reasons. Psychologically, it trains the nation politically and makes democracy stable and consolidated. In a country, like Pakistan where public is considered nothing but a collection of lunatics who do not understand anything, democracy is intentionally not introduced by civilian political elite as this system will definitely make people able to question the existing traditional power structure and also sane people will raise their voice to demand their rights – at least fundamental rights. 

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, for instance, is considered an awami leader, but in actuality, politically speaking, his desire for power---may be absolute power---- was almost incapable of being completely satisfied, which ultimately caused his sad demise. Bhutto dynasty that is based upon Bhutto’s political ideals has its own version of democracy that is closer to monarchy. In Bhutto’s version of democracy personalities matter more than rules and institutions.  And above all, party leadership must keep the word Bhutto above anything else because Bhutto “Aaj bhi zinda hai,” they believe.

The Sharif family has its own version of democracy which in theoretical sense does not essentially differ from that of the Bhuttos, but in practice it has somehow different tactics to rule. Theoretically, unlike Bhutto, Sharif is not ‘zinda’ but in this case it’s the 'sher' that arrives.

Both have several points in common. For instance, both firmly believe in political rhetoric, lies and deceiving the public and compromising with the opposition. The principle they follow is quite simple: the one who deceives better, receives better.

Apart from these two dynasties other regional or local political parties have their own version of democracy and definition of national interests. But nobody thinks of the public---public opinion, this is common in all despite some differences.

The future discourse of Pakistani politics: What, and how, will it change?

Twenty-first century Pakistan, in a certain socio-political context, is like Medieval Ages Europe. Let’s recall history; there was the church to decide everything from the standards of truth to the state affairs; the priests were to work as medical-men and jurists; and there was, as a rule, a dire threat for those who dared to ‘think’.

Let’s have a look at our society: the religious elite decides who is true Muslim and who is not, what is right and what is unholy, and who to live and who to be butchered? Above all, like the Dark Ages, freethinking in contemporary Pakistan is although not explicitly a crime, yet is tantamount to sin.

In recent political trends, street violence has been the most powerful and almost an agreed-upon way of doing power politics in Pakistan. This, apart from other notorious bloody tactics, made Pakistani politics dirty. And this street violence or the threat of violence kept educated Pakistani middle class far away from politics. This is, we suspect, what our political elite wished for.

As a matter of reality, things are changing now – may be changing for the good – but it should be kept in mind that this attitudinal political change will take time. May be it needs generations, like in Britain and USA, to become mature.

The waves of uncertainty in Pakistani political power structure become observable when educated Pakistani middleclass (youth) came into political arena.  There was a little feel of change during pre-2013-elections, but things changed remarkably in post-election era. This change was not merely political, rather it changed the intellectual discourse of Pakistani politics in two ways. First, the politics, to a great extent, is becoming irreligious. People have decided not to be fooled in the name of religion any more. Second, temporary popularity of demagogues have been shattered away by the public intellectuals through social media by exposing their real interests—faces. So, it changed the interests of the governed as well. People, to a considerable extent, moved from the myth of reverence to the idea of governance.  

It can now be assessed and stated that the old narratives and discourse of Pakistani politics is changing. The irrationality in its all outlooks is being questioned by experienced and rational individuals. Religion, as a tool to fool and rule, will no longer be a characteristic of Pakistani politics. The journey of rationalization of Pakistani society has just started and hopefully it will be accomplished in years to come. It is evident that that Pakistanis, like those in the Renaissance in Europe, have started questioning. And this is how things ultimately change.

With this hopeful conclusion that Pakistani is changing----let’s keep on contributing our part to make it stable and prosperous.