The West, led by the US has been struggling to introduce democracy into Middle East and other parts of the third world. They have spent trillions of dollars, lost thousands of men and women of their own, killing thousands of others in countries where democracy was to be introduced. Let us review what went wrong in the pursuit of this apparently very noble cause.

The concept and meaning of democracy has evolved over the ages and across the geographic space around the globe. Abraham Lincoln said, “Democracy is a government of the people, for the people and by the people”. Where in some corners of the world it is delivering true to its meaning, in certain other parts it is piecemeal and its ill-prepared implementation is leading countries to anarchies and civil wars. Why?

While interpreting the word “people”, it is however, your own people for whose well-being and progress the powerful nations have been seeking justifications to trample over people of other countries and regions to the limits of killing them while destroying and pushing their countries to the stone age. In the global context therefore, has the practiced concept of democracy delivered to the common good of international society of which a human being is the central character? Has the model of Westminster Democracy, declared as the mother of all democracies, and being forced across the world notwithstanding the regional dynamics, delivered towards the common good of humanity?

If the experiences of the recent past with enforced democracy in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria is of any consequence, it amply proves that the concept has mostly not worked for a variety of reasons. First, the motives of occupation forces never convinced the majority of the populous in the essence and concept of democracy, meaning thereby, that they were fully cognisant of their ulterior motives rather than their love for implementing democracy. Second, quite a few of the practiced norms were and are considered at a tangent to the basic beliefs and norms of target countries and societies. Third, the use of force and coercion used as tools in implementing one’s own agenda of loot and plunder while exploiting poverty and lack of education has backfired and helped the international community in no way. Fourth, in pursuit of their stated objectives the big powers join hands with incompetent and corrupt domestic leadership while demonising genuine leadership thus attempting to create a leadership drought at the peril of the very concept and essence of democracy. Fifth, in the name of social development and progress, target countries are bombarded with franchises of multinational corporations and international NGOs to arm twist and force the domestic leadership in implementing their agendas usually to the discomfort of domestic communities. This has also worked against indigenous development of consumer goods aimed at their dependence on coercing forces. Abraham Lincoln said, “If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.”

What therefore, needs to be done if there is a genuine desire to implement democracy in its true spirit for universal benefit across the globe? One, it would be a nonstarter as it had been in the past if the true followers of democracy do not consider the genuine well-being of the target country at the top of their priorities. In the current style and norms of power politics, this is easier said than done. Two, respect for domestic sensitivities while implementing democracy in its essence will to a great extent assist in achieving the stated objectives. Three, extending across the board assistance to genuine leadership rather than propped up and artificial leadership will largely lead to genuine domestic progress besides positively disposing the people to their international obligations. Four, the role of international powers in regional conflicts has unfortunately been hostage to power politics and selective morality. World powers have to reconsider their approach towards resolving outstanding conflicts if genuine democracy has to take its roots in these regions. Five, domestic institutions with influence and power must be guided to support democratic dispensations in taking roots through genuine participatory system. Six, an across the board effort by the international community for social development including institution-building in affected regions with no strings attached will in essence be the greatest service to genuine democracy. Nelson Mandela rightly said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

To the people of Pakistan, the essence of democracy can be found in the statement of the father of the nation when he said, “you have to stand guard over the development and maintenance of Islamic democracy, Islamic social justice, and the equality of manhood in your own native soil.” If the US Supreme Court can keep a copy of the Quran and consult it in dispensing justice, and the Thomas Jefferson building housing the US Congress library has a mural depicting nations and ideas that have contributed to American civilisation in which Islam’s contribution is predominantly seen, why then can Islamic ideas and civilisation not contribute towards the implementation of true democracy in other countries around the world? Similarly, in other western countries, many Islamic ideas are practiced in their true spirit than many Islamic countries, which need to be learnt and used in the struggle for democracy, to which the greater domestic communities will positively respond.

These are some random thoughts and questions that come to the mind of every informed human being wishing and aspiring for genuine participatory democracy. If democracy has to have its meaning and practice acceptable to all, its advocates would have to give up selective implementation of its essence and pass on its true benefits to those who are wilfully deprived of these in the name of national interest.


The writer is a retired Major General of Pakistan Army and currently Director General Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies – an Islamabad-based independent think tank.