A village named Purana Sanghar near Balakot had suffered massive destruction due to the earthquake of 8 October, 2005. Residents say there was death and destruction everywhere. People had lost their homes and livestock in few minutes.

After the earthquake, the local people worked tirelessly to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives to rebuild their homes and livelihoods, to move forward.

People of Purana Sanghar spent their lives in that struggle for the next 12 years. Finding means and ways to survive and get the basic facilities, they once used to enjoy pre-2005 earthquake. But in 2017, a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Gulgotho – a common disease in livestock – struck the village killing more than 150 animals.

Most of the gains made during these 12 years were lost. People were terrified and livid with the situation as that area is mostly rain-fed leaving people to be largely dependent on livestock.

Then a local influencer rose and decided to tackle the problem. He gathered the community elders and decided to approach the authorities for interference and get a veterinary doctor for their livestock. Their initial overtures were met with excuses like shortage of funds or they were told to contact another department. The locals were dismayed.

A local community service organisation, the same year, took stock of the situation and decided to step in. They called a meeting of not just the people of that village but also nearby villages. They had an internal discussion and decided to approach the authorities again. Seeing the large numbers outside the office, the authorities promised to find a solution. Community mobilisation bore fruits. Two weeks later, they were informed that a scheme had been approved and that a veterinary doctor will be appointed and medicines will also be made available.  Today, the clinic is set up and about 60 animals benefit from the clinic on a daily basis.

The above story was not about livestock. It was about community’s resilience and decision to become a part of governance by holding the authorities accountable. This is what democracy is, right?

On 15th September, the whole world celebrated International Day of Democracy. We revered and appreciated the spirit of the system.

But moving away from that village in Balakot to national level, we see democracy losing its charm due to successive failures of individuals. This trend is very unfair on the system because the individuals failed. The system was not tested at full throttle. All the pieces of the puzzle were not put together.

“An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as free people.” The quote, essentially, points out that for citizens to be free, it is a must that they are educated.

And Balakot’s story is about the informed and active citizens who took part in the system that was broken. That was democracy at its very best. Delivering services to the citizens according to the wishes of the people. People outlined their demands themselves and made the authorities bow before them.

And this is the missing piece in jigsaw puzzle of Pakistan’s democracy: Informed electorate and responsive government. They go hand in hand. You would hear these terms whenever there is a mention of democracy in the western world. But unfortunately, there is very little discourse in our land of the pure on this subject.

Here, unfortunately, democracy for the general public has largely been reduced to the 5-year election cycle. You vote on the election day and your civic responsibility is over. You can sit back and watch the rulers implement your wishes. Pretty utopian. Reality is far from it.

Democracy is like machinery. Each moving part is dependent on the other one. One non-functioning part can bring down the whole system to crumble. And this is what has happened in Pakistan.

Having an informed electorate and responsive government is part of a process called social accountability. And this process is what we need. An electorate that is informed not just during the election cycle but even after that to activate participatory governance and we also need governments and authorities that are responsive to the public.

You have that and you’ll see democracy (at least as a governance system) functioning like well-oiled machinery. And it may well alleviate the bottlenecks plaguing service delivery in Pakistan where people have to wait decades to get basic infrastructure essential to life.


Afsana Afsar