Dangers to democracy in Pakistan are varied and real. From the outside, the establishment has been, is and, in all probability, will remain to be the biggest threat, at least for a foreseeable future.

It was easy for the PML-N to put the whole blame of conspiratorial sit-ins in D chowk on the establishment’s machinations to make a comeback to the territories it actually does not belong in and had to recede during the process of Musharraf’s downfall. But, could the establishment have succeeded so easily if the PML-N had not rigged the last general elections with the blessings of establishment? Or if the mixed bag of power-lust and revenge had not driven Imran Khan crazy (knowing well that getting power was a long shot even if there had been no rigging at all)? Are not the vanity and opportunism of the current political lot not as big a threat to democracy as the ambition of the men in khaki?

PML-N, PPP and PTI; all of them have been shying away from establishing truly independent and powerful local governments. First they left no stone unturned to wriggle out of holding elections for local bodies but when the Supreme Court came down hard upon them they unwillingly held elections. KP has still to see all powers and funds to be transferred to local governments while governments of Sindh, Punjab and Islamabad, quite unashamedly, have not bothered to even pretend to establish them yet – even after months have passed since the elections. You can take the horse to water but you cannot make him drink.

On accountability – a very important component of democracy – sense of impunity is still to be shattered. Our politicians can out of anything under the sun: mega corruption, massive rigging, misuse of power, even a full-scale massacre, what to speak of high level impeachments or convictions, milestone of high profile resignations has yet to be reached. Meanwhile judicial decisions are frustrated. Judicial commission reports find their way under the carpet, public pressure gets evaporated with effective “media management”, relevant institutions are castrated through compromised heads and mega scandals become an object of ridicule with committees and commissions that never complete their assigned tasks.

Internal democracy is non-existent in all major parties, more so in the PTI, that carved out a lot of its vote back out of middle class through championing the cause. Heads of parties are like CEOs of companies. Smooth transition from one generation to the next has been recently accomplished in the PPP; is under way in the PML-N with all signs of success; and is still a guesswork for the PTI, albeit for the only reason that successors are too young yet, and living in London, their interest in Pakistani politics is subject to uncertainty.

Transparency in electoral process is still a dream which will remain so in the absence of neutral election commissions, impartial state machinery and effective post-election judicial processes – all of which contribute in formation of governments which may not necessarily be having public mandate or which may be a result of distortions in public mandate. Pre-election and election-day rigging is the art work of first two institutions, everyone knows it; what may not be in the knowledge of ordinary Joes is the fact that a systematic post-election rigging mechanism is also at play in our polity. Once a party or a candidate is returned after rigging elections they are almost unlikely to be de-seated by our judicial system – both for inherent defects of system and for deliberate maneuvering of them by those functioning at different layers of our judicial system. Deficient legislative frame work, far from ideal judicial functioning and involvement of big money: all contribute to the favors that those parties and candidates enjoy who normally have the wherewithal to do the rigging in the first place.

New political forces should be the answer to all the above-mentioned wrongdoings that plague the existing political parties. Not a single political party emerged on its own, without any outside nursing and nurturing, since the inception of the PPP? There is no denying the fact that since the 1970s Pakistan’s politics has generally been in a phase of virtual inertia. Some basic reasons can easily explain away this infertility of our political system. One, heavy doses of religiosity coupled with firm hold on state power have proved to be effective tools in the hands of the ruling elites to ensure conformity to the status quo. Two,the specter of the armed and handy non-state actors has been used as an effective deterrent for the rise of any new left force. Three, media generally and the corporate media in particular is inherently pro status quo. It effectively nips anything new in the bud that has the potential to disturb the prevalent order, with the tools like blackouts, doctored propaganda and negative coverage. Last but not the least, preceding decades since the creation of Pakistan generally, and last three decades after Zia’s take-over in particular, fully qualify to be the lost or dark decades of our existence in which large-scale stagnation in all fields has been the national hallmark, and politics is no exception.

Having said that, the democratic process in such an undemocratically disposed nation as ours has to evolve painfully slowly. It has to be a gradual process with a consistent push from intelligentsia, public, media and civil society. And if this democratic project has to succeed, consistency is key.