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Viability of a democratic order by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

From human rights and religious perspective it holds true that all men (or women) are created equal. But from a political perspective all men are not created equal rather some have an inherent advantage over others because of family wealth, education and other factors. A child born to a poor family that cannot educate him is at a disadvantage to a child born to a wealthy family that can offer him enrollment in prestigious institutions of learning. It is this question of political inequality that all social systems try to address. Communists believe that wealth of the nation belongs to all and that inequality should be suppressed through state action. Communism consider religion as one of the sources of inequality and reject it on that basis. Socialists on the other hand argue that those with higher wealth should be taxed more so that the resources are available to provide for less fortunate. Capitalists believe that the talent and capacity of an individual should enable him to overcome the disadvantage by providing a level playing field to all regardless of their social and financial status. Islam lays the burden on the wealthy individual to come forward and voluntarily engage in charity to share with others. Islam proposes that differences in wealth of individuals is a necessary condition of a human existence and cannot be eliminated by artificial human intervention.

Political inequality is not limited to social status and financial condition, it also expresses itself in depriving segments of the society of a freedom of expression. The Roman Republic granted franchise only to aristocrats who elected Senators from among themselves. When Roman Empire expanded to include conquered territories they had to expand the franchise by creating a bicameral system in which commons elected their own representative. In United States after independence the franchise was limited to White male adults. In Europe in the early years of democracies it was limited to landed aristocracy. This situation changed when industrialization empowered larger segment of the society which demanded voice in the affairs of the state. Islam from its very beginning offered franchise right to all of its members both men and women. The last Hajj sermon of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) made it clear that there is no distinction between members of the community on the basis of their race, social status or gender. It seems many in Pakistan are still living in the past as during last general elections some learned men suggested that franchise in Pakistan should be limited to educated people only as uneducated ones are not qualified to exercise their vote.

Democracy is nothing but an expression of right of every citizen to have a voice in the affairs of the state. When suggestion is made by some opinion makers that democracy has failed so it should be abandoned, it indirectly implies that some segments of the society should be deprived of their voice. Another idea promoted in Pakistan is that it is important to save the state rather than democracy. A State is the political structure that holds the nation together. A stronger nation is a prerequisite for a stronger state as it is the political expression of it. In the absence of politics that allows voice to each and every citizen the State cannot exist. The proposal that through military intervention the state can be saved is devoid of political understanding. It is actually the other way around. Military intervention can ultimately destroy the state because it is oppressive in nature.

From Islamic perspective ethnicity is not a political unit rather a cultural identity. Islam advises us to respect the ethnic identities and celebrate diversity of mankind. Islam rejected the idea of ethnicity linked to the land and promotes free movement of individual. Migration of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) to Medina and adopting it as a home was an expression of that idea. It was this freedom that encouraged Muslims to travel to far off places to settle and become full member of their new homeland. From our perspective, for instance, a Sindhi or a Punjabi or a Pathan or Baloch or Seraiki or Mohajir etc cannot be tied to a particular land but rather grouping of people that pursue a unique language, tradition and cuisine. A Sindhi, for example, will remain so whether he lives in Punjab, Balochistan or England. It is the failure of politicians and religious scholars to explain these ideas to people which ultimately result in misguided policies that become hindrance in nation building.

The task in Pakistan is to build a stronger nation which is only possible through the development of politics in which there is equitable participation of all. Our inability to conduct academic research on subjects like anthropology and social sciences is hindering finding solutions to many of these issues. Wealthy individuals need to come forward to offer grants to the universities to conduct research on these important subjects.

Pakistan is at an interesting intersection of its evolution. Large segment of its urban middle class and educated rural elites have awakened to the idea that the prevailing conditions need to change. They might be able to bring social change but for that they would need a platform that promotes their agenda. PML N and PPP as status quo parties are unable to provide that platform. Jamat-e-Islami is restricted by its narrow religiosity and is unable to include masses in its institutional development. Pakistan Tehrike Insaaf (PTI) is the only party that has the potential to provide a forum but it is now increasingly controlled by the status quo elements. In the absence of affecting the transformation of the nation peacefully, the chances are that many of these young reformists will turn to extremist organization for help. The dangers are real and the ISIS graffiti appearing in cities like Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar should ring alarm bells in the political circles.

We have a historic opportunity at hand to redefine our path and the future vision to pursue. All of us have to take part in this moment to further the cause whether we are an academic, politician, journalist or artist. We can’t afford to miss this opportunity.

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