Pakistan after the Arab Insurrections

Anjum Altaf in The South Asian Idea:

Pakistan_protest The fact that voters prefer a particular set of political representatives does not mean, however, that they are under any illusions regarding their moral probity. On the contrary, virtually every voter characterizes the representatives as thieves – “they are all thieves” is the most frequently heard phrase in the country. Even staunch supporters of a party do not disagree with this verdict; they just prefer their own set of thieves to someone else’s.

Given this perception, what form of governance would the people prefer instead? It is here that things get complicated and the main differences from Egypt and Tunisia become clear. Pakistan has not been frozen in time under authoritarian rulers who have been around for three or more decades, who routinely get elected by over 90 percent of the vote, who have crippled all secular opposition, cracked down on the religious parties, and muzzled the expression of popular opinion.

Quite the contrary: the media are free, political parties form and disband at will, elections are held from time to time, and religious elements are patronized and given extensive leeway in the service of power. Over the 60-plus years of its existence virtually all modes of governance have been tried in Pakistan – feudal, military, populist, left socialist, Islamic socialist, technocratic, corporate, etc. All have failed to deliver tangible benefits to the vast majority of the population that in economic terms is now gasping for survival.

One implication of this is that the overwhelming yearning in Pakistan, unlike the Arab countries, is not for freedom or release from suffocation. People in Pakistan are quite free – they may be free to die of many preventable causes but they are free nonetheless. The latent demand is for good governance.

More here.