January 15th, 2013
09:51 PM ET

Will democracy be derailed in Pakistan?

By Hassan Abbas, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Hassan Abbas is an academic and a senior advisor at the Asia Society. The views expressed are his own.

Pakistan is only months away from a first: a democratically elected government is slated to hand over power to another democratically elected government. Too bad few in Pakistan are in a celebratory mood.

The lack of excitement is due, in part, to a worsening economic situation and rampant corruption. Today, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf over fraud related to power plant deals. The previous day, Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, a former elected parliamentarian and an important religious figure who just returned from Canada, led tens of thousands of people in a protest against political corruption in the capital of Islamabad.

Taking control of the reins of government after a long military rule is never easy. Often people expect quick results and don’t fully realize the damage done to both the polity and society by dictators. They dream of jobs, justice and security, but it takes decades to build foundations of systems that deliver such goals in a progressive fashion. That said, if the transition can happen without any extra constitutional step, elections expected between April to June this year could be an important move toward a more successful Pakistan.

Despite the rocky five-year reign of the current civilian government, there are signs – both symbolic and tangible – of hope. The country’s recent cricket victory against India on Indian grounds brought a reason for cheer to the faces of its distressed populace. Bilateral visa relaxations with India and better regional trade prospects deserve recognition and Western support, though a recent skirmish in the Kashmir zone was an unfortunate reminder of tensions.

Furthermore, Pakistan’s “negotiations” with the Taliban are continuing, and some progress is indeed being made in the so-called reconciliation efforts and on increased collaboration between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The invisible push from D.C. is finally working.

Still, at best, one can only be cautiously optimistic about an amicably reached final settlement that will bring peace to the region, especially Afghanistan. Manipulating and distorting Islam has become an art for the Taliban, and no one can confidently predict what new slogan will be employed by them after the projected 2014 U.S. exit. Even if the moderate elements among the Taliban are successfully co-opted, it is unlikely the Pakistani Taliban will lay down arms voluntarily and follow their “brothers in arms” across the Pushtun frontier.

More from GPS: Yes, it could get worse

But a heartening story is emerging from the Hazara Shia community in Balochistan. The results of a brutal genocide of their religious community are still playing out, but their peaceful response created a new precedent in the history of nonviolent protests. The Hazara Shia refused to bury the 87 victims of the most recent terrorist attack in Quetta and camped in freezing conditions with the wrapped bodies for over three days demanding justice. Protesters included small children and women from the families of the victims, and their plight touched the hearts of Pakistanis around the country. Within just a few hours, thousands of people – rising above any ethnic or political affinities – came out in the streets across the country to show solidarity with these matchless campaigners. All this happened in the midst of the significant threat of terrorism to these processions. This surge of support forced the political leadership to move out of its slumber and dismiss the Balochistan government. A democratic remedy of this tragedy is no mean feat. The fact that the protesters remained peaceful is an even a brighter sign for the moral health of the society.

Everyday Pakistanis, however, still face troubling violence in their everyday lives due to a rising wave of criminal activity in Karachi and continued militancy in the Pak-Afghan tribal. Low investment in law enforcement and the rule of law, as well as failure to bring the tribal areas into the mainstream, has not helped security issues. No one in the corridors of power seems to be pushing for the education of the tens of millions of young Pakistanis who face unemployment and frustration. No wonder that Imran Khan, a rising political star, had earlier attracted mammoth crowds across the country challenging the status quo. The tens of thousands now camping on the streets of Islamabad as part of a “long march” under Tahir ul-Qadri, are also bracing against the cold, along with women and children, to vent their discontent. Qadri’s demands are too ambitious and beyond what the constitution permits, but his supporters’ desire to bring change appear genuine.

These public outpourings have also created fear about the derailment of the train of democracy. An activist judiciary and alarmed military are creating suspicion. That said, it is likely Pakistan will continue to inch towards national elections in the coming months and people will speak through their votes.

Ultimately, the effectiveness of governance models adopted by the state, and the quality of leadership, are the key to a stable future. Indeed, the teachings of Ali Ibn Abi Talib, the “patron saint” of Islam and a great Muslim leader of yesteryear, are relevant. He argued that the best preparation for becoming a leader is to be in “the service of mankind,” and he warned that, “abandoning equity and justice leads to tyranny and oppression.” In Pakistan, future leaders must be guided by such wisdom.

Post by:
Topics: Asia • Pakistan

soundoff (73 Responses)
  1. rightospeak

    Democracy is an empty word, for not many countries have it. At least in Pakistan big crooks are going to jail while our big crooks are protected and our Supreme Court is on the take. Our "democracy" is a Bankers Olympus.

    January 15, 2013 at 10:00 pm | Reply
    • drones lov pakis

      hahaaa...you comparing the democracy of the world's super power to ur pathetic cesspit that survives on alms from US..???..firs tu need to grow a spine and stop begging..learn to be a country first....get at least one other country in the world to call you anyhting other than epicenter of world terror..then u can attempt talking of 'democracy' in your cesspit

      January 16, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Reply
      • JL

        craigsmail66@nc.rr.com says that's awesomest

        January 22, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
    • G-d is great

      Truth be told these protests are fake, a feeble attempt to fool the world of the kind of hatred Pakistan harbors for non-muslims. The proof is in the pudding. Pakistan has a history of bilking US taxpayer billions from a foolish White House and using these funds to kill US troops and Afghanistan, murder Daniel Pearl, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his six months pregnant wife Rivka Holtzberg and countless Shia Muslims, Baloch, Hazara, Hindoo, Sikh and Christians.
      This evidence continues shames Pakistanis at home and abroad is their own doing and sadly can not be changed.

      January 19, 2013 at 6:30 am | Reply
    • JL

      craigsmail66@nc.rr.com says that's awesome

      January 22, 2013 at 3:26 pm | Reply
    • Raza Khan

      how can we in Pakistan celebrate a democratic government thats is formed only with the approval of US and now when we are at the tipping point and want actual change in our country US once again will meddle in our internal affairs and rig the elections to once again form a compromised govt. Change is all that imminent, but will US eliminate the representatives of change as they did before? Will they once again control the elections through backdoor channels? or will the pubic get united to beat their nefarious agenda by flocking the polling stations to elect the face of CHANGE?

      January 24, 2013 at 1:13 am | Reply
  2. Ali

    What Democracy Give us? more then 800 bomb blast last year and leaders who are breaking records of corruption.We dont need this kind of democracy..What we need is mission clean sweep led by Imran Khan.

    January 15, 2013 at 11:35 pm | Reply
    • Karim

      Imran Khan had said that he will “declare jihad to save Pakistan”. Jihad is the solution to all problems in Pakistan. Declare Jihad on everyone, everything, everywhere.

      January 16, 2013 at 2:26 am | Reply
    • drones lov pakis

      hahaa..wans'nt this imaran khan the same guy that did a walkathon protesting against drone strikes..?? and his amrch was promptly followed by several drone hits..??? hahahahaha

      January 16, 2013 at 1:08 pm | Reply
    • Quigley

      Yours is the most sensible comment I've seen on this web page, Ali. Just ignore these uneducated lemmings here like this drones lov pakis above, since this bozo probably never got past the 4th grade in school!

      January 16, 2013 at 7:30 pm | Reply
    • anilsk

      It is a country derailed not just democracy.

      January 17, 2013 at 10:53 am | Reply
      • JL

        craigsmail66@nc.rr.com says that's awesomert

        January 22, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
  3. Abdul

    Democracy has no place in Islam

    January 16, 2013 at 12:51 am | Reply
    • Andrey

      Democracy is when people abdicate rule to corrupt politicians serving country's financial elite. So you are right: democracy actually does not belong everywhere: only to the countries with already brainwashed populace. How long did it take for people in your country to become so fat complacent couch-potatoes? That is how long it should take to establish "democracy" in from the fresh.

      January 16, 2013 at 10:05 am | Reply
    • Yolo

      Islam is democracy! It is the people's religion.

      January 16, 2013 at 5:24 pm | Reply
      • Tall Guy

        Islam is the religion of terror, hate and killing.

        January 16, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
      • Nirvana11

        Watch this islamic advocate of democracy.

        January 18, 2013 at 11:27 pm |
      • JL

        craigsmail66@nc.rr.com says that's awesome as can be

        January 22, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
  4. naveed

    do agree with quoted
    "Taking control of the reins of government after a long military rule is never easy. Often people expect quick results and don’t fully realize the damage done to both the polity and society by dictators."
    issue is not time issue is they did not even started yet! PPP government has history of bad governance due to lack of management (right people to run Gov) the result is obvious

    January 16, 2013 at 6:11 am | Reply
    • JL

      craigsmail66@nc.rr.com says that's awesomer than you spam me please

      January 22, 2013 at 3:30 pm | Reply
  5. Javed

    Democracy should be replaced by the rule of Sharia Law as soon as possible. Shia and Ahmadi have ruined Pakistan – they will be made to pay.

    January 16, 2013 at 8:28 am | Reply
    • Yolo

      Actually radical Deobandi Sunni Terrorists ruined Pakistan by killing millions of people and bombing the entire country. As far as I know, when Qaid e Azam and Benazier Bhutto were presidents, both of which were SHIA, bombings, terrorist attacks, and the Shia Genocide weren't going on! Terrorism was promoted and grew under the first Wahabi president Zia ul Haq and after his reign, there were terrorists and attacks! We need moderate people who are actually willing to work to come into parliament!

      January 16, 2013 at 5:27 pm | Reply
    • sini

      This Javed is the ugly head for democracy and he should be trumped down below earth with all available force. This
      is what every where in the world who wants democracy is fighting for . It is shame this guy showed up here.

      January 21, 2013 at 8:17 pm | Reply
    • jmchoudry

      Can you plz. elaborate your non-sense comment,how Ahmadies ruined Pakistan?Did they come in power anytime?

      January 22, 2013 at 5:07 pm | Reply
  6. Akbar Khan

    Screw democracy which is an imported system of imperialists like USA.
    We need to change Pakistan to harsh punishment as ancestors had created before us. Politician or anyone get caught stealing, chop their hand and foot off. Rapist must be stoned, women should be covered up as in other great Islamic countries. Strict Sharia system is the only answer that can save Pakistan from becoming a cesspool like the" West" and India. Pakistan is already a world nuke power all we need is to go back to our real roots as they say to a real system of what Islam teaches us and Inshallah all will be great again.

    January 16, 2013 at 8:31 am | Reply
    • Mohammad A Dar

      what are you saying bring back Mogul rules, goon?

      January 16, 2013 at 5:52 pm | Reply
    • Roots

      Akabar Khan, if you want go back to roots you have to convert back to a Hindu.

      January 17, 2013 at 8:03 pm | Reply
  7. j. von hettlingen

    The Hazara Shia community in Balochistan was remarkable by resorting to non-violence to have their grievances heard. The government in Islamabad tried to placate the Shia protesters, by holding crisis talks with them in Quetta, who were demanding protection after bomb blasts. Quetta's 500,000-strong Hazara Shia community was originally from Afghanistan and had established itself in the city over several generations. They are citizens of Pakistan and have the right to protection, but the Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi sees them as heretics and wants to eradicate them.

    January 16, 2013 at 9:28 am | Reply
    • Habib

      The only goal these Hazara Shia have is to make Pakistan look bad in front of the whole world. These Shia shamelessly made all Pakistanis look like murderers to the entire international community. Pakistanis need to rise up and solve the Shia problem by Jihad.

      January 16, 2013 at 12:37 pm | Reply
      • Yolo

        Actually, the Shia Hazaras aren't making Pakistan look bad, they're showing the world the reality that is Pakistan! There is a genocide against Shias in Pakistan that has claimed over 10,000 lives and the Shias never fought back! They only protested! And they STILL proudly call themselves Pakistani! The real problem is radical Wahabi/Deobandi Sunnis who are ruining the name of Islam and the nation of Pakistan with radical terrorism!

        January 16, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
    • Yolo

      Actually the entire Shia community of Pakistan- there has been a genocide against them and they never fought back once!!!!!

      January 16, 2013 at 5:28 pm | Reply
  8. drones lov pakis

    derailed..?? when did cesspit pak ever hav a democracy..??? do they even know what the word means..???...all the world knows that pak has been a mafia outfit ever since it was thrown out of india 65 yrs ago..it has been a failure since...its so called leaders get assasinated or hung or hide out in other western nations...this cesspit has been a failure from start...they are no where near any democracy....!!!!!!

    January 16, 2013 at 1:07 pm | Reply
  9. Chuckie A

    Indian sleuths trained by RAW are crossing over from Afghanistan and creating problems. My information is that Pakistan intends to take India out soon.

    January 16, 2013 at 1:15 pm | Reply

    "Amnesty International is calling for an impartial investigation into mass graves found in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Sunday, India's Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission released a report saying a three-year investigation had uncovered 2,156 unidentified bodies in 38 sites in the region. In a statement released Monday, Amnesty International asked Indian officials to allow impartial forensic experts to carry out a thorough investigation of the skeletal remains. The rights group also urged Indian authorities to ensure the safety of the witnesses who gave statements to police during the investigation. Indian authorities conducted the inquiry in response to allegations that Indian security forces have committed rights abuses in fighting a more than two-decade-long Muslim separatist insurgency. Rights activists say at least 8,000 people have gone missing in Indian Kashmir since the separatists began fighting in 1989 for independence from Hindu-majority India or a merger with Muslim-majority Pakistan. Rebel attacks and Indian government crackdowns have killed at least 50,000 people.

    January 16, 2013 at 1:16 pm | Reply

    Democracy does not work in South Asia,,,here is an example.

    "Experimental Democracy" has failed in India. An experiment that was being shoved down India's throat by western countries too eager to propagate their own values on a country that was trying to decolonize itself while trying to shed the communist skin of being a Soviet ally. India was thus trapped. What has become evident now is that this "Experimental Democracy" has marginalized the country. The marginalized groups of the country – Dalits and ‘backward’ castes/classes, indigenous ‘tribal’ people and religious minorities have been disenfranchised. "The belief that corruption is the important issue in the country is shared only by the minority living in urban areas and towns who have been beneficiaries of economic liberalization policies mandated by western countries. The most important challenges of Indian society remain as follows: justice, social and economic equality and equal access to certain standards of life for all Indians. “While India seems too eager to please its western masters and put on a progressive and softer face for CNN for public consumption, people see through it. The consequences of this "Band – Aid" approach will be brutal for India geo-politically when it realizes that the GDP statistics that it has been relying to gage its progress has not amounted to much in the long run.

    January 16, 2013 at 1:17 pm | Reply
  12. Mustafa Ali

    Many Indians are posing here as Pakistanis in this discussion and their hatred and bias is obvious. Many Indians – mostly the uneducated types despite getting degrees – can't come out of the inferiority complex that Pakistanis decided to leave them and refused to live with them.

    January 16, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Reply
  13. SC

    A win in cricket is a sign of hope for a strong democracy? This is the wierdest, sub-standard assessment of a political situation

    January 16, 2013 at 1:24 pm | Reply
  14. Joseph McCarthy

    How in the world is Pakistan going to become a true democracy with the C.I.A. interfering with every government election and running Pakistan's foreign policies? First of all, Pakistan needs to rid itself of all this foreign interference and then make peace with the local Taliban. Most of all, those cursed drone strikes of ours must somehow end as they are a true disgrace for this country before the world!

    January 16, 2013 at 2:21 pm | Reply
    • Quigley

      Well stated, Joseph. Thank you.

      January 16, 2013 at 7:31 pm | Reply
    • Nirvana11

      And who trained this guy?


      January 18, 2013 at 11:31 pm | Reply
  15. Samuel Brinckerhoff PhD

    Time has come for Pakistan to implement its 3 Second Nuke Strategy against India. Down and out once and for all.

    January 16, 2013 at 3:44 pm | Reply
  16. Indian Hindus Are R-apists

    While we hindus are busy gang r-aping our girls, Pakistan is teaching us a lesson in productive democracy

    January 16, 2013 at 4:20 pm | Reply
    • ShankarS

      Apists as in makakas? Good one !!

      January 16, 2013 at 4:21 pm | Reply
  17. ShankarS

    My name is Shankar. The recent beating og Indian Army in Kashmir does not bode well for India. USA has given the green light to resolve the Kashmir issue before they pull out from Afghanistan. Pakistan has taken the cue and is ready to claim the territory from India.

    January 16, 2013 at 4:24 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Pakistan has buckled under the pressure to free Balochistan first. Pakistan could not find any justification for massacring the Shia Hazara people. There are too many Shia in Kashmir who do not like to get butchered. So, Pakistan has reluctantly agreed to free Balochistan first before they would ever raise Kashmir as an issue.

      January 16, 2013 at 7:51 pm | Reply
  18. Govind Gairola

    Everythime time India turns around it gets bashed up by either China or Pakistan.

    January 16, 2013 at 4:26 pm | Reply
    • Govind Gairola

      Why? Why? i am ashamed to be an Indian.

      January 16, 2013 at 4:26 pm | Reply
      • Govind Gairola

        However, I am very proud that Saudi Arabia beheaded a Pakistani for drug smuggling.

        January 16, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
      • Nirvana11

        And thousands of Pakistanis feel no shame in backing this guy:


        January 18, 2013 at 11:34 pm |
  19. Yolo

    I'm glad someone is shedding light on the Shia Genocide! Over 10,000 people have been murdered, innocent Shia and Sunni muslims are protesting, and radical Sunnis are killing! What has the government done? NOTHING! Shame on Pakistan! Geo (live on) Pakistanis!

    January 16, 2013 at 5:33 pm | Reply
  20. Mohammad A Dar

    the bird is in your hands Pakistanis.

    January 16, 2013 at 5:54 pm | Reply
  21. Muhammad Hussnain Mughal


    Just check regarding who we are talking about and with who the Goverment of Pakistan has to deal with. He is no joke or non serious person. He is well educated and scholar of this age.

    January 17, 2013 at 9:41 am | Reply
  22. Gary

    Another r-ape in india yesterdayand the girl was lynched and hung from the tree. Need i say more?

    January 17, 2013 at 11:58 am | Reply
  23. Gary

    We in America are appalled at the crimes being committed by people of Indian origin in USA. From Indian doctors raping patients to medical insurance fraud to insider trading etc. We Americans feel that you have not been loyal to the country that welcomed you with open arms but that you let us down.
    Furthermore, with respect to the raping epidemic in India, it is my opinion that such triggers are embedded in Indian culture and Hinduism and is not going to be easily fixed if at all. What bothers me is that none of this bothered the Indian conscience till CNN got hold of the story and decided to publish it as people started exposing such crimes on these comment forums

    January 17, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Reply
    • Gary

      New York, USA: Calling Rajat Gupta, a “Flight Risk”, US prosecutors have asked
      the court to reject the former disgraced Goldman Sachs Director’s request to
      remain free on bail pending his appeal of his conviction on insider trading charges. Gupta is an Indian with ties there and may run away to hide in India.

      January 17, 2013 at 12:01 pm | Reply
  24. Appleby

    India is draining world's resources as too big and govt cant manage. it is pulling the worlld down with it. Slice and dice it.

    January 17, 2013 at 12:51 pm | Reply
  25. Bruce Rubin

    Democracy in the hands of the uneducated is nothing more than mob rule

    January 17, 2013 at 8:49 pm | Reply
  26. Tom Joad

    Democracy is being derailed by the NRA and the Banksters right in here in the good old USA.

    January 18, 2013 at 9:04 am | Reply
  27. Milagros

    Pakistanis are infected with the doctrine of hatred from the earliest age. They hate each other as they hate the west. Americans like to believe everyone yearns for unity and 'democracy' even when there is ample evidence they are wrong. The 'so called' Pakistanis need to erase the borders drawn for them by westerners and divide the land into more logical tribal areas. That will be less convenient for the west, but far more natural for a tribal culture.

    January 18, 2013 at 9:26 am | Reply
    • Bucky

      How can the neighbors be heathly when such barbaric cultures are being nurtured in India where gang r-apes define the republic? Where women bashing is the national sport.

      January 20, 2013 at 4:14 am | Reply
  28. Simone

    Pakistan should learn from India's debacle. The Indian downfall could overshadow the European crisis. GDP that has dropped off the cliff (2% est), budget deficits, collapse of Indian rupiah, rampant poverty, unemployment, FDI reversal, companies leaving town are some of the disastrous events that are threatening the Indian state. The downward spiralling is so severe that the Indian government has been unable to control it. Even the Americans have been unable to help and several trips by the treasury secretary were not helpful. This also has security repercussions for India and US defense secretary and secretary of state have flown in to counsel India on how to protect its borders with the help of Israel/IDF. Rumors have it that the breakup of India along the lines of Soviet Union is a very plausible scenario that I am sure intelligence agencies all over the world are factoring in their geopolitical stress tests.

    January 20, 2013 at 4:10 am | Reply
1 2

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.