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Dr.Akmal Hussain
Newspaper: The Express Tribune
Dated: Tuesday, 9 September 2011

Essential to the institutional structure of democracy is democratic consciousness. In the process of consolidating democracy in Pakistan, the nurturing of this consciousness and the norms and values signified by it, are vital to the functioning of the formal rules of the Constitution. Let us briefly examine the challenge of rediscovering from the shared tradition of the diverse cultures of Pakistan, the consciousness that can sustain our journey of democracy.

Douglass C. North, the Nobel Prize winner who pioneered the New Institutional Economics (NIE), defines an institution as a set of formal rules and informal norms which together with their enforcement mechanisms structure human interaction.  Research on the subject over the last two decades, shows that the formal rules of a democratic institutional structure can be actualized in practice only when they are underpinned by norms and values conducive to its functioning. Historically, until 2007, successive military regimes in Pakistan were able to blatantly violate the Constitution because the underlying democratic norms had not sufficiently permeated popular consciousness to constitute a credible threat to military dictatorship. In this sense, the citizens’ movement led by the lawyers in 2007, aimed at restoring the Judiciary and constitutional rule, was a watershed moment in Pakistan’s history. It demonstrated that the people with their blood and guts were ready to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. Subsequently Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Sahiba, sacrificed her life to express the will of the people for democracy. Thus a democratic consciousness was manifested to give meaning and strength to the formal rules of the Constitution. 

The urge for an equitable and representative polity goes back to ancient times in the area which today constitutes Pakistan. According to Romila Thapar, the earliest republics were formed around 600 BC in Northern Punjab and foothills of the Himalayas, possibly by independent minded elements of society who rebelled against the hierarchic orthodoxy of the monarchies which had been established in the plains. Much later, the widespread peasant revolt in the Punjab in the eighteenth century against the authoritarianism of Mughal rule, and celebrated in folk poetry as also by Sufi poets such as Najam Hussain Syed, further irrigated the perennial aspiration of equity and freedom in popular consciousness.

The Sufi tradition which represents the unity amidst the diverse folk cultures of each of the four provinces of Pakistan, propounds freedom and the essential equality of all human beings in so far as each has a bond with God. This bond is made palpable in a state of adoration of God and thereby makes possible for humans to tread the path of righteousness: The path of love, compassion and justice towards others. This wisdom finds resonance in the songs, dances and value system of our folk cultures, whose images in turn are taken up and given spiritual depth in the Sufi poetry of this region. Hence the refrain of Shah Hussain, the sixteenth century Punjabi Sufi poet: “You are the woof, You the warp, You are in every pore, I am naught, all is You.” Similarly Bulleh Shah suggests that the journey to God is through love: “Demolish the temple, demolish the mosque, demolish all that can be demolished, but do not injure the human heart, for that is the abode of God.”

Counterposed to the love and compassion of the Sufi tradition, is the egotism and greed that underlies the current violence by armed groups allegedly sponsored by various elements in the political sphere and within the state apparatus. Individuals shorn of their humanity and divorced from the traditional value system have descended to demonic depths. When the violence in Karachi was vividly described in a presentation to the Federal Cabinet on 8th September the sheer horror of it, reportedly stunned the ministers. The Supreme Court too has called upon the Government to quell this violence to establish the rule of law and save democracy. Clearly the time has come to exercise state power without fear or favour to re-establish order. Equally important in the years ahead is to rediscover the traditional norms and values that must now underpin Pakistan’s quest for democracy and a humane society.

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