The political challenge that Dr. Qadri mounted against the existing political order has been fended off for the moment, but the intensity of the social economic and political distress of the people that led to his meteoric even if brief rise, have not abated. Of course it bodes well for the future of democracy in Pakistan that all political parties took a unanimous position to defend the Constitution in the face of the possibility that Dr. Qadri’s political course could undermine democracy. Most of the media and elements in civil society also weighed in by expressing a resolve to prevent any Constitutional deviation. However the ruling elite instead of patting itself on the back for having defused the immediate threat that Dr. Qadri presumably posed, ought to understand and address the structural weaknesses in Pakistan’s democratic edifice and the associated institutional structure of the economy that make both susceptible to instability.
Dr. Qadri tapped into the principal determinants of this resentment in his fiery rhetoric: Economic deprivation of the masses in contrast to elite luxury, corruption, and the failure of the government to provide security to citizens. Yet his specific demands were not radical, and mainly remained within the Constitution. There is now a need to deepen democracy, by making the institutional structure of the polity as well as the economy inclusive. The middle classes and the poor must be enabled to participate in both governance and economic growth and citizens’ security ensured: Democracy must deliver if a violent assault on the democratic structure is to be avoided.
The fundamental weakness in the existing democratic structure is that it is dominated by a coalition of power elites that restrict entry of the middle classes and the poor into the power structure. The major political parties do not have internal democracy for electing party leaders and are run as fiefdoms by individual families of landlords or the big capitalists. There is therefore no accountability of party leaders before the rank and file of party members. The military is a key player in the power structure and has substantial influence over policy making and resource allocation even in ostensibly elected civilian governments. It has also repeatedly overthrown elected civilian governments in the past and continues to have the ability to do so if the circumstances are favourable. With such an exclusive power structure in the polity, the various factions of the elite coalition are able to configure an extractive economy and can systematically generate rents (unearned incomes) for themselves. These rents take either legal or illegal forms called corruption, but both forms are endemic to the mode of governance and the structure of the economy. Political instability usually occurs due to occasional acute contention among factions of the elite coalition for a share of the power and thereby the economic cake as we have witnessed during the current regime. It can in future occur through a coordinated assault mounted by extremist militant groups. A destabilization of the existing political order can also occur through a mass movement of the deprived sections of society led by a demagogue.
The current crisis of the state is not only due to intensified contention within the elite coalition but essentially because of their collective failure to control violence and widespread disorder. Control of violence for the protection of life of citizens is the fundamental function in terms of which rulers seek legitimacy i.e. the right to rule. There are repeated demonstrations in various cities by the victims of extremist violence: the most poignant being the recent sit-in in Quetta by the Hazaras who refused to bury their dead until the provincial government that had failed to protect their lives, was dismissed. This resentment of citizens against a mode of governance that had failed to provide them security is reinforced by increasing mass poverty, food insecurity, severe shortages of electricity and gas. Yet the elites live in luxury and appear indifferent to the plight of the people. The distress of the large majority of citizens is the fuel that can be ignited into a violent mass movement by an individual or group promising radical change.