By: Muhammad Mateen
Dated: 07 November 2016
Power politics has always remained a dominant feature of Pakistani politics, which, in turn, strengthened a conflictual political culture in the country. Therefore, the political landscape of Pakistan, marked by institutional imbalance and a persistent struggle for power between political and bureaucratic sections, has always provided a vacuum to the anti-democratic forces to exploit the divisions and disparities within heterogeneous structure of the polity. In this context, the recent surge in political turmoil can be termed as a revival of the inherent practices in political arena of the country.
Gabriel A. Almond in his article “Comparative Political Systems,” published in 1956, said that “every political system is embedded in a particular pattern of orientations to political action.” He categorized this pattern as political culture. Every political system enshrines its own norms and values embodied in its political culture. The political culture has been defined by different theorists as a combination of moral attitudes and judgements, political myths and practices, and beliefs and ideas which shape political behaviors of people in a particular society. It is a product of inputs and outputs witnessed by a political system at different times along with the accounts of significant members of that political system who incurred substantial influences over the political lives of populace. The political cultures are dynamic processes which undergo transformation, though slowly but gradually, through different intervals in the history. However, any rapid shift in the political culture may lead to conflictual structure thereby producing political extremism and transgression in a particular social setting. Moreover, different political cultures, enshrining the identical political systems, may share some norms, values and beliefs; nonetheless, the configuration of every political culture is always unique.
Thus, every nation state maintains its own political culture characterized by definite norms, values and beliefs. A prominent political scientist, Daniel Elazar, classified political culture in three categories – traditionalistic, moralistic and individualistic political cultures. The social culture of a polity always plays a significant role in the evolutionary process of all forms of political cultures; nevertheless, the traditionalistic political culture is predominantly subjective to the social hierarchy of that particular polity. Likewise, the social structure in Pakistan, which is characterized by ethnicity, castes, tribes and clannish systems and has been retained through the generations, influences the local as well as national political culture of the country. The heterogeneity on ethnic, lingual and sectarian grounds has always been remained a dominant feature of Pakistani society which defined the political culture of Pakistan since its inception. On the other hand, the successive undemocratic phases in political history of the country not only intensified the above mentioned diversities within the society but also laid severe impressions over the political culture of Pakistan.
The political landscape of Pakistan, from the very beginning, has been concentrated by the landlords, businessmen and civil and military bureaucracies. On the other hand, the political leadership, which largely encompassed the people who migrated from the areas that were not included in Pakistan, had no roots among the masses. These aspects not only stimulated undemocratic norms in the political culture, but also led to the emergence of clergy as a strong pillar within the society of Pakistan. Winston Churchill, during a debate in the House of Commons in 1942, said that if British India “is granted freedom, power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues, freebooters; all leaders will be of low caliber and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight amongst themselves for power…” The political leadership of Pakistan has proved him right during the course of history.
The state consciously architected a political culture of power politics while accommodating certain segments of the society, castes and tribes, and ignoring the political parties, which are considered to be the most vital part of a democratic system. On the other hand, a dominant role of bureaucracy – both civil and military – in the decision making process, instead of political actors, not only empowered the central government over federating units, but also resulted in weakening of rule of law attributable to the poor role of political class. Further, this setting promoted the undemocratic political culture and paved the way for intermittent periods of dictatorial role. Resultantly, a democratic political culture in which free and fair polls are held on regular intervals, fundamental rights are protected, constitutional breaches are not permitted and the political system corresponds to the people’s aspirations couldn’t thrive in the country. Conversely, a political culture lacking the democratic norms and values proliferated at national level and resulted in amplification of polarization among the masses at the grass root level.
Although political cultures are a dynamic phenomenon as propounded by political theorists, any rapid transformation can lead to the growth of conflictual circumstances; likewise, the continuous and prompt shifts in the political system of Pakistan, from democracy to dictatorship, mushroomed the conflictual political culture in the country. Polarization among the masses not only strengthened anti-democratic forces within the political structure but also stimulated institutional imbalance within the state structure. Different social groups, based on castes, tribes, ethnicities and linguistic identities, attached themselves to the dominant segments in order to pursue their own interests at the cost of national cohesion. Anti-democratic forces further exploited these diversities in order to consolidate their institutional authority. This, in turn, further weakened the already fragile political institutions while the political parties, which are considered pillars of a democratic polity on which the edifice of a nation rests, enfeebled during the course of history.
Political parties are conceived as barometers to measure the political temperatures within a society. They serve as a catalyst to spur the passive government institutions to function according to the desires and aspirations of the masses. However, owing to the heterogeneous structure of Pakistani society and institutional disparities, political parties have remained unable to attract the masses against undemocratic practices prevailing in political structure of the state. Moreover, the hegemonic and undemocratic character of political parties, with a few exceptions, have further augmented the distance between them and the masses. On the other hand, the socio-cultural differences within the society have contributed towards regional characterization of political parties. Thus, instead of functioning as a catalyst, these parties are not only augmenting antagonism among different segments of the society but are also being exploited by the powerful institutions to strengthen their influence over the political landscape.
Following the successive intervals of military and representative governments, a democratically elected government, during the elections held in February 2008, completed its term for the first time in the history of Pakistan. The transition of power from an elected administration to another representative government was taken as a ray of hope among the political circles in the country. It was presumed that, perhaps, the anti-democratic forces might have weakened in the context of security and political dynamics of the country. However, it proved wrong. Following the elections in May 2013, the political parties engaged in levelling allegations of rigging and electoral frauds against each other, a hallmark of electoral politics during the 1990s. The mudslinging by political parties and their leadership, like in the past, revived the conflictual political culture while offering a space to the bureaucratic institutions, who were already cautioned by the peaceful transition of power, to intervene and revive their position over the political terrain. Although a judicial commission comprised of three Justices, including the then Chief Justice of Pakistan, validated the electoral process in July 2013, the political leadership resorted to confrontational tactics. The political unrest, at that time, sought a horrible terrorist attack at Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014 to calm dawn.
During the past few weeks, a new wave of instability struck the political sphere of the country. At this time, the allegations of corruption were exchanged by the political leadership. Panama-gate scandal, which appeared at the political surface following an organization of journalists leaked the information of offshore companies, was used by the rival political parties to defame each other. Like in the past, the political leaders, instead of resorting to judicial institutions or pursuing the political means, again engaged in defamatory maneuvers. The anti-democratic forces were, once again, permitted to exploit the embedded differences among the political parties. The regional character of political parties, which resurfaced during the recent political contentions, further allowed them to play their part and reinvigorate their position in the political landscape. The political leaders who have so far remained unable to establish their roots among the masses, have again failed to cope with the issues on the political table. Thanks to the honorable Supreme Court, who intervened and hindered the bureaucratic institutions to mediate the matter. On the other hand, the political leadership emerged as a victim of their own actions.
Throughout the political history of Pakistan, the personal vendettas among the political leaders and their incapacity to resolve the political differences through negotiations have endorsed the undemocratic segments to revive their strengths. However, it is the time for political leadership to understand their shortcomings in relation to their incapacity to establish their roots among the masses and their inability to resolve political issues over the negotiating table. The political leaders will have to understand that if any of political actors is involved in wrongdoing, he must be punished legally. They will have to renounce their personal crusades and endeavor to promote democratic practices within the political parties. They will have to relinquish the hereditary character of political parties so that the democratic norms may flourish in the country. The victory of Pakistan only lies in elevation of democracy and rule of law. So, the political leaders will have to abandon the blame game and let the democratic institutions evolve. Every political change should come through the ballot box. There is a need to revitalize the vision of founder of the nation – unity, faith and discipline – to restructure the political configuration in the country.
About the Author
The author is Research Fellow and Research Coordinator at FATA Research Centre .
 Gabriel A. Almond, “Comparative Political Systems,” The Journal of Politics, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Aug., 1956), 391-409.
 SparkNotes, “Political Culture and Public Opinion,” SparkNotes LLC, 2016.
 Daniel Judah Elazar, The American Mosaic: The Impact of Space, Time, and Culture on American Politics, (Michigan: The University of Michigan, 1994), 9-11.
 Daniel Judah Elazar, The Metropolitan Frontier and American Politics: Cities of the Prairie, (New Jersey: Transaction Publications, 2003), 68.
 M. Nazrul Islam, Pakistan: A Study in National Integration, (Pakistan: Vanguard Books Pvt Ltd, 1990), 7.
 Dawn, “Past Present: Churchill Said,” Dawn, August 12, 2012.
 Dawn, “Peshawar Attack: Imran Khan Postpones PTI’s Dec 18 Protests,” Dawn, December 16, 2014.
 The Nation, “PTI Cancels Lockdown following Supreme Court Verdict,” The Nation, November 1, 2016.