Pakistan, India and the value of democracy

September 12, 2010

gilani kayaniOf the many comments I heard in Pakistan, one question particularly flummoxed me. Was democracy really the right system for South Asia?  It came, unsurprisingly, from someone sympathetic to the military, and was couched in a comparison between Pakistan and India.

What had India achieved, he asked, with its long years of near-uninterrupted democracy, to reduce the gap between rich and poor?  What of the Maoist rebellion eating away at its heartland? Its desperate poverty? The human rights abuses from Kashmir to Manipur, when Indian forces were called in to quell separatist revolts? Maybe, he said, democracy was just not suited to countries like India and Pakistan.

The question surprised me, in part because I had never really been forced before to defend democracy, possibly because in the West we take it so much for granted that we have forgotten why it matters. It also surprised me for the sheer conviction of the sentiment.

In Pakistan, this is not a mere academic debate. Just last week, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said there was no threat to democracy and the army had no intention of taking power. Yet the very fact he had to say so at all spoke of deep disquiet in the country over the civilian government’s handling of Pakistan’s floods, which with it has brought new mutterings of an eventual return to military rule.

“Why the prime minister needed to hammer this point home once again could be anybody’s guess,” the Daily Times said in an editorial. “The diminishing returns of a corrupt and incompetent democracy are leading to the inescapable suspicion that something is in the air, in the possible shape of an anti-democratic intervention.”

To be clear, there is no sign of an imminent military coup. The army neither wants to, nor needs to take power, since it already calls the shots on the issues that matter to it — foreign and security policy.  But equally, the army’s lead role in flood relief has  increased its clout and encouraged misgivings about the value of democracy which could act as a slow-burning fuse if the civilian government is not able to improve its performance. And according to some, it is a slow-burning fuse lit by the military itself — or by what Dawn columnist Cyril Almedia calls the 800-pound gorilla of Pakistani politics, the army.

Democracy must deliver or else, seems to be the refrain currently gripping Pakistan. So far, however, few have spelled out the value of democracy, nor for that matter said precisely what they mean by  “or else”.

To return to the original question then, what has democracy brought to India in terms of reducing the gap between rich and poor that has been more effective than in frequently non-democratic Pakistan? (Let’s leave aside for the moment questions of global standing, or of Pakistan’s problems with Islamist militants which deserve a separate discussion).

One answer, perhaps, lies in the attitude of one of the Indian system’s fiercest critics, Arundathi Roy. In this lengthy piece about Indian poverty, Maoism and the country’s marginalised tribal people, she lays bare many of the failings of India that are frequently cited by Pakistanis when they compare themselves to their much bigger and ostensibly more successful neighbour.  

Her conclusion, however, is that the fault lies not with democracy itself, but in a lack of democracy. The Indian system, she argues, had been hijacked by economic liberalisation which handed power to big corporate interests, including mining companies seeking to operate in the country’s forested, jungle interiors which are home to India’s tribal people.  And whatever you might think of her argument, her answer lies in what she sees as a more just and democratic representation of the needs of the people, one she believes is possible in India.

“Here in India, even in the midst of all the violence and greed, there is still immense hope. If anyone can do it, we can do it.” she writes.  ”The first step towards re-imagining a world gone terribly wrong would be to stop the annihilation of those who have a different imagination—an imagination that is outside of capitalism as well as communism. An imagination which has an altogether different understanding of what constitutes happiness and fulfilment.”

In other words, as I should have said to the Pakistani who asked me whether democracy was suited to South Asia, you should not conflate capitalism with democracy. True, capitalism and democracy developed hand-in-hand in the West, but at the very least I could have argued that the inadequacies of one are not identical to the failings of the other.

Pakistan, probably more than India, has an acute historical sense of itself as a country set up to promote social and economic justice.  Its ideological father, the poet-philosopher Muhammad Iqbal, was convinced that social democracy would never work in a Hindu-dominated caste-based India and that only in a separate Muslim nation could the egalitarian principles of Islam be put into practice.

“It is clear to my mind that if Hinduism accepts social democracy, it must cease to be Hinduism,” he wrote in a letter to Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in 1937. “For Islam, the acceptance of social democracy in some suitable form and consistent with the legal principles of Islam is not a revolution but a return to the original purity of Islam.”

His ideas, however, were rooted in the idealism of the early 20th century, when sweeping change from communism to fascism was promoted to build a fairer society.  Consider, for example, the following comments he made in a letter in 1933 in answer to a query from a scholar about Islamic economics. ”I would suggest that you should make careful study of the ideas of Mussolini,” he wrote. ”The essence of  Islamic Economics is to render the growth of large capitals impossible. Mussolini and Hitler think in the same way. Bolshevism has gone to the extreme of abolishing capitalism altogether.  In all aspects of life, Islam always takes the middle course.”

He was not alone in admiring the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini – even British wartime leader Winston Churchill once spoke warmly of him. But while the horrors of World War Two convinced western Europe to abandon grand plans and get on with the muddled and sometimes unsatisfying  business of democracy, Pakistan has retained a tendency to look for an all-encompassing solution to its problems.  Sometimes that has meant looking to military rule; at others to a strict interpretation of Islam.

For now, it is muddling through with democracy – not the pristine one envisaged by Iqbal – but an altogether messier one led by an accidental and unpopular president, Asif Ali Zardari.  It is unclear now how long that democracy will survive.  What did strike me, however, from the question on whether democracy is suited to South Asia, is how shallow its roots are.

(File photo of army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani saluting Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani)


“We have inehrited a system which prevent entry of good and decent people in politics”

Quite right. First it were the English and when the congress and party saw how easy it is to exploit the downtrodden they just grabbed power from English but did not give India any independence. If we compare our freedom struggle to that of America’s we may start thinking that Congress probably never wanted any independence for India all it wanted was ‘Satta’. So the state of India remains that of ‘Gulami’, at that time it was ‘Gora Sahab’ and now it is ‘Apna Sahab’, but we continue to be slaves. Lack of Democracy still prevails.

Someone above said corruption is everywhere. Agreed but does in England a hawaldar (or whatever the corresponding rank it is there) stops a bike rider for no fault and asks him for a 20 pound note and threatens to put him in jail for not obliging. NO absolutely NOT. Democracy is in England as well as India then why so much difference in corruption levels even in very basic walks of life? There is no definite answer to this but in my personal opinion i feel its not that hawaldaar’s fault for asking for a Rs. 20 note as we all know how much hawaldaars are paid. No one is born saint and neither should be expect anyone to be. Lets live in a practical world. All this is because there is, as i said before, a huge difference in demand and supply. So if we can, in next 20 years or so, control the population time bomb, then may be even if very small but we will see a reduction in corruption as well. That’s my personal opinion, whether right or wrong is open to debate.

Posted by 007XXX | Report as abusive

007xxx: “There should be one law for all that is based on modern values which eradicates Babylonian believes like caste systems and polygamy. ”

Agreed that I misunderstood your earlier point. Also agree that polygamy as a legal system does not suit the modern world. But it is going to be impossible to make universal laws in a democratic society. This is because everyone votes for his or her values. And mass votes count for politicians. If Muslims votes begin to have weight, then no politician is going to mess with their values. If all Sikhs are told that wearing turban and not trimming beards is not modern, then they will revolt. If you tell the Tamils that Hindi should be the only official language and that they should take that up even if they do not use it, there will be revolt. And no central party, including the Congress or the BJP has any foothold in that place. And their votes count as well. We have evolved into a coalition style government at the center.

What India has reached now is a somewhat mature state where more autonomy can be granted to the states. It was not forced on anyone. It has simply evolved up to that stage. I’d let states to have more freedom that allows them to define their own economic structure, industry and trade policies and compete with each other. Some states will thrive and some will fall. But India has reached that state. Going this way will also eliminate or minimize secessionist movements. The central union can have the key aspects of judiciary, security, foreign policy, currency, water resources etc and allow the states to handle their education, commerce, transportation etc. No state should be allowed to drift into quasi-dictatorships. India is ready for a federal system. I’d even suggest dividing the states even more into smaller units.

Uniform civil code in a federal structure will now be confined to smaller states. If there are Muslim majority states, they will have their laws and when their denizens emigrate out to other states, different laws take effect. Sikhs can have their own state. Tamils theirs. Only all issues between states will need to be managed through the federal government. India cannot survive as a democracy or a nation with uniform codes of law. It is too diverse for such purposes. Such codes always affect one community or the other.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

007xxx, KP Singh,
There is a traditional saying among hindus that for nation building , persons with strong characters are required, unfortunately , in India , the power was usurped by dubious people like Nehru. Immediately after partition, somebody asked Nehru and his cronies , that congress party was against 2-nations theory, even their leader great Mahatma went to the extent that he will accept partition only after his death ,it is a very famous Nehru quote : we are very tired after a long freedom struggle, we can not wait any longer to get the power.

In short, Nehru was very busy with his women and alcohol, neither he nor any of his cronies had any time to think of India’s future . In the name of democracy the successors of nehru and his cronies are continue to mislead the nation ,today even sports and culture are victims of corruption and nepotism. The whole world is laughing at us at the loot in the name of common wealth games .

Posted by manishindia | Report as abusive

Saudi Monarchy vs Indian Democracy

My next challenge will be to compare these two opposite systems, one based on Islamic sharia and other modeled on western democracy. Lets look at key economic and social indicators. While I have been to Saudi Arabia but not visited India. Anyone who have been to both countries? Can this be a good comparison and lets see how the systems have progressed. But please do not drag the issue that Saudi Monarchy is closed, backward etc. These days they send their kids to best schools in USA, and universities back in Saudi Arabia are attaining ever higher standards to match western educational standards. And current King Abdullah is seen as modern putting Saudi Arabia on the world map as a global player and emerging diplomatic power side by side as an economic/military power.
Why is India severely lacking in clout despite all its potential, size, population, resources and democracy when compared to Saudi Arabia.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive

Why is India severely lacking in clout despite all its potential, size, population, resources and democracy when compared to Saudi Arabia?

Is it because of a corrupt, arrogant, power driven, interests/lobbyists bureaucracy, civil ervice that does not deliver? Bribery, nepotism, mediocrity, favouratism, all bear hallmarks of a (failed) democracy. So much value of ‘colourful’ diverse ‘democracy’.

Just few days back in Pakistan, the assets of politicians in National/provincials assemblies were declared. In Islamabad, MNAs (members of National Assembly) drive the latest SUVs, Land Cruisers and fill up gas tanks and blow it every day. They are the richest and people in their constituencies suffer each day going without electricity, clean water, hospital facilites, proper education. Pakistani democracy does not deliver either. And Sharia is wrongly potrayed as Taliban beheading women in stadiums and crowds cheering on, ‘strict enforcement’strict interpretation of Islam.
So far strict enforcement of democracy has not given ordinary people anything either.
Maybe its time to look into Sharia law with seriousness. and understand what it is.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive

A friend of mine, who has lived & travelled extensively in the middle east, once told me that there are 4 levels of “justice” in Saudi Arabia, Emirates & other arabic nations. Level 1 is reserved for the arab elite, Level 2 is for the arab commoners, Level 3 is for non-Arabic muslims & Level 4 is for non-Arab non-muslims.

Posted by Mortal1 | Report as abusive


Sharia is not the answer, Pakistan needs good governance, something called “Responsible Government” and civilian laws need to be amended and Pakistan also needs a taxman, something like the IRS, in the U.S. to collect on behalf of the government and jail corrupt elites who evade taxes, while the poor scrape by.

Unfortunately, in Pakistan, the elites, do not want a proper functioning democracy because more than half of them would end up jail and be imprisoned for years for tax evasion, money laundering, accepting bribes, you name it and it is marginally better in India, but not a hell of a lot better.

Sharia will not work, it will only drive these things underground. What you need is proper responsible governance that is ultimately responsible to the people, and responsible to the constitution and you need a judiciary with teeth, above all, you need an army responsible to the civilian government.

If your civilians are too corrupt, it is best that you invite the British back to mentor the next generation of youth and pass new laws tieing the salaries of politicians to performance and how well they deliver.

If you really want to light a fire on corrupt politicians AND corrupt army people, just send a hound of rabid tax auditors after them, tax auditors that are heavily incentivized to root out corruption, watch those corrupt politicians beg for forgiveness, as they stand trial for tax evasion.

In most western countries, which also happen to be democracies, the corruption is also there, but not nearly to the extent is in Pakistan and India.

I think India is moving along in the right direction with Democracy. In time, corruption will decrease, but it will take much time to change the eastern culture mindsets.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive

Umair, you said:

“In Islamabad, MNAs (members of National Assembly) drive the latest SUVs, Land Cruisers and fill up gas tanks and blow it every day. They are the richest and people in their constituencies suffer each day going without electricity, clean water, hospital facilites, proper education. Pakistani democracy does not deliver either.”

–>Umair, why don’t you have the poorest constituencies’ residents get together and make a large cardboard GM Hummer or a Cadillac Escalade, paint it, and make it look authentic and take outside of the legislature and make a style statement with a sign saying “Will Members of Legislative Assembly take pay cut? to give us electricity, clean water and education and pay to park our poor man SUV?” you can put your own spin on it…. will turn heads and shame them and start a discussion.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive


You are sorely mistaken if you think India is not educating their youth. Most of silicon valley, and throughout many western intellectual institutions, their are countless talented Indians.

My own cousin has a PHd in advanced microcircuit design and is employed by one of the leading computer companies in the U.S. There are an army of guys like him, brilliant, talented and ready to work hard.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive

Umairpk said:

> Why is India severely lacking in clout despite all its potential, size, population, resources and democracy when compared to Saudi Arabia.

Even if it is true, this is a point-in-time observation as of today. It’s coloured by many factors, resources (oil) and population being very significant ones. It’s relatively easy to move the economies of small countries and achieve prosperity in a single generation (e.g., Singapore) and much harder to do it in large countries. Like in physics, larger countries have greater inertia. It’s also harder to push *down* large countries (the US continues along in spite of severe economic shocks), while countries like Iceland can have their bubble burst in a matter of months.

My response to your question would be – Watch this space. In twenty years’ time, who knows? My bet is that Saudi Arabia will progress in the direction of greater individual freedom, and India will progress in the direction of greater individual prosperity.

Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive

I may be mistaken, but from Myra’s report about the Pakistani person who asked the original question and also Umair’s question about India and Saudi Arabia, I can’t help thinking this is a new form of denial.

If people can’t handle the idea that India is making progress (and it is now less feasible to employ terrorism as a tool to stop that progress), then denial that this progress is even taking place is perhaps the only option left — i.e., create an alternate reality that is more “acceptable” and spend one’s time discussing why it is so. I.e., instead of acknowledging the enormous progress India has made, just focus on what has not yet been done and ask why it has not happened.

Is “Democracy doesn’t work in South Asia” therefore the new mantra in Pakistan just like “We were stabbed in the back” became the mantra in Germany after World War I — mass psychosis masquerading as well-known fact? In both cases, an entire populace is unable to face up to unpleasant facts and begins to perpetuate a more palatable belief. Unfortunately for them, it doesn’t change reality.

Guys, a word of advice. Intellectual honesty is the ability to see the world as it is and not as we want it to be. If Pakistanis are intellectually honest, they should be willing to accept that India is in fact making progress and that the fastest progress has taken place in the last decade or so. There is a rational reason for it (economic liberalisation), and this tool is available to anyone else willing to embark on the same journey. Further, democracy is the only antidote to the distortions and uneven distribution that tend to accompany such rapid growth. In the long run, democracy evens out the odds.

I visit India every year or every alternate year and I’m amazed at the progress that is taking place. What about the role of democracy? The fact that the BJP-led government was thrown out in 2004 ( stands testament to Indian democracy forcing more *equitable* growth. Rural areas and poor people had not benefited from India’s growth thus far, and they spoke at the ballot box. The incoming Congress government then had to steer resources towards these sectors (even if some of it was more style than substance). So India is bumbling along in a messy way, as a democracy necessarily must, but it is making progress, and the fruits of that progress are being shared. Where that sharing isn’t quite equitable, we inevitably see strife like the Maoist uprising. The medicine is more democracy, not less.

These are the lessons that need to be learnt, not that Sharia is superior to democracy.


Sharia + oil = Saudi Arabia
Sharia without oil = Afghanistan under the Taliban

Hint: It’s probably nothing to do with Sharia

Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive


The argument is not that which one is inferior or superior between sharia and democracy. I am just refering to alternatives to democracy. And the example of Saudi Arabia was given to make it understood that there are other prosperous countries flourishing without democracy. Democracy in Pakistan means looting public wealth, even Pakistan’s cricketers now induldge in match fixing because a ‘democratic’ government led by Mr. 10% is in place in Pakistan. Democracy is harmful for public health I would say, eradicate democracy like its a disease. For me, only an honest system would work where the well being of people is top priority. As opposed to democracy where the objective is to fool the voter, get in power and enjoy the riches.

Posted by Umairpk | Report as abusive

Pakistan’s choice of governance should not be done in reference to India. Both countries have gone in different directions. In both countries the system of governance has evolved based on what works. For India, it is a democratic tradition. This was the land ruled by landlords, princes and kings. Democracy is a new thing and the country has adopted it well. This is because it suits the diverse population well. In Pakistan, its priorities have been messed up by its willful participation in cold war alliance to make quick gains. India deliberately declined to get involved in it at the start. Once Pakistan offered itself as a staging ground for cold war battles, it had no time for democratic exercise. Americans preferred dictators and generals for quick execution of their priorities. In return they gave the generals enough international support, weapons and money. Pakistan’s democracy would have survived and done well. But the US simply cut off the roots at the beginning. Its support for democracy in Pakistan is simply a window wash. They always preferred to work with Generals in Pakistan and it has placed Pakistan in an irreversible path. Like Umair says, democracy may not work well for Pakistan. They will have to find a system that works for them. If it is Sharia, well so long as it works for them, it should be all right. For India, there is no alternative to democracy. I do not see anything superior or inferior with the different systems. Whatever works is fine.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive


I can see that pakistan’s democracy has given nothing absolutely to common man and your anger is more than justified. But u need to understand that there is a big difference between Sharia and Democracy. Comparing Sharia with Democracy is like comparing apples with oranges. Neither apple is superior and nor is orange. One can like both or none. Thats not correct. Sharia is a law system and a democracy is a form of governance that decides what laws to be enforced. Any kind of governance be it Monarchy, communism, democracy or any other needs law and honest and strict law enforcement. Keyword here is ENFORCEMENT. Picture this: Assume u have Sharia in Pakistan and then obviously u will have enforcement agencies like Police and Army and so on. Suppose a man does a murder and caught red handed by policeman. Now what if policeman takes bribe from criminal and does NOT book him under Sharia. What will Sharia do then. Be it any law system this situation will always arise. So problem is not with law but with law enforcement. And Deep down problem is with economic and social structure of any nation. Saudi has huge reserves of oil and thats why people in general are well to do there and hence very low corruption but that has got nothing to do with Sharia law. And if u really want Sharia u can have it INSIDE democracy as well just as a law system but believe me without honest and strict enforcement even Sharia will be useless.

We in India never want a law system that says Eye for an Eye. NEVER. As for financial rules they keep changing and evolving with time. Economics changes every second with only one principal remaining constant: The law of Demand and Supply. Rest everything in economics and finance keeps changing. So making it fixed wont work at least not for India as India from times immemorial have been a core capitalist country and so it will remain, even with all its ills, we still love its benefits. And capitalism can survive and thrive only and only in democratic form of governance with continuously evolving laws and judicial system.

“For me, only an honest system would work where the well being of people is top priority”

Once in 12th standard I asked my physics teacher that he keeps saying “Ideally this law of physics says this and that and that law of physics ideally leads to this” so, “Sir what is this Ideally that u often keep talking of?” and pat came the reply from my teacher, “IDEALLY is that which DOES NOT EXIST”. So point is you can NEVER have a perfect system. There is no system 100% good or 100% bad. Its all in between. All world is BETWEEN sky and earth. Any system that looks good on surface may not be good inside. So democracy says that yes all is not well but thats how it is supposed to be. Democracy does not aim for perfection instead it aims for opportunity for all. So that ones who grab opportunity do well and lazy ones get laid behind. Its correct that democracy should not mean that a few get all riches but at the same time caring for all should not mean that poor gets the free lunch all the time. And I guess Islam very rightly states that one should not give alms to poor (as opposite to hinduism that foolishly says ‘Daan’ is divine) instead give the poor some work so that he can EARN his livelihood. So even Islam talks of opportunity for all and that is what democracy aims to achieve.

For example look at the case of Bihar state in India. At the time when Lalu family were ruling Bihar it was complete mess no law and order no investment no agriculture nothing. Most of Biharis had to leave their homeland and go out in search of work and did low paid labour jobs far away from their homes and families. And Now when it is Nitish in the CM chair things have changed drastically. First there is quite a lot more honest and stricter law and order ENFORCEMENT. He did not change any laws but just enforced the existing ones with strictness and honesty. Because of better law and order situation there is quite a lot of investment in Bihar. Now a days Biharis seldom leave their land and go out and as a matter of fact there is now shortage of labour in other states of India. All this INSIDE democracy and without changing any laws.

But yes in case of Pakistan I perfectly agree with you that democracy (or rather more correctly put it is the LEADERS) have failed to deliver. But then as u said once that may be Pakistan can become tomorrow’s Japan so its never too late to start reforms and movements. Youth in Pakistan should wage another stayagrah or something, some kind of revolution. That says stop fighting and wasting resources over India just sign a peace deal with India and move on to build the nation. Think over it.

Posted by 777xxx777 | Report as abusive


Agreed that in democracy leaders call the shot but it is the common people that have to put pressure on leaders. If common, well-educated, and young people like yourself keep saying “Kashmir banega Pakistan, even if it takes 10000 yeras” then tell me is it not a lot more easier for your leaders to fool you? This Kashmir obsession has made your leaders’ intentions of fooling the masses of pakistan a very very easy job. How can leaders go on fooling the people if people say, “Kashmir or No Kashmir, we want development, peace and progress”??

So think about it deep inside your heart with an ice cool head of course.

Posted by 777xxx777 | Report as abusive


Agreed that in democracy leaders call the shot but it is the common people that have to put pressure on leaders. If common, well-educated, and young people like yourself keep saying “Kashmir banega Pakistan, even if it takes 10000 yeras” then tell me is it not a lot more easier for your leaders to fool you? This Kashmir obsession has made your leaders’ intentions of fooling the masses of pakistan a very very easy job. How can leaders go on fooling the people if people say, “Kashmir or No Kashmir, we want development, peace and progress”??

So think about it deep inside your heart with an ice cool head of course.

Posted by 777xxx777 | Report as abusive

I can see that Pakistanis perhaps associate corruption with democracy, which is why there is disillusionment with democracy itself. It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s a long and hard journey (and India isn’t very far ahead on this measure), but at least Indians seem to understand that democracy is in fact an antidote to corruption. The Right to Information Act ( is as powerful an instrument as regular elections in getting the administration to be accountable to the people it claims to represent. Let’s not give up on democracy. It’s in fact our only hope.

Ganesh Prasad

Posted by prasadgc | Report as abusive

@Prasad, the millions of youth now don’t know anything but democracy in India.

Yes, they know of the rampant corruption, but the new generation of youth, all that they know is democracy and their children will inherit a better, more stable and efficient and generations thereafter.

India WILL blow past Pakistan and C-hina in this regard. C-hina is fully aware of India’s potential to form a new S. Asian E-conomic U-nion with Pakistan, Sri-Lanka, Bangladesh and other satellites around India.

Together, all of these countries can have the largest w-ork force and this will go hand in hand with democracy and wealth will be provided for all.

I find it short sighted when guys like Umair don’t see the huge opportunities for p-eace and co–peration between the S. Asian countries, if they form an e-conomic u-nion, this would form the largest w-ork f-orce in the world to rival C-hina’s and bring p-eace and p-rosperity to all S. Asian countries, because they will all progress and all of their squabbles will be addresed by keeping people e-mployed and busy, and turning them into c-onsumers.

Silly Pakistani’s just don’t understand and get the merits of democracy, democracy gives rise to many other great things when the people p-rosper and get a voice and when they do, the corruption becomes inherently displaced.

Umair, just enjoys the perks and prestige of being associated to military punjabi families and the freebees and they get, why would he advocate for democracy?, while his clan is already doing so well, it would mean giving up a lot and sharing with others there and implementing Sharia will keep people stupid enough, where they won’t question or want anything more than they already have.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive

Reuters Moderators:

I posted yesterday and saw my post up there. Now it is not. Could you please explain?

Thank you.

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive

Reuters: I am trying to write post one more time. Hopefully it works.

You said: “If laws of sharia are studied in detail and looked at, it will turn out to be a perfect system with no other alternative to solve governance problems.”
****Umair, each place will have its own suitable political system. Sharia vs democracy is a debate for Muslim majority Pakistan, not for Muslim minority.
You said: “What the subcontinent needs reforms, Muslims in India should get atonomy.”
*** Umair, reforms will be specific to each country. Thanks for your concern but autonomy to Muslims is a wrong demand. As it happened in 1947, thousands would be dead again. I am sorry to be blunt but A Pakistani Muslim would be a spectator to that. Moreover, Quaid E Azam MA Jinnah suggested federal polity with provincial autonomy before partition and was rejected resulting in Pakistan. That experiment clearly did not work (Bangladesh). Throwing Indian Muslims, which are so diverse in nature, in one bag would do the same. Those dynamics are invisible in India. Reforms are needed but co-existence formula should not be discarded.

You said: “Saudi Monarchy vs Indian Democracy”
*** Perhaps better example will be to compare SA with Muslim majority Turkey, each ruled by sharia and democracy.
“Islamic sharia (Suadi Arabia) vs and democracy in Turkey”
Until 2003 there were just 9 Universities in Saudi Arabia, which with King Abdullah’s efforts are ~20 now. Look at the gender gap in Saudi Arabia. Muslim majority democratic Turkey is more progressive on this front which has more than 50 research institutes and organizations and is much open to either gender. In terms of education/research, India is way ahead of Saudi monarchy.
Democracy matures with time. Current problem of democracy is that it is not “fully democratic” yet. We have started enjoying freedom but responsibilities and accountability part is missing. It is time to reform not reject democracy, where it is in place.

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive

Umairpk posted: “Why is India severely lacking in clout despite all its potential, size, population, resources and democracy when compared to Saudi Arabia.”
***It is true that India does not have the clout it should have. Most who have clout have been in the USA camp for long time. India was in the opposite side with the USSR. Post cold war, Indian economic liberalization and a huge mall for the West has shifted that.

It is slow but Umairk posted: “Why is India severely lacking in clout despite all its potential, size, population, resources and democracy when compared to Saudi Arabia.”
***It is true that India does not have the clout it should have. Most who have clout have been in the USA camp for long time. India was in the opposite side with the USSR. Post cold war, Indian economic liberalization and a huge mall for the West has shifted that.

It is slow but happening. India has managed to avoid puppet tag so far— one must give credit to Indian democratic system.

Posted by rehmat | Report as abusive


Democracy, despite its faults, is by far, the best system, which can allow all religions, all religious sects, all peoples in a nation to have a voice through official means, provided people choose to get involved in the political process.

Democracy, coupled with socially concious capitalism is even better, as people are elevated to a better way of living, because they work, have a better sense of dignity about themselves and don’t have time all day to ponder religious turf wars with other peoples and sects.

If you notice, unemployment is unusually high in many Islamic nations and this has lead to too many people with too much time on their hands.

Everybody needs to work, pay off a mortgage and live a democratic life, this creates the most productive, happy an usefull people, despite that it comes with some inherent problems as well, generally speaking democracy and socially concious capitalism takes care of 99% of the people quite well, for the most part and some do slip through the cracks.

Many muslims gravitate to western countries like Canada, US or Europe because there are jobs, a better way of life, free health care, publically funded social programs, good governance, good education, good roads, security safety and a better way of life for one’s children. Some immigrants succeed very well and even become quite rich, starting their own businesses.

Those muslims who are waiting years to get into western countries are not seeking Sharia, but seeking a better way of life. They are seeking democracy. The old Sharia way of life cannot in a million years, give them what democracy gives. Guys like Umair will debate that, but he is guy is living a privileged existence, compared to his countrymen. Having the rest of the poor follow Sharia is a greatway to keep them contained, pre-occupied with the ferocious politics of religion in matters like Kashmir, it greatly reduces scrutiny of the ruling elite class. Unfortunately the elite in Pakistan are walking on a very thin line as they cannot say officially either way whether they embrace Sharia or not, either way produces trouble in Pakistan. Pakistan adopts Sharia, it goes backwards and the religious nuts will try to displace Islamabad and Rawalpindi…and should Pakistan choose not to adopt Sharia…it will mean direct war between the Pakistan elite and Pakistani Clerical establishment. In a democracy, no one group can keep anybody hostage in such a manner.

More muslim countries should seek democracy, as this will create the greatest happiness for all, through the various things that democracy brings.

I think the best will be a democracy with some Islamic ideals, but it should not be called Sharia.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive


BTW, one more thing, i believe democracy creates the happiest individuals. Happy individuals create overall, more productive, happy, creative, moderate and forward thinking societies.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive

The advantage to a democratic system is that it is open to amendments. And it is driven by popular demand. In other words, changes happen based on what the public wants and not what the leaders want. Sometimes those changes do not appear forward. In India, reservation quotas, labor laws etc are quite backward looking. It is frustrating to see these privileges getting abused and empowered. But the poor can make their voices heard by throwing out a government that is too focused on the well-to-do. The BJP led coalition government aggressively went after getting rid off old government owned companies. This sector had a huge work force (way beyond what is needed) and was inefficient in every aspect. BJP led government did the right thing by encouraging voluntary retirement. They did not have the time to look at the poor. The next election they were replaced by the Congress led coalition. Now BJP has toned down its Hindutva policy, retired many old leaders and is trying to give a new look. Democracy forces politicians to change their colors. About twenty years ago, politicians never talked of any economic issues. Now politicians are bringing in economic issues to the fore and are discussing them seriously. A lot has changed.
One cannot expect fast changes. Changes have to be slow and have to undergo evolution. That is the only it will help democracy adjust itself according to the underlying culture.

The problem with a Sharia like system is that it is not amenable to changes. God said it and that is it. With changing times, the system begins to look archaic. There are lot of progressive Muslims who would like to see changes according to the times and the Sharia law will not allow for that. Progressive thinkers are then held in fear of punishment. Fear is used as the means to control a population. This is not a healthy thing for humans. Europe went into dark ages because of control by a rigid Roman Catholic theocracy. At some point it got out of it. Humans cannot be held under age old laws forever. Sharia is deeply linked with religion. The way modern Muslim theocracies manage to keep their people aligned is by creating enemies out of other communities – non-Muslims, Westerners, Communists, Shias and so on. Thus conflict is necessary to keep the people united and motivated. Fear and phobia of others is an essential ingredient to sustain exclusiveness. This begins to build a wall around a nation that is run by such a system. Such a system can survive if it is independent in terms of resources. There is no country in this world today that is self sufficient in all aspects. Interactions with others is essential and that brings in questions on why one should live in a certain way prescribed by God, while others do not have to. Sharia like system badly needs an enemy to keep itself going.

If you look at the history of Pakistan, one can see clearly that they have relied on an enemy state to keep their diverse ethnic groups stay united under an Islamic banner. Any attempts to diffuse that phobia is thwarted immediately by the powers within. That is the danger of relying on a theocratic system. It needs “others” to justify its hold on power. In a democracy, secularism is a necessary ingredient. Though one cannot become 100% secular, at least in a democratic system, it becomes the goal. One can question it and fight it in such a system. In the case of a Sharia system, such question is dealt with by harsh punishments.

Religion is meant for uplifting one’s inner spirit. Its function as an administrative system is questionable today. It might have worked in the past. But it is not suitable for the modern world which has reached its height in science and technology. There is vast information available that raises questions in people. Sharia systems will struggle to contain the people from seeking answers to those questions. And it will lead to conflicts as a solution.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive


You have touched on some good points here. You said that a sharia like system uses an enemy to keep itself going, that is very true with Pakistan as a whole, its clerical and military establishment cannot hold political unity within Pakistan, unless India is created to be an enemy, eternally at any cost, it does not matter whether it is Kashmir, or even a flood, India is always blamed for every trouble in Pakistan or any other outside enemy, if not India, it maybe Israel or the U.S.

Sharia, like many other types of totalitarian or authoritian and theocratic institutions gravely and direly fail to address the rights and happiness of the individual and this will lead to spritual deadening of one within…you will never have a renaissance or any sort of intellectual awakenings, and this deadened state will never give rise to great thinking and great creation that human beings are capable of. In the end it leads to stagnation…there is no forward motion, just a static way of looking and perceiving the world….so what is the goal of this way of being…nothing will ever be created ever, nothing advanced. While the sheer rigidness of it all may ensure morality in most people, it will not make them happy, it will force them to not deal with inner feelings, hide from them, live in fear or reprisal or punishment if they speak out and in the end, lead to eventual psychological dysfuntionalies, anxiety and deep anger and resentment and the only outlet for all of this is….yes you guessed right….this is focussed towards enemies like India, Israel or the U.S. or other outsiders……and an uncompromising blind rage is created!…kind of like some people who want and need an enemy like India, to give meaning, focus and purpose to their world and belief.

In the end it leads to a mindset, where the believers feel that they are in a perpetual state of war with outsiders and non-believers.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive

BTW Singh,

I know a lot of good, staunch muslims and I don’t believe most muslims are uncompromising, militant, nor extremists.

Most muslism do not ascribe to militant thinking and militants in muslim countries never win votes, so that tells us that most muslims are not militant, nor extremist in their views.

Muslims that choose Sharia, it would not be right to call them militant or extremist either. Sharia may be good for some, but not good for all.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive


I think Pakistanis like Umair put democracy down for different reasons – India has adopted it and has become good at it. Therefore, their pride prevents them from acknowledging that is a real accomplishment by a country they’d like to view as an adversary at all costs. If India adopted democracy and is going strong with it, then it is not suitable for Pakistan. This is because Pakistan is always superior in all aspects. What else is available? Well Pakistan was founded on the basis of religion. Therefore Sharia becomes a better system. If they had sincerely tried democracy for a few decades then they will have the necessary experience to know if is good or bad. They never had a proper democracy. Therefore their analysis of democracy as a useless system stems not from experience, but from a false pride. If India gained economically they will not fail to point at its poor masses, Maoist rising etc. Their psyche simply does not allow them to acknowledge anything good about India and its accomplishments. Pakistan’s military is superior. Their nukes are superior. They are superior. They talk from this view point. Unfortunately they know that the reality is different. Most Indians do not seek such an acknowledgment from others. We are as we are. Pakistan is paying the price for adopting Sharia system from the time of Zia Ul Haq. Umair knows in his heart that Sharia is like prison from hell – no music, compulsory prayers, women covered from head to toe and not allowed to study, drive and play submissive role. In Saudi Arabia, school girls were let burn to their deaths when fire spread in their school. The Mullahs declared that they cannot expose themselves during their escape and let them burn instead. Sharia might be a great system for Muslim men. But definitely Muslim women would not desire such a system as their value and freedom get utterly restricted. In today’s world where there is plenty of awareness of the outside world, the contrast will be felt strongly and deeply.

Posted by KPSingh01 | Report as abusive

In engineering 1st year we are taught a subject called “metallurgy”. There is a topic in that on “Alloys”. An alloy is a mixture of metals in different proportions. Metals are extracted from earth and are nature made. Each metal has some good and bad. Like nickel has low tensile strength but do not rust while on other hand iron has very high tensile strength but easily rust. So mixing iron and nickel in correct proportion gives us steel, an iron alloy that has very high tensile strength and yet do not rust.

You guys must have got my idea by now. Yes we should have a system that gets in best of all worlds. And democracy tries to achieve same. Key is to mix things in correct proportions. In democracy it may take hundreds of years to find right mix but democracy DOES ALLOW to mix and match and find right combination for good governance as per prevailing times. So democracy is a larger framework wherein people can work out what is best. It may be sharia for pakistan and may be capitalism for India. So we need democracy to find the good for ALL.

Posted by 777xxx777 | Report as abusive


At the end of the day, Pakistan’s problem is poor governance and militantism.

Unfortunately, the different political streams, all vying for power, don’t care what is truly best for the people and the nation as a whole.

Everybody is busy pointing fingers and there is a lack of courage and a lack of moral will to do the right thing in Pakistan.

The present course will continue and Pakistani’s will continue getting dragged through the mud.

Posted by G-W | Report as abusive

Unlike that in the West, in India political, economic and social emancipation is happening simultaneously. This confuses the western observers. Indian democracy is in its adolescence but it’s vibrant and real.

The nation building project in Pakistan is stunted while that in India is free flowing, inclusive absorbtive, experimentative, and often messy. In the end, democracy without good governance is of little value. Comparing dictatorships with democracies is like comparing apples with oranges.

Posted by NPegasus | Report as abusive

Gentle men, let us hail democracy the best thing long term to give freedom to people. The devolution process in Democracy is now separating Scotland from the union, the mother of modern democracies.
Let us wish every country democracies so that people eventually gain freedom from the centeralised world diovided in countries.
Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

Democracy does not mean the Govt. of illetrates, by the illetrates and for the illetrates! These are the words of the former legal advisor to the declassified former dictator.
Democracy means equal chances for all in education. employment and human rights. The one thing should be the free education for all. Let us not discuss other features of the democracy, which some western nations have acquired over centuries, which is now part of their culture.
Rex Minor

Posted by pakistan | Report as abusive

Most of the communities in India (such as Bengali), are succumbed in ‘Culture of Poverty’(a theory introduced by an American anthropologist Oscar Lewis), irrespective of class or economic strata, lives in pavement or apartment. Nobody is at all ashamed of the deep-rooted corruption, decaying general quality of life, worst Politico-administrative system, weak mother language, continuous absorption of common space (mental as well as physical, both). We are becoming fathers & mothers only by self-procreation, mindlessly & blindfold. Simply depriving their(the children) fundamental rights of a decent, caring society, fearless & dignified living. Do not ever look for any other positive alternative behaviour (values) to perform human way of parenthood, i.e. deliberately co-parenting of those children those are born out of ignorance, real poverty. All of us are being driven only by the very animal instinct. If the Bengali people ever be able to bring that genuine freedom (from vicious cycle of ‘poverty’) in their own life/attitude, involve themselves in ‘Production of Space’(Henri Lefebvre), at least initiate a movement by heart, decent & dedicated Politics will definitely come up.
- Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay, 16/4, Girish Banerjee Lane, Howrah-711101.

Posted by siddharthamithu | Report as abusive

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