Idée Fixe

The New York Times carried an article on Pakistan (Ghosts that Haunt Pakistan) in its January 6, 2008 Week in Review. It contains some interesting perspectives and unasked questions.

A few quotes can highlight the issues: 

For 60 years since its founding in the partitioning of British India, Pakistan has seesawed between military dictatorships and elected governments, and now new hope for stability is being placed on the chance that democracy there can be revived.

But while attention is currently focused on the failings of Pervez Musharraf, the latest in a long line of military rulers, Pakistan’s civilian leaders, too, have much to account for in the faltering history of Pakistani democracy. Over the decades, their own periods in office have been notable mostly for their weakness, their instinct for political score-settling, and their venality. 

Note the unstated assumption that democracy can work anywhere.  And the thrust of the argument – if only the civilian leaders had been a more decent bunch of characters. (Link this back to our earlier post on Kenya.)

Nowhere does the article turn the proposition around and ask why it is that the system keeps throwing up such lousy civilian leaders. Is it just an unfortunate accident? Or is there a systemic issue to be explored? Why rule out the hypothesis altogether?  

The article ends with an intriguing quote from Irshad Ahmed Haqqani, a former information minister:

“Pakistanis are a normal people and can go as far on the road to democracy as any other nation can. This road we must take; we cannot do without it.” 

What does this mean, the tying of democracy to the “normalcy” of the people? Isn’t this completely without a sense of context? Does it mean that the thousand years that there was no democracy in Europe, it was because the people were not normal?  

Is there any room for a discussion of governance centered on the context rather than just on good and bad people? 

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