By Anjum Altaf
It is useful to raise the chicken-and-egg question in connection with the link between governance and human security: does better governance improve human security or does greater human security lead to better governance? Which basket should we put more of our eggs in?
This is a debatable question and each one of us would gain by thinking it through for ourselves. My own position on the subject was shaped over twenty-five years ago by an interaction in rural Sindh. Since then I have favored the opinion that the causality runs more strongly from human security to governance than the other way around.
In a rural area whose political representative was particularly well known for his misdeeds, I asked a constituent why the voters had not chosen a more “honest” individual. The answer was patient, kind, brief, and spontaneous: “Do you think we do not know what kind of person we have elected? Do you really believe a “good” person would be able to deliver the kinds of things we need to survive here?”
There it was, the micro-foundation of our macro-situation, as it were, in a very few words. The response encapsulated the raw wisdom of those exposed to the vulnerabilities of the real world as opposed to the naive idealism or sly cynicism (take your pick) of those who exhort the election of “good” people whenever the rotten system of governance goes through the charade of a new beginning.
This was the bottom line I took away from the encounter. As long as human security is not assured, as long as fundamental rights (access to justice, access to work) are not impersonally guaranteed, the functions of social and economic protection and of political representation cannot be separated. The need for a powerful patron, the more powerful the better, would continue to dominate the calculus of rational, self-interested voters.
Take democracy as a system of governance and note how Tocqueville describes the conditions for its emergence. “Equality, which makes men independent of one another, naturally gives them the habit and taste to follow nobody’s will but their own in their private affairs…. This love of independence is the first and most striking feature of the political effects of equality…. As each [individual] sees himself little different from his neighbors, he cannot understand why a rule applicable to one man should not be applied to all the rest… and legislative uniformity strikes him as the first condition of good government.”
Talking about Americans in particular, Tocqueville observes: “As for particular privileges granted to towns, families, or individuals, they have forgotten the possibility of such things. It has never come into their heads that one cannot apply the same law uniformly to all parts of one state and all the men living in it… the idea of intermediate powers is obscured and obliterated.”
Tocqueville is very clear about the relationship of equality and independence to the system of governance: “Since in times of equality no man is obliged to put his powers at the disposal of another, and no one has any claim of right to substantial support from his fellow man, each is both independent and weak… Men’s hatred of privilege increases as privileges become rarer and less important, the flame of democratic passion apparently blazing the brighter the less fuel there is to feed it.” On the other hand, “When conditions are unequal, no inequality, however great, offends the eye.”
I am sure it is no surprise to anyone that Pakistan is characterized by extreme inequalities, by the almost total dependence of some on others, by the strong hold of intermediary powers, and also by the acceptance of these conditions by many as a part of our fate. There is not a single political party with significant following that has a sincere agenda advancing human equality and individual human rights in Pakistan. Since political parties with significant following and non-parties with claims to majority support have all had a turn at the helm of affairs, this assertion rests on strong empirical evidence.
In the absence of any advance in human security, everything else remaining the same, the political formation remains immune to meaningful reform. No matter where and how it is restarted, it reverts back to the form that is compatible with the underlying socio-economic realities—a system of patronage based on patron-client relationships. Thus “good” people rarely get elected; the same “not-so-good” people get re-elected in every round; there is always a “king’s” party; voters do not punish their representatives for switching ideologies or allegiances; and always being part of the winning group is considered a mark of great political acumen.
In this scenario the large sums of money being allocated to governance and governance reform continue to yield extremely meager returns, if any. Recent reports suggest that the quality of governance continues to deteriorate. This is no surprise given the lack of political pressure from below, a lack acknowledged by the fact that no political party considers individual human rights an issue around which voters could be mobilized.
What is to be done in the kind of situation that exists in Pakistan? Referring back to Tocqueville does not yield optimistic or practical suggestions: “All the old political powers in Europe, the greatest as well as the least, have been founded in ages of aristocracy, and they represented and were more or less willing to defend the principle of inequality and privilege. To make the new wants and interests prompted by growing equality preponderant in the government, it was therefore necessary to overthrow or coerce the established powers. This led men to make revolutions…. I do not think there is a single country in Europe where the progress of equality has not been preceded or followed by some violent changes in the status of property and of persons and all these changes have been accompanied by much anarchy and license.”
As we well know from the experience of our leftist parties, however, revolutions cannot be willed into being. The demand for individual equality from below must precede the change and be the motivation for the change. We are not yet at the stage where the demand for individual equality is a serious proposition. We are still struggling for the rights of groups, be they nationalities, ethnicities or sects. The struggle has been for Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sindhudesh, Balochistan, not for the advancement of individual human rights in any given geographical area. Despite the rhetoric, it should be no surprise that the creation of Pakistan has made little difference to the human rights of those at the bottom of the social hierarchy.
The struggle of groups and the stage of development it represents is a subject for another discussion. What does need to be reiterated is that the kind of democratic governance compatible with advances in human security rests on the unqualified acceptance of the individual as the unit of decision-making free to decide according to his or her own judgment without fear of coercion or reprisal. It is incompatible with a world in which governance is a zero-sum game between mutually exclusive interest groups whose leaders convince or intimidate their members to vote in accordance with real or presumed group interests. Democracy cannot fulfill its promise in situations where people feel unprotected as individuals and seek security in the membership of antagonistic loyalty groups.
An argument along these lines never fails to invite the inevitable comparison with India. How, in such a perspective, would one account for the continued existence of democratic governance over more than half a century in India compared to the fiasco in Pakistan? There are a number of relevant answers to this question.
First, we are concerned with the quality of governance in general and not with the form of governance in particular. So the relevant question to pose is how much better is the quality of governance in India, especially as it relates to the most vulnerable groups in society? Has India reached the stage where the dependence of one man on another has ended so that the voter can elect a political representative without thinking of his or her needs for human security and economic and social protection? A thoughtful answer is provided by Pratap Bhanu Mehta in his book The Burden of Democracy. After enumerating the many contributions of democracy to Indian life, Mehta notes that it has “not delivered millions of citizens from the abject dictates of poverty” and identifies the dimensions of the reality, as he sees it, as follows: “the impunity of politicians, the high-handedness of government, the absence of minimum reciprocity in civic life, the lurking threat of violence, [and] the weak hold of the rule of law over all sections of society.”
Mehta argues that “it is the texture of social relations in the Indian society that fundamentally thwarts us from realizing the goods of democracy… in all our social and political relationships, procedures, habits of thought, patterns of conduct, the influence of inequality is palpable.” And inequality “imposes the profoundest burden when it is seen as denying individuals the minimum regard due to them, or when it constantly puts them in situations that are humiliating.” In Mehta’s analysis this inequality remains the biggest burden of Indian democracy and the explanation for its discontents.
Second, we have to consider the various pathways that lead to the emergence of a democratic form of government along the lines articulated by Barrington Moore Jr. in his old but still relevant book Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. In the earlier discussion I have focused on the path where the demand for equality from below is a key element in the emergence of democracy, a process that unfolded, for example, in the case of England and France as successive groups (nobles, merchants) with an independent economic base sought to gain power at the expense of the central authority, usually the monarch. However, a democratic form of governance could also result, especially in post-colonial societies inheriting a legacy of electoral politics, from a power vacuum at the top created by the withdrawal of the colonial power and gridlock amongst the elites when there is no one group strong enough to dominate all the others and no other resolution to conflict is possible except some form of compromise. This was the case in India where no one region, ethnic group or institution found itself with the ability or power to dominate all the others. And this has been a major differentiating factor in the comparison with Pakistan.
Mehta notes that “The desire for democracy is in part a desire to have one’s moral worth acknowledged.” But this has not been the pathway to democracy in India. “The significance of India’s democratic experiment was itself disguised by the historical process through which it came about…. It was not the object of ideological passion, it was not born of a deep sense of conviction widely shared, but it was simply the contingent outcome of the conflicts amongst India’s different elites, or an unintended by-product of the British having produced too many lawyers adept in the idioms of modern politics.” Not surprisingly, this pathway has had political positives at the top but few dividends at the bottom: “democracy’s biggest triumph is that it has proven to be an effective—perhaps the only—mechanism for holding India together. It is true that one of the reasons for the relative success of its democracy, and its hanging together as a nation has been the profoundly cross-cutting character of cleavages within Indian society that has made collective action on a large scale, to overthrow the state, quite difficult to mount.”
In elaborating this pathway to democracy in India (a la Barrington Moore Jr.), Mehta highlights the real issue bearing on the relationship between governance and human security in the subcontinent: “India’s experience with democracy is anomalous in one significant sense. India was one of the few societies where a political revolution preceded a social one… India’s social ancien regime survived into democracy relatively intact…. Therefore, the discourse of equality in Indian democracy often seeks to achieve equality between groups. It aims not at liberating individuals from groups or even necessarily eroding the structural logic of the system that makes group rankings possible in the first place.”
Thus, while the form of governance in India has been democratic for over half a century the gains to the bottom rung of the social and economic ladder in terms of human security and individual human rights have been nowhere commensurate. This is not to say that the existence of the democratic form of governance is entirely irrelevant—there is no doubt that it enlarges the political space for those at the bottom, forces a higher level of competence at the top, at least in relative terms, and helps in conflict resolution. But the fact remains that in terms of gains in human security the democratic form of governance is not sufficient or adequate in itself.
Given the above conclusion, placing the eggs in the basket of democracy in Pakistan is likely to leave civil society disappointed in terms of gains in human security. If democracy is being used as a loose codeword for restoration of civilian rule, the focus remains warranted. Civilian rule is preferable to military rule because when dictators run the charade of creating and maintaining a democratic façade it adds innumerable irretrievable complications to national life. However, civilian rule, as has been proven by our experience, is no guarantee of improvements in human security and access to human rights. It only provides a slightly more encouraging starting point for the real struggle that may still not lead anywhere. The social reality is that the political ethos in Pakistan, both of the rulers and of the ruled, remains monarchical. In the age of democracy, elections are the mechanism we are forced to use to settle the succession amongst contenders (both real and the creations of king-makers) to the throne and one that usurpers need to legitimize themselves; the winner of the election, manipulated to a greater or lesser extent, takes absolute control and denies the legitimacy of the opposition often using such medieval devices as forced exile. Rulers, civil or military, very quickly begin to see themselves as monarchs (kings, emperors, or caliphs), all personally anointed by the Almighty with a divine mandate to guide the nation to its salvation. This is an attitude of noblesse oblige, and without any pressure from below (indeed, often with tacit or resigned acceptance) the state has little political incentive to take seriously the issues of those at the bottom of the social hierarchy.
So what is to be done beyond the struggle for civilian rule? In the absence of a political coalition to support the demand for improvements in human rights, civil society groups at the present juncture in Pakistan should look for mechanisms to strengthen the instruments of social control over governments, to weaken the latter’s control over critical areas of resource allocation, and to increase the accountability of its actions. Some aspects of globalization can help in this agenda. For example, the growing importance of the private sector in business driven by competitiveness concerns coupled with the fiscal pressure to privatize state enterprises is stripping the state of key opportunities for distributing patronage. Here, social activists must examine the contradictions in their position whereby they correctly identify the anti-people nature of the Pakistani state yet insist on the same state to deliver key services to the most vulnerable without proposing any mechanism for how this circle is to be squared. The fact remains that, in relative terms, the private sector is easier to hold accountable than the state. There is need to find effective means to enforce the accountability of the private sector. The creation of a citizen’s commission made up of eminent individuals acceptable across the spectrum of civil society groups would be a useful first step to interact with the private sector on behalf of ordinary citizens.
The citizen’s commission could also raise the profile and credibility of interaction with the organs of the state. A critical area is the rule of law where the arbitrary power of the state or of one individual over another needs to be curtailed. Mechanisms need to be found to shelter the judiciary from the predatory powers of the executive and to try to ensure easier and more equitable access to and enforcement of justice. Civil society should devote efforts to wrest a lot more input in the design and staffing of the institutions of government providing justice and enforcing the law and a lot more control over the promotion of officials within these institutions. Once again, we learn from Tocqueville that this is not likely to be an easy struggle: “Unable to do without judges, it [the government] likes at least to choose the judges itself and always to keep them under its hand; that is to say, it puts an appearance of justice, rather than justice itself, between the government and the private person.” Do we need Tocqueville to remind us of this reality in Pakistan? Nevertheless, the efforts need to be made as part of a multi-dimensional strategy to exert pressure on the state.
Other, less difficult, areas need to be identified that can serve to provide the nucleus for autonomous spaces free of state control. Universities are an obvious choice, being the breeding ground for new ideas and reasoned debate, where the legitimacy of state appointments to top positions is very weak and needs to be challenged. Similarly, state appointments to associations representing the arts and sports, do not have any serious rationale. These are areas where a much greater role for a citizen’s commission can be envisaged and advocated.
The accountability of the state can be increased by concretizing its very general promises of delivering benefits to citizens. For example, the state routinely makes the promise to deliver clean drinking water to all citizens within a stipulated time period. Civil society groups could nominate one or two districts in each province as test cases of the government’s credibility and monitor and publicize the progress there on a regular basis. Such efforts could be spread across the spectrum of public services to include health, education, justice, etc. Panels of the citizen’s commission could also strive to win the right to make independent random checks of the efficiency and quality of the public services delivered with the legal authority to make such findings public and claim compensation for damages to the lives or health of citizens.
Civil society needs to be creative in identifying the vulnerabilities of the state at the present time. It was mentioned earlier that in the absence of political pressure from below the state has no reason to take the demands of the majority of its citizen seriously. The same state, however, is much more sensitive to the projection of its image abroad as evidenced by the history of recent gang rape violations in the country. This sensitivity provides a wedge for civil society to leverage its campaign for the promotion of human rights. The use of the media, both local and foreign, would be a vital tool in these struggles as it becomes increasingly more effective in the age of the Internet, cable and satellite television. Scoreboards could be created and updated to report delivery on promises and the quality of the services delivered; every instance of state failure and violation of human rights and human security could be highlighted combined with aggressive lobbying for due process and justice. This would generate an alternative source of pressure for systemic reform.
All these efforts should aim to further the creation and strengthening of a social coalition by targeting benefits and delivering tangible gains to the most vulnerable individuals in society. Even so, it will remain a difficult situation in the short run. The political demand for individual human rights cannot be artificially hurried beyond a point. The continued strong grip of religion is a handicap in this particular dimension because it encourages the acceptance of the state of affairs as divinely ordained and characterizes injustice and deprivation as a test of one’s faith that, if borne with patience, would earn its reward in the next life. Some facets of globalization and international political developments are strengthening this religious grip in Islamic countries quite unlike the weakening that occurred in Europe during the Enlightenment: a Voltaire would find it hard to survive in today’s Pakistan. The weakening of religion in Europe was a major element in the rejection of abject poverty and deprivation as divinely ordained and in the emergence of the realization that they were susceptible to political solutions. Doctrines promoting the individual rights of human beings—liberty and equality, in particular—followed and were the spurs to the demands for representative governments based on the will of the people. Such forces remain weak in the subcontinent. It is still much easier to mobilize people on the elimination of a column for religion in the passport or on real or imagined insults to self-respect related to religious beliefs as opposed to the right to clean water or access to basic health and justice in the twenty-first century.
One should remain skeptical of the returns from electoral democracy in terms of improvements in human security. A creative challenge for civil society would be to examine and debate governance alternatives that might be more promising. Zakaria mentions that “One effect of the overemphasis on pure democracy is that little effort is given to creating imaginative constitutions for transitional countries. Constitutionalism, as it was understood by its greatest eighteenth-century exponents, such as Montesquieu and Madison, is a complicated system of checks and balances designed to prevent the accumulation of power and the abuse of office. This is accomplished not simply by writing up a list of rights but by constructing a system in which government will not violate these rights.”
Zakaria highlights the South African constitution as “an example of an unusually crafted, somewhat undemocratic structure [that] secures power for minorities, both those regionally based such as the Zulus and those that are dispersed, such as the whites. In doing so, it has increased that country’s chances of success as a democracy, despite its poverty and harrowing social catastrophes.” Malaysia could be considered as another example where customized power-sharing arrangements were negotiated as an alternative to pure democracy and worked to yield meaningful gains in human security. This provides another area of focus for civil society groups engaged with the long-term objective of obtaining meaningful gains in human security and fundamental rights as the stepping stones to the emergence of a workable mode of participatory governance.
I have articulated the position that the political demand for equality and fundamental human rights is the prime motivation for improvements in governance. This political demand cannot be willed into being—the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment were major inputs into the emergence of such a demand in Europe and a continued struggle, as evidenced by the gradual extension of suffrage over more than a century, led to the will of all the people being incorporated into the structures of governance. In the absence of such a political demand in Pakistan, civil society needs to concentrate on locating alternative sources of pressure and exploiting the existing vulnerabilities of the state to advance the agenda for increased human security and greater respect for human rights.
 A key marker of this struggle was the signing of the Magna Carta, a charter of baronial privilege, in 1215 between the English nobility and King John. The earliest secular expression of democratic political egalitarianism was voiced in 1647 by the Levellers during the English Civil War. The idea of the natural equality of all men was a major theme from that time on (as reflected in the writings of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Kant) and were an integral part of the revolutionary movements by the end of the eighteenth century (l’egalite in France, for example, rejecting privileges based on birth).
 In The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad, Fareed Zakaria notes that “We live in a democratic age…. Dictators such as Egypt’s Hosni Mobarak and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe go to great effort and expense to organize national elections—which, of course, they win handily. When the enemies of democracy mouth its rhetoric and ape its rituals, you know it has won the war.” Democracy may not have won the war but it is a necessary façade that has to be maintained by the holders of power.
 Note the procedural change from the later Mughal period, as described by G.S. Cheema in The Forgotten Mughals, in which “all ruling monarchs were ‘legitimate’ and the exercise of de facto power was sufficient to legitimize the usurpation of the most outrageous upstart.” Now we need the doctrine of necessity and subsequent elections to provide the legitimacy. Note the similarity in outcomes between elected political representatives in Pakistan and the Mughal nobles of that time: “it is interesting to note the completely apolitical nature of the Indian umara. The readiness with which great nobles switched sides, often in the midst of a battle…”
 This monarchical ethos is not restricted to Pakistan although here it reveals its grossest aspects. One does not have to look very far to see that the hold of dynastic rule and darbari culture in all South Asian countries is pervasive and not entirely by accident. And human security remains an outstanding issue in the entire region.
 Mehta’s description of the situation in India links this political manifestation with the nature of social relations: “Despite the improvements of the last decade or so, even a basic recitation of India’s human development indices, a casual perusal of their landscape, will bring home the violence built into India’s political economy with unnerving force. But the sad truth remains that we mostly pay attention to these facts, if at all, mainly because they are an embarrassment to us, not because we experience them as profoundly unjust. The fact that we are more embarrassed than outraged by these is a sign of the distances that separate us as citizens.”
 In his essay On God, the philosopher Leszek Kolakowski writes “Suffering has always existed, but it seems only now to have become such an obvious and compelling argument against God. It is hard to say whether this is because there is more of it now than there was before. Perhaps we just feel, nowadays, that all suffering is unfair. This, however, is the result rather than the cause of our unbelief.” Here we are less interested in arguments against the existence of God and more in the political implications of suffering being seen as unfair and thereby susceptible to change through struggle.
 An interesting point along these lines is mentioned by C.M. Naim in his book The Ambiguities of Heritage. He mentions that before 1947 the nationalist ulema had in mind a future constitution of India based on a pact between Muslims and non-Muslims on the pattern of the one between the Muslims and the Jews of Medina. This was a self-serving idea but one wonders if some creative variant not fixated on electoral politics could have avoided the tragedy of a million deaths and the forced homelessness of ten times as many individuals. However, the perverse politics of ascriptive groups, totally incompatible with the spirit of democracy, was too far advanced by that time for creative solutions to have found sympathetic consideration.
Cheema, G.S., The Forgotten Mughals: A History of the Later Emperors of the House of Babar, New Delhi, Manohar Publications, 2002
Kolakowski, Leszek, Freedom, Fame, Lying and Betrayal, London, Penguin, 1999
Mehta, Pratap Bhanu, The Burden of Democracy, New Delhi, Penguin Books, 2003
Moore, Barrington, Jr., Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Master in the Making of the Modern World, Boston, Beacon Press, 1966
Naim, C.M., Ambiguities of Heritage, Karachi, City Press, 1999
Tocqueville, Alexis de, Democracy in America, New York, Signet Classics, 2001
Zakaria, Fareed, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad, New York, Norton, 2003
This paper was presented in December 2006 at the HRDN conference on Human Security in Islamabad. In the context of this conference human security includes both the economic and physical security of individuals. I am grateful to Professor C.M. Naim for comments on an earlier draft. At the time the author was a Visiting Fellow at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad. He is presently Vice-President and Provost at Habib University in Karachi.