Our democratic project has been jinxed since independence. Much of the reason behind this misfortune has been the early departure of the titans of the struggle for independence i.e Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan. Later the slavish imitation of a colonial constitution, initially in the shape of the Act of 1935 and later a pale imitation of the British Westminster polity did not help matters.

Three pathologies defined Pakistan’s struggle with its political identity on the eve of her independence. These were Islam-Secularism confusion, presidential-parliamentary ambivalence and civil-military imbalance. Let us see at the outset what the founder of the nation had in mind about the above three paradoxes.

Quaid had set forth his political credo in these very clear words during his 11 August address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.” The above statement unambiguously states the Quaid’s vision about Pakistan as a tolerant, pluralist, and syncretic state where there was no room for discrimination or distinction on the basis of religion. The ruckus raised by the political Islamic parties and their leaders as to the purpose of the state later in Pakistan’s history did much damage to the national integration, that as per Quaid, had to be fostered through inclusive politics and statecraft.

The theocratic advocates of Pakistan’s state ideology give arguments that Pakistan being an artificial construct comprising diverse linguistic and ethnic identities, needed a common religious bond to be welded into a nation. Though Pakistan’s subsequent history disproved the truth of above ideological advocates, still the confusion remained simmering, only to be stoked into fires of religious exclusivism off and on by the beneficiaries of potential beneficiaries of theocratic rule. The ideology of Pakistan was a concept first actively advocated by Major General Sher Ali Pataudi who as a Minister of Information in Yahya Khan’s cabinet was keen on countering the ethnic particularism of secular-minded parties like PPP and Awami League, through a common glue of Islamic identity. The glue came unstuck however in the face of compelling political realities in the wake of 1970 elections and the ensuing political agitation in Eastern wing.

Regarding the second confusion of presidential versus parliamentary system Quaid e Azam’s ideas have been subject of much debate. Some writers opine he preferred a presidential system as the parliamentary system had only worked satisfactorily in the unitary UK, and not a federation like Pakistan. These views are inspired by a handwritten memo of Quad e Azam before independence.

The same writers argue that since Quaid had opted for the position of Governor-General, he had a preference for a presidential system. Quaid’s own thoughts on the subject were briefly shared with the members of the constituent assembly in these words, “The Constituent Assembly has got two main functions to perform. The first is the very onerous and responsible task of framing the future constitution of Pakistan and the second of functioning as a full and complete sovereign body as the Federal Legislature of Pakistan. Dealing with our first function in this Assembly, I cannot make any well-considered pronouncement at this moment, but I shall say a few things as they occur to me. The first and the foremost thing that I would like to emphasise is this: remember that you are now a sovereign legislative body and you have got all the powers. It, therefore, places on you the gravest responsibility as to how you should take your decisions. The first observation that I would like to make is this: You will no doubt agree with me that the first duty of a government is to maintain law and order, so that the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects are fully protected by the State.”

The above words of Quaid betoken a predilection for the republicanism i.e peace and order through a stable polity and strong leadership. The vision on the face value prefers a presidential system but in the absence of clear exposition, one can only conjecture. While in neighbouring India, fate and circumstances conspired to give Indian polity much needed stability and leadership vision in the shape of Nehru, Pakistan was not so lucky. After Quaid’s early departure Liaquat Ali Khan tried to frame the constitution but could not finish the job. The critics ascribe the delay on constitution-making to fear of Bengali domination in case of elections on adult suffrage. He is also criticized for kowtowing to religious forces flexing their political muscle in the Constituent Assembly. The “Objectives Resolution” is still a subject of debate amongst secularists and Islamists in Pakistan. After his assassination, the country came in the grip of the civilian bureaucracy whereas politicians gradually lost power vis a vis unelected bureaucrats and the military.

The country got its first constitution in 1956 when the principle of parity was accepted by the East Pakistani Bengalis primarily due to the efforts of Husain Shaheed Suharwardy. The third cleavage i.e civil-military power imbalance came to the fore gradually after the departure of Quaid and Liaquat. Quaid e Azam was very clear on civil-military relations and he had made his views clear in his various speeches. During a visit to the Command and Staff College Quetta he said, “I discovered that one or two very high-ranking officers did not know the implications of the oath taken by the troops of Pakistan. Of course, an oath is only a matter of form; what is more important are the true spirit and the heart. But it is an important form, and I would like to take the opportunity of refreshing your memory by reading the prescribed oath to you.”

During another occasion when accosted by an agitated Major General Akbar Khan, Quaid admonished him in these words,” Look here, you are a soldier, you do not make the government policies, your job is to obey the government, therefore concentrate on your profession.” Now having seen the Quaid’s vision, one cannot wonder why our democratic journey took the route of military and civilian despotism. Our departure from constitutional liberalism and stable polity as envisaged by our Quaid towards authoritarian rule and unstable parliamentary experiments has exposed the country to bad governance, corruption, and civil-military disharmony. The million-dollar question is why doesn’t our democracy deliver?

The answer to the above question lies in our failure to ensure the executive’s ability to govern. Simply stated, our Prime Minister is a perpetual hostage to a numbers game, wherein he has to continually make compromises to retain the allegiance of members of parliament. Secondly, the compulsion to dole out political favours like ministries and development funds to legislators leads to weak governance. Another problem suffered by our democracy is the nexus between crime and politics. Politics is a rich man’s game in Pakistan and whosoever enters the arena has to possess riches. Most enter politics either to multiply their wealth or to protect their ill-gotten wealth. So what is the answer to the above democratic pathologies?

The answer lies in either in a Presidential system like the United States, or if that is not possible, a Parliamentary system where the Prime Minister cannot be blackmailed by parliamentarians and could remain in the office without any fear of removal through a vote of no confidence. The PM should also have no compulsion to choose a cabinet minister from the parliament. The civil-military harmony could be ensured through a restructured Higher Defence Organisation and effective oversight institutions like a well -resourced National Security Committee and an effective Ministry of Defence. The Quaid’s mission beckons us. He had resolved the dilemma of three issues circumscribing our democracy’s efficacy in clear terms for us. Can we adopt his ideals to make our democracy work?