Elision of ipsocracy: that is removing the rule of the same rulers. In Pakistan’s case, the rulers are motivated by power-seeking or office-holding, rather than by motives of pursuing weighty policies appropriate to the needs of the vast majority of the country’s people. To say that Pakistan’s ipsocrats have failed to deliver on these would be a gross understatement.

But it is not just the ipsocrats to blame: Pakistani public intellectuals have a lot to answer for their criminal negligence of analysing and exposing the linguistic gymnastics Pakistani ipsocrats deploy. The ipsocrats, especially the secularist aided by imperialists, in turn operate in and sustain a socio-economic-ideological and political matrix that reproduces the status quo. It is this matrix that needs to be punctured in order to get rid of the theatrical decadent political elite, and end ipsocracy: that is, ‘rule by the same’ or ‘same form of rule’ and replacing this with politics of and by the people. An ipsocratic elite incidentally will seek support from any hostile country or the devil itself to keep themselves in, and their opponents out, of power.

Part of the problem is that until recently, Pakistani political discourse has been far too abstract and rhetorical than specific and concrete. When specific problems like energy shortages and education are discussed, these are seen as isolated problems and not as part of a larger and systematic malignancy whose origins are both domestic and foreign. This requires analysis of the complex totality of processes and structures that constitute Pakistan; for there is a close entanglement of political, social, economic and ideological processes; precisely the items that structure and reproduce ipsocracy.

Pakistani public intellectuals need to repeat again and again that political parties, voting and elections are in many ways the easiest part of democracy. Far harder is the transformation of the country into the type that most Pakistanis want: modernity, best aspects of traditional values, independence, and so on. To achieve this, specific policies rather than slavish adoration of political personalities needs to be institutionalised in the body politic of Pakistan. Public scrutiny of political manifestos need to be brought to the forefront of political discourse, and subjected to detailed scrutiny by the people. And the political party that wins an election on the basis of its actionable manifesto should be voted to form a government. Of equal importance should be that if a government does not adhere to implementing its manifesto in its concrete specific form, then there should be definite mechanisms in place that force it out of office before its term ends.

Apart from the obvious items that characterize a modern democratic polity such as welfare and equality of opportunity, for Pakistan two additional attributes are also needed: self-determination and popular sovereignty. First, self-determination requires that it needs to engage very selectively (and suspiciously) with global hegemonic powers such as the US and with India. Those Pakistani politicians who go frequently to these and similar countries (or to their embassies) ought to be banned from Pakistani politics on grounds of not understanding the mal-intent of regional and global political culture. Before being allowed into the public service that is politics, their characters ought to be publically scrutinized for malformation and grotesque distortions.

Second, on popular sovereignty: this is at the heart of legitimizing democratic government. Specifically in the case of Pakistan this means that political parties and leaders with deep non-sectarian Islamic sensibilities need to be acknowledged as possessing the essential character, personality and ideology to be leaders of the country; and are therefore legitimate entities over and above their secular counterparts who have no home grown theory to justify secularity.

But to be fair: it is not only Pakistanis who have self-labelled themselves and made fraudulent claims to be democratic. Lots of regimes around the world have historically claimed to be democratic including monarchies, oligarchies, plutocracies – all of whom can be tyrannical. Tyranny and oppression have been implicated in parliamentary democracies, whether presidential or not (the US is a prime example of the embodiment of tyranny at home and abroad), constitutional monarchy working in tandem with parliamentary democracy, popular democracy, liberal democracy and not least military or authoritarian democracy. Importantly, it might be noted in passing that, at least in the West, ‘economic democracy’ is very rarely, if ever, used as a self-describing label by any democracy. For this would be much too easy to expose as a fraudulent claim when measured against observable facts in terms of the existence of poverty, deprivation, inequality and concentration of wealth in the West. In the latter, an abstract notion of legal equality of citizens does exist; but talk of economic equality is dormant.

One can be optimistic: ipsocracy is now being questioned, and a new meaning and practice of democracy is in the offing. Ipsocracy need not be a fixed feature of Pakistani politics. For in its operational form, the concept of democracy takes substance from the conditions and opinions which advocates of democracy have at particular times and places found in opposition to their aims. Thus, in a struggle against the unpopular rule of a dictator or oligarchy, democracy has been referred to as a government by the many, rather than the few; in a struggle against social privilege, class and economic inequality, democracy has referred to equality in social position and economic welfare; in a struggle against corrupt and arbitrary rule and manipulation of opinion, democracy has referred to procedures constraining arbitrary rule and for regulating elections and party action, and separation of powers, and so on.

Given this variability in the meaning and aims of movements which carry the banner of democracy, the concept of democracy cannot be understood by an analysis of any definition thought to be valid in all times and places. It can only be understood through an historical examination of the meaning which has been attached to the term by theoretical writers and practitioners of different countries and periods: In Pakistan, democrats have never really been democratic; and military dictators have been less than dictatorial (softees compared to General Franco). They have been more like wheeler dealers who want to stay in power at all cost, whilst not doing much for the country. Both types have this factor in common: they have been ipsocratic members of an ipsocracy, and have used real or cobbled mandates to go on, or allow, the rage of corruption and neglect.

The writer is a freelance columnist.