Reluctance to Learn from History

By: Asim Ejaz Mahar

It is aptly observed that politics in Pakistan is marked by unforeseen outcomes. Various political analysts and historians have consistently cautioned the ruling elite against perpetuating past errors, urging them to embrace pragmatism to genuinely democratize the nation and realize Quaid-e-Azam’s vision of a welfare state. However, the political elite in Pakistan has persistently remained reluctant to learn from history.
The deterioration and eventual collapse of democratic norms began with resistance against the introduction of the Objectives Resolution in 1949. This event ignited widespread agitation and demonstrations by various pressure groups opposing the inaugural constitutional document. The political elite of that era failed to appease the demands of diverse factions, exacerbating the turmoil. Moreover, the discord among political groups over the Basic Principles Committee’s reports further deepened the differences, rendering consensus unattainable.
The series of destructions beganwith unlawful dissolution of the Assembly by Governor General Ghulam Muhammad and the imposition of martial law by Ayub Khan set a precedent for undermining democratic institutions in Pakistan. This erosion of democratic norms continued with the breakup of Pakistan’s East Wing in 1971 due to rigid politics, a devastating blow to national unity. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s unplanned nationalization further destabilized the economy, causing inefficiencies and widespread discontent. The authoritative martial law and damaging policies of Zia-ul-Haq, particularly his decision to involve Pakistan in the Afghan Jihad, not only strained the country’s resources but also fostered an environment of extremism and instability. Each of these actions progressively weakened the fabric of democracy in Pakistan, making governance increasingly autocratic and disconnected from the people’s will.
The trend of military interference persisted with Pervez Musharraf’s martial law, which further entrenched authoritarian rule. The events of 9/11 and Pakistan’s subsequent involvement in the global war on terror exacerbated internal strife and economic hardship. The combination of these factors—military coups, misguided policies, and external pressures—created a perfect storm that eroded democratic institutions and precipitated an economic meltdown. The cumulative impact of these historical missteps has left a legacy of weakened democratic norms and ongoing economic challenges.
The current political landscape in Pakistan is the second episode of previous story which is also marred by reluctance among stakeholders to resolve mutual issues through negotiations. This intransigence has fostered an environment of perpetual conflict, where dialogue and compromise are eschewed in favor of confrontation. The inability or unwillingness to engage in constructive dialogue exacerbates divisions and hinders the formulation of coherent policies. This deadlock not only stifles progress but also undermines public trust in the political system, fueling cynicism and disillusionment among the populace.

Additionally, the country is being engulfed with the growing phenomenon of hybrid rule, where civilian governance is increasingly influenced or overshadowed by the involvement of non-political forces. This blending of military and civilian roles is disrupting the balance of power and undermining the democratic institutions. This erosion of governance structures results in policies that are often inconsistent and lack accountability. Furthermore, the pervasive influence of the unelected forces in political affairs restricts civil liberties and create an atmosphere of fear and repression.
Media warfare and the rampant spread of fake news and misinformation further destabilize the country. The media, instead of serving as a pillar of democracy and a source of accurate information, has become a battleground for competing narratives, often driven by partisan agendas. Moreover, the proliferation of false information by social media is eroding public trust and inflaming social tensions. These issues collectively contribute to economic meltdown, rising inflation, and political instability. As misinformation spreads unchecked, it becomes increasingly difficult to implement effective policies or maintain public order that ultimately threaten the nation’s stability and prosperity.
The way forward lies only in developing consensus among different pillars of the state – political parties in specific and the state institutions in general. Pakistan and the nation have been bearing the brunt of different political and economic fluctuations since its inception, and finally lost their ability to further sustain the looming challenges. It is need of hour to follow pragmatism to uplift the lost prestige of the nation. There is famous saying in the People Republic of China, “Ts’ou, ts,ou, kai, kai” (Act, act; you will make mistakes; correct them correct them).

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