Policy Research Papers
It is indeed a huge stride forward for Pakistani democracy that, for the first time in its chequered political history, power was transferred from one elected government to another. While this uninterrupted political process is a turning point in Pakistani politics, there is still a long way to go for the struggling democracy to take root.
Governance remains a major problem area in Pakistan’s quest for a sustainable democratic process. Worsening internal security, shrinking state authority and failing state institutions have undermined Pakistan’s political stability. The failure of elected governments to deliver on governance and economic stability has been a serious blow to the credibility of the democratic system among the populace, in turn strengthening undemocratic forces. Rising militancy and religious extremism are manifest in the inability of the government to deal with the twin menace, which is currently the biggest threat to the country’s security.
Non-state actors have gained space, filling the vacuum created by the failure of state institutions to deliver. There has been a marked increase in ungoverned space as administrative control – even in major towns – weakens. It is not only the semi-autonomous tribal regions where the state has nominal control: even parts of Karachi – the country’s biggest city and economic jugular – have become lawless as the administrative authority has receded. The situation in the insurgency-hit western province of Balochistan is even worse. A large part of the province still does not have a formal administrative structure.
The failure of tax collection is another example of the weakening of state authority and it leaves the government with few resources to develop the economic infrastructure. It also makes the country even more dependent on foreign aid. Tax revenue as a percentage of GDP has stagnated at 10 percent over the last decade and has been declining since 2009.1 The extent of tax evasion can also be assessed by the fact that just over one million entities (individuals and companies) filed their income tax returns in FY2011. In the same year, of 341 sitting members of the National Assembly, only 90 were found to have filed tax returns. The Federal Board of Revenue has failed to institute legal proceedings in spite of this wealth of information.
Pakistani politics has increasingly become region-based, with even the mainstream national political parties now focusing on their provincial strongholds following the 2013 parliamentary elections in which they formed governments in their respective provinces. At present, no party has a political base in all four provinces. This regionalization of politics is manifested in an era of coalition rule and different political parties forming the government at the centre and in the provinces.
A recent amendment to the country’s Constitution has created greater decentralization of economic and political decision-making down to the provincial level3. The autonomy granted to the provinces has transformed Pakistan into a truly federal state and generated a new dynamic that has affected the course of politics in the country in a more positive way, minimising the sources of friction between the provinces and the federation as well as among the provinces.
This paper looks at the challenges that confront Pakistan, the political fault-lines, the problems of democratic transition, the regionalization of politics, the rising scourge of violent militancy, and shrinking state authority that have affected state institutions and the democratic process in the country.