Why Democracy Failed to Take Root in Pakistan

The year 1947 saw the Indian Independence Act, which led to the dissolution of India from Crown Rule as well as the formation of two independent dominions- a secular India and a Muslim Pakistan. According to the British elite and specifically Lord Louis Mountbatten, Pakistan was to be split up into East and West Pakistan, with the subcontinent of India separating the two regions. The push for an independent Muslim state, spurred by Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League, resulted in the formation of Pakistan but this movement found it quite difficult to actually govern a sovereign nation. At the onset of an independent Pakistan, problems quickly arose regarding how an economy would flourish, the religious inclusion of the region, and the political structure of a government that would lead the people. Fundamental errors made by the political leadership and elites that sought to establish Pakistan as a formidable power on the global stage led to a vicious cycle of dictatorships, military rule, and failed attempts at democracy for the region. It can be inferred that an early promotion of a garrison state and the inability to unite the different regions of Pakistan as one unified people as well as the rise of autocratic leaders post-independence ultimately led to the failure of democracy to take root in Pakistan. This failure of democracy to take root early on had longstanding consequences and can be held responsible for much of the issues that plague the nation today (inability to affectively fight against Covid, government corruption, etc.).

After the year 1947, the newly created Islamic Republic of Pakistan was led by Governor-General Jinnah and saw millions of Muslims migrate from India for their new home in one of the bloodiest mass movements in history. Upon arrival, this diverse crowd of millions was met by a political structure that severely lacked the ability to reconcile national integration and security. Only a few short months after its Independence, Pakistan found itself fighting a war with India over the disputed territory of Kashmir and this was quite a pivotal moment in why democracy ultimately was not successful early on. Ian Talbot, in his article “Understanding the Failure of Pakistan’s First Experiment with Democracy,” makes the claim that the Kashmir conflict was an unfinished business of partition and set in motion a “military-bureaucratic combine” in Pakistan that continued in the years to follow. When a newly formed countries first step is to get involved in conflict, it’s reasonable to conclude that this will shape the mindset and political motives of its leaders and citizens moving forward. This approach that Pakistan implemented after independence where the military was more privileged than society and the military-industrial complex was built before a sustainable political structure led to a deficiency in democratic values of self-representation and checks and balances.

The population of Pakistan at this point was both quite linguistically diverse and spread over a vast area, and the ordering of Urdu as the state language did not aid in forming the sense of unity seen in an otherwise cohesive society and nation. One of the characteristic components of a democracy is the active participation of citizens in political and civic life but looking at the history of Pakistan right after the short term stay of Jinnah, nowhere can this self-governing be seen. It is important to note that Jinnah advocated for an inclusive Pakistan where all of the citizens came together and put country first. In his first address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in 1947, Muhammad Ali Jinnah can be quoted saying that the ideal situation would be when Hindus and Muslims would come together and see their identity not in a religious sense but in a political sense as citizens of the state. Shortly after Jinnah’s death in 1948, this view of inclusivity and national harmony was quickly replaced with the promotion of national unity against India by a cycle of dictators and religion-oriented leaders.

After Jinnah’s death, Pakistan saw a cycle of leadership that consisted of attempts at democracy followed by military coups and dictatorships. The message of religious inclusivity and tolerance Jinnah spoke of in his address to the Constituent Assembly was soon replaced by Islamic fundamentalism and an appeal to the citizens of Pakistan to come together under Islam and fight against India. This sentiment was primarily pushed to the forefront by future leaders such as General Ayub Khan and Zia-Ul-Haq. Much of this reliance on autocratic leadership can be traced back to the precedent Jinnah set during his time as Governor-General. Early on, Jinnah chose to be the Governor-General, president of the All Pakistan Muslim League, Speaker of the Constituent Assembly, and take charge of Kashmir’s affairs. This centralization of power, specifically legal, political and executive, gave Jinnah immense control over the country he was leading and this in itself is not very representative of a democracy. Although he may not have publicly rejected a democracy, his actions were characteristic of an autocrat and this set in motion a series of events that led to the failure of lasting democracy in Pakistan. By Jinnah setting a precedent for autocratic leadership with centralized power, future leaders of Pakistan followed this trend when governing and democracy had less and less of a chance of being successful. It is important to recognize that Jinnah was in a very tough position as a leader and it can be argued that he had no other option but to centralize power to get the country through a major crisis. Although it is possible this is the case, Jinnah’s actions cannot be overlooked when considering why exactly democracy failed to take root in Pakistan.

An autocratic precedent of governing set forth by Muhammad Ali Jinnah as well as an inability of Pakistan’s leaders to reconcile national unity and security led is ultimately what led to the failure of democracy to take root in Pakistan and this had consequences that still plague the nation today. After breaking away from India and forming a new Muslim nation, the leaders of Pakistan prioritized military power and centralized government while overlooking the importance of building a sustainable political and social structure rooted in democratic ideals. It can be argued that during the crisis that ensued independence, a strong central leadership was needed but the reason why we do not see a strong democracy today in Pakistan can be traced back to the actions taken during this critical period. At the birth of a democratic nation, it is imperative that the government promotes putting its people first, checks and balances, and transparency- none of which Pakistan was able to do successfully when it mattered most.


Commentary in place of context

One of the biggest threats to journalism today, in my opinion, is political commentary. Not all political commentary is bad – in fact, it’s necessary for our democracy. But the political commentator who is disguised as a journalist is dangerous to the professional field of journalism as a whole. People like Tucker Carlson and John Oliver take over news television, fill it with political commentary, and disguise it as news reporting.

These shows are entertaining, which is why networks keep them airing and the audiences continue to watch. They appeal to the emotions by poking fun at the president or debating somebody with opposing beliefs. But Carlson’s show airs on Fox News and Oliver’s show – while it is a late-night show – is so centered on politics that audiences can easily mistake commentary for context in news. Furthermore, people tend to agree with these news biases, further establishing the political divide in the country. This is dangerous.

News outlets are bringing in more commentators than journalists, according to SchoolJournalism.org. Because of this, “the general public sees the [commentators] as biased journalists” instead of simply commentators. They don’t outright call their shows news, but they sit at a desk in an established newsroom and discuss hot political and social topics. This leads to distrust in the media and discredits the journalists that are working hard to produce unbiased and accurate work.

In an earlier blogpost, I mentioned the importance of digital literacy, which is defined by the American Library Association as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” I discussed this more on the topic of fake news, but it is relevant in this post as well. By being digitally literate, the public can determine what is news (accurate reporting of the truth) and what is commentary. By establishing this difference, the public can then recognize what is known to be fact versus what is one person’s opinion. Ideally, this would put an end to news networks providing political commentary.

Political discussion is good. It is important for us to be able to share our ideas freely and uncensored, especially regarding significant and controversial topics. And I believe there is a place for this. But this does not belong on news networks and it should not be disguised as news.

Dream job

We all have dream jobs. Sometimes our dream jobs are unorthodox or sound simply miserable to other people. Some of us achieve our dream jobs and never work a day in our life. Some get lost in the journey and never make it to their goal. Some of us are working hard today to get there someday. The ideal job for me? Full-time remote copyeditor.

Photo from Shae Lalor

You wake up to the sounds of the birds outside, slip on your house shoes and head into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. As it brews, you head to your makeshift office. You have a desk, piled with stylebooks and stray papers, a plush office chair that fits your style as perfectly as your posture and a spot next to your workplace dedicated to your little, domestic companion. You turn on your computer and printer and get out your trusty red pen.

Your coffee is ready, so you pour it in your mug and bring it to your little home office to begin your day. Now that everything is fired up, you print out the papers for the day. You could do all your editing on the computer, but the satisfaction of the red pen on physical paper motivates you more.

The editing begins. You read, scribble, add question marks followed by notes, clarify points, switch the order of sentences, remove an oxford comma and check the piece for accuracy. After a third look over, you scan the document and send it back to the author and begin on the next assignment.

Your goal is to help every written paper you read reach perfection. Some papers you work on for hours; some you return in an easy 30 minutes. This is all that is on your schedule. The only work you have to do is editing, and it truly is a job you’d do without pay.

Now, if that doesn’t sound like a dream job, then I don’t know what would. While the routine may seem mundane, reading new words every day is appealing. Working with writers is exciting. Perfecting something that someone will enjoy reading is rewarding.

We’re not all going to have the same dream job (this world would hardly function if we did!) But when I imagine my dream job, I am more motivated to work to get there. I don’t want to envy remote, full-time copyeditors, instead I want to make that my career.

Should we listen to the media?

The public doesn’t necessarily have the best relationship with the media these days. With “fake news” seemingly on the rise, the public has deemed the media inaccurate, biased and greedy. So, should we listen to the media?

Yes…and no.

Yes, you should listen to sources you trust and know to be accurate. You should listen to media who are transparent about where they received information. You should listen to sources that are open about any biases they may have, and acknowledge that you may be getting the facts but not the whole truth. You should listen to media that value accuracy over profit.

But there are also media you should shut out. You shouldn’t listen to media that provide commentary in place of context. You shouldn’t trust media that aren’t transparent with their sources or their methods of research.

This seems pretty straightforward, right? So why is “fake news” seemingly reigning social media platforms while the truth gets lost in the cracks?

Now, more than ever, it is up to the public to decide which information they read, share and deems accurate. Digital literacy plays a major part in this, and it seems that a lot of us aren’t digitally literate.

According to the American Library Association, digital literacy is “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” We all can access the internet and surf through pages and pages of content, but the digitally literate know how to determine what is reliable versus what is questionable and communicate that information.

We see on our Facebook pages too many articles shared for the sake of “clicks” or profit. This hurts the reputation of journalists, and can also damage the reputation of the person who shares it. But it can be more satisfying and interesting for the reader to click on the more emotionally appealing article.

So how do we combat this? By helping to create a more digitally literate society. A society that can recognize easily what is fact and fiction in an article based on the sources, the transparency and the autonomy. If we stop feeding into fake news, shouldn’t it fizzle out?

What COVID-19 taught me (so far)

After a few weeks of social distancing due to COVID-19, I have learned a lot about myself (and some surprising things about others).

I’m an introvert. I knew that. So when I was told that we all should stay at home as much as possible and avoid contact with others, I was quite pleased. I have enjoyed being at home. I have enjoyed minimal social interaction. I learned that I shouldn’t feel guilty about staying in, even when it isn’t the norm. I love my “me time.” I learned that I don’t have to feel guilty for enjoying staying at home.

Photo by Josie Logsdon

I don’t allow myself to be creative enough. Within one week of social distancing, I learned how to knit and picked up a new instrument – the mandolin. Knitting was a great challenge at first, and I felt like I wouldn’t ever have the patience to complete a project. But after a couple of weeks, I completed scarves and hats. I now want to begin more adventurous projects! Picking up the mandolin was something I always wanted to do. I have played violin for the majority of my life, so the mandolin only made sense. There are many fundamentals that are different, but I enjoy the learning process. Because of COVID-19, I learned that I need more creativity in my life.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, I have become closer to my loved ones through this time. We all have more time to video chat, which brings us all together. Before social distancing, I didn’t prioritize time with my family enough. Now that I can’t leave my house and go visit my loved ones, I understand better their importance in my life and the positive difference it makes to include them in my daily life.

It’s hard living under social distancing. It’s scary to think about the dangers that are right outside my front door. I worry about my friends and family that are especially at risk during this time because of the COVID-19 virus. But this time hasn’t been all negative, and I am constantly looking for positivity in my life and other people’s lives. I want to come out of this time a better person. I want us all to appreciate what we have more and take better care of our friends, our family, our neighbors and our colleagues. I truly believe we can all find the silver lining in this time!

A journalism degree in uncertain times

I anticipate the economy to decline. I anticipate travel to be more restricted, crowds to be smaller and my country to be a little more anxious. Graduating from university in the midst of a global pandemic makes me feel anything but prepared, hopeful and secure for my future in journalism.

John Schmeltzer, a journalism professor of mine, sent an email this week confirming that “we are in uncharted territories as media outlets across the country slash costs” due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pay cuts and furloughs have been announced nationally at some of the largest newspaper companies in America. The future of journalism has never looked so uncertain. But I believe that journalism has never been so necessary.

The Nation suggests that saving local journalism can help fight COVID-10. We are living in an era where an abundance of easily accessible and accurate information is crucial. Despite the need for information, newspapers are shutting down or slowing down across the country. How do we fix this?

First, we have to establish the issue. News sources made a serious mistake when they started giving away information as the internet expanded. Former Oklahoma Watch reporter Scott Carter recently spoke in my community journalism class about this issue. The public has gotten used to the idea important information should be free. In the same class, my peers and I conducted research around Norman regarding local news. After interviewing hundreds of Normanites, we learned that most people don’t think local news is worth paying for. This mentality is the root of the issue. Journalists cannot provide information freely. The public must recognize this.

I want to provide news to the public. It is essential for our democracy. But the field cannot survive without support of the public. I may be amongst the last of the print journalism majors (which makes me quite sad). I want to show the public how important our role is in our society, especially in a time like today. I can’t do that alone. If I could give a message to the public, it would be this:

If you want to be informed on a local, national or international level,
If you want to participate in politics, business or community events,
If you want to hold your government accountable,
If you want to know how your schools spend money,
If you want to share your own voice,
Give to local journalism.

Could journalism save democracy in Latin America?

Freedom of the press is the foundation for democracy in the United States. As I research more for my capstone paper, I have found that a common theme across all Latin American countries: oppressed journalism leads to corrupt democracy.

Last year, twelve journalists were killed in Mexico. Journalists don’t stand a chance against the violence that thrives in the country. According to NPR, homicide rates have hit record levels. The president, who promised to combat violence, has only seemed to make it worse. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has publicly denounced journalists in the country, calling them elitists. In a country where the press is already victimized, this is very dangerous.

It’s no doubt that journalism is Latin America’s riskiest business. But the law isn’t the issue; enforcement is. Journalists in Latin America have no safety guaranteed. Politicians, drug lords and everyone in between have business that they don’t want exposed. The issue is the government doesn’t investigate the murders and assaults against journalists, because the government itself is rooted in corruption.

When I studied journalism in Santiago, Chile for six months, I was astounded at how the occupation was practiced. On September 11, every year, riots fill the streets of downtown Santiago in order to protest the dictatorship that once led the country. I had never heard of this. We were all told to stay inside and avoid downtown during this.

As a journalist, I wanted to go right into the danger. I wanted to report, talk to people and share with the world what was happening in the center of this city. But I wasn’t allowed.

My narrative journalism professor told me that if I went around asking people questions, I would get hurt. Nobody would have my back. The law enforcement wouldn’t enforce the law. I was shocked. In the United States, I could go into a riot and report and the people would want their voices to be heard, not covered up. In Latin America, I learned that secrecy is more important than democracy.

I want to know how to break this cycle. I truly believe that democracy lies in unoppressed journalism. As a student of both journalism and Spanish, I want to use my knowledge and skills to combat the war against journalists in Latin America for the sake of the profession, the society and the well-being of all.