Quality of Pakistan’s democracy on the slide


The year 2016 has seen Pakistan’s Quality of Democracy slide by 4 percentage points from 2015, according to a report released by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) – a member of the Network of Democracy Research Institutes. The analysis is at odds with reports suggesting more positive trends for the country’s fragile democracy. Pakistan is only partly free, according to the latest Freedom in the World report from Freedom House, released this week.

Provincial Minister for Minorities and Human Rights Khalil Tahir Sindhu today called for an increase in minorities’ political representation through electoral reforms.

When Pakistan became an independent state in 1947, it sought to provide a new homeland and safe harbor for South Asia’s Muslims, the largest religious minority in the subcontinent at the time, the Wilson Center adds:

In Purifying the Land of the Pure, Farahnaz Ispahani – who offered recommendations for a counter-narrative to combat religious extremism at a recent National Endowment for Democracy forum (below) – analyzes Pakistan’s policies towards its religious minority populations since independence. She notes the period of transition from an inclusive policy to an exclusive one, citing the influence of a number of religious and political leaders who invoked a new vision for Pakistan. The word “pakistan” is Urdu for “Land of the Pure.” Thus, in their view, the objective for Pakistan’s creation should be more specific and narrow: to create an Islamic state. In 1949, Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly ratified this objective, which set the country on the path it was to follow. But according to Ispahani, the event that accelerated the pace toward intolerance of non-Sunnis was General Zia-ul-Haq’s forceful ascent to power in 1977. His military regime promoted Sunni Islam at the expense of other denominations so that by the end of his reign, Pakistan was no longer a welcome place for minorities. Many fled, but those who remained faced escalating persecution, from both state and non-state actors. Tens of thousands died in the ensuing “purifying” attacks.

At a forthcoming meeting at the Wilson Center, Ispahani traces this history, stressing how the contradictions at the heart of the Pakistani state-building project have fueled intolerance.


Farahnaz Ispahani global fellow and former public policy fellow, Woodrow Wilson Center author, Purifying the Land of the Pure

Beena Sarwar Ferris Professor of Journalism, Princeton University

Sahar I. Chaudhry senior policy analyst, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom


Michael Kugelman deputy director and senior associate for South Asia, Asia Program

Wednesday, February 15, 2017. 11am – 12:30pm. 5th Floor Conference Room RSVP

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