Pandemonium in Pakistan
With nukes at stake, Pakistan must take steps to stabilize democracy
November 1, 2007
Fred Foldvary, Ph.D.

The word “pandemonium” was coined by the poet John Milton as the name of the capital of hell in Paradise Lost. It means disorder, a place of chaos, uproar, and turmoil.

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan has been in an uproar. On November 3, 2007, the chief of state Musharraf suspended the Constitution and declared a state of emergency. The government shut down the independent television stations. Thousands of lawyers, human rights activists and political opponents have been arrested. The lawyers had led protests opposing the emergency rule. Parliamentary elections were scheduled for November 15, but were then postponed to February 15.

Former prime minister and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was placed under house arrest. She had returned to Pakistan after eight years of exile to negotiate with Musharraf about power sharing. She had left Pakistan in 1999 to escape what she says were false accusations of corruption. Bhutto was later allowed to leave her home, but was not allowed to visit suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

There are several crises occurring in Pakistan. One is the region bordering Afghanistan, which the Pakistan government does not control. Rebels have seized control of more territory. Terrorists are using this area as a base from which to attack people in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Terrorist attacks was the justification given for the state of emergency, but it was done a few days before Supreme Court was to decide on the legality of Musharraf’s re-election as president. The situation has global significance due to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Musharraf has increased security at the nuclear sites, but if his government falls, then it could result in a catastrophe.

Since its independence in 1947, Pakistan has gone back and forth between democratic and military rule. The military has in one sense been a source of stability, but it has also thwarted the development of democracy. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was prime minister of Pakistan from 1973 to 1977. He was deposed and later sentenced to death in 1979 by general Zia, whose military rule enacted an Islamic legal code. After General Zia died in a plane crash in 1988, Benazir Bhutto, daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was elected prime minister. After a military coup d'état in 1999, General Pervez Musharraf became the president.

Pakistan is formally a federation of four provinces, a capital territory and federally administered tribal areas. The parliament has a Senate and a National Assembly. The Senate has equal representation from the four provinces, elected by the provincial and other legislatures. National assembly seats are allocated to these lower levels of government by population. Members of the National Assembly are elected based on a first-past-the-post system. Some seats are reserved for women, with a few for non-Muslims.

Pakistan’s history shows that a constitution and elections are not sufficient to maintain a real democracy. The military took control of Pakistan for the first time in a coup in 1958. Despite its formal structure as a federation, in practice Pakistan is a highly centralized state, except for the border tribal areas the central government does not control. With centralized governance and public finances, a dictator can take over the top position and impose his rule.

Had Pakistan been created as a highly decentralized country, then perhaps it would not have had its military coups and the current pandemonium. With both power and public revenues originating in local communities, government would have been more closely aligned with the people. The public revenue source most suitable to local government is land value, some of which would be kept by the local government and the rest passed up. Higher levels of government would likewise be elected from lower levels, like the Senate in Pakistan. Political parties as well as the top chiefs, whether president or prime minister, would become much less important.

According to the Pakistani constitution, the President is chosen by an electoral college consisting of the Senate, the National Assembly and the provincial assemblies. The governing power was supposed to be with the prime minister, but with military coups, the president has been in charge. With small-group bottom-up voting (cellular democracy), the parliament would elect the president. If the president were deposed, the parliament could elect a new one. If parliament were dissolved, the provinces would elect a new one.

Decentralized democracy, based on small-community cells, would be like starfish where one can cut a piece off, and it grows back. Military coups then become much more difficult, because much of government power, including the public finances, is local. A centralized government is like chicken where one can chop of the head and the animal goes into pandemonium and then expires. For stability, the government of Pakistan should be like a starfish rather than like a chicken.

Something is very wrong with the political system when a politician like Benazir Bhutto becomes a focal point for power contention. Many Pakistanis hope she will save the country’s democracy, and that may well be a welcomed event, but Pakistanis should also seek fundamental reforms to create a more genuine decentralized democracy, or else be vulnerable again to military rule and the pandemonium that could hand their nuclear weapons over to the terrorists.

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Fred Foldvary, Ph.D.

FRED E. FOLDVARY, Ph.D., (May 11, 1946 — June 5, 2021) was an economist who wrote weekly editorials for since 1997. Foldvary’s commentaries are well respected for their currency, sound logic, wit, and consistent devotion to human freedom. He received his B.A. in economics from the University of California at Berkeley, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University. He taught economics at Virginia Tech, John F. Kennedy University, Santa Clara University, and San Jose State University.

Foldvary is the author of The Soul of LibertyPublic Goods and Private Communities, and Dictionary of Free Market Economics. He edited and contributed to Beyond Neoclassical Economics and, with Dan Klein, The Half-Life of Policy Rationales. Foldvary’s areas of research included public finance, governance, ethical philosophy, and land economics.

Foldvary is notably known for going on record in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology in 1997 to predict the exact timing of the 2008 economic depression—eleven years before the event occurred. He was able to do so due to his extensive knowledge of the real-estate cycle.