Costs of Sham Democracratic Governments in Pakistan

[To understand the context of this post, please read At What Cost! Why Compute Economic Costs of Faulty Political Decisions]
Sham Democracy vs Real Democracy: Discusses the question of whether we ever had a real democracy in Pakistan, and why our democracies have been sham. In this post we look at the costs of having a sham democracy. Total democratic constitutional rule in Pakistan had been only 4 years of ZAB from 1973-77; Please note that ZAB assumed power in 1971 as a first in the world Civilian Martial Law Administrator, which continued till 1973 when Pakistan’s consensus constitution was promulgated. The musical chairs of prime ministership of BB and NS during the 1990, can only be termed as a quasi democracy as the Damocles sword of the 8th Amendment continued to hand over their two stints each of around 2 years each. Each of their rule was abruptly terminated by the establishment exercising the power directly or through the 8th amendment. AZ’s rule after the end of 8th amendment was a dismal affair as his hands were effectively tied by the NRO and the existing arrangements with the establishment. NS3 rule since 2013 can be though as a more democratic regime, however, the unwritten rule is that ALL affairs with the neighboring countries would have a veto power from the establishment. It is for this reason, that the NS3 finds no need for a Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Work in Progress: WIP


ZAB was a product of Gen Ayub Khan and used to call him his daddy. He was foreign minister of Gen Ayub and was the one who gave assurance to General Ayub that India will not cross internationally accepted border before the start of formal war of 1965.

His assumption of power after the fall of Dacca is widely considered to be a muk-muka with the establishment that reluctantly handed over power to him after the attempted mutiny by some of the forces in Mangla against Gen Yahya [1]. The muk-muka with establishment stipulated that there would be no action on CJ Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report. This also protected him of his role in the fall of East Pakistan.

ZAB’s rule first’s misstep was the mass nationalization of business concerns without any planning, and development of infrastructure. The nationalized businesses simply stopped working creating country-wide shortages of essential items like ghee, sugar, atta, cement etc. Each of these things became scarce and ration cards were issued and only a limited quantity was available to the entire household. People had to run from pillar to post for getting recommendations for the precious quota of a few kilos for their marriage and other ceremonies. I know this because I had to stand in line often of hundreds of people just to get the ration of ghee or atta issue after wait for hours. I remember this because I was preparing for my 9th and 10th class exams and while waiting for hours used to revise my course books. For my sister’s marriage in 1975 and another sister’s marriage in 1977 had to go to National Assembly and meet a relative who was working in the budget department and the MNAs used to come to him for clearing their medicine bills. He used to manage to get us special quote of 5 kg approved through these MNA recommendations enabling us to arrange for the sweet dishes in that time.

  • Deterioration of government machinery with quota system, loss of merit and rampant provincialism and ethnic favoritism. 
  • Decline of the heavy mechanical industry, PECO and others
  • Decline of public schools and universities creating a massive vacum that was later filled by private schools creating another set of issues. 
  • Decline in efficiency of public departments: Firing of another tranche of around 1000 senior bureaucrats after teh 3not3 batch that led to the bureaucracy losing their spine and their independence and became a hand maiden in the hands of who ever was in the power. 
  • Establishment of FSF and the torture cells
  • Proclamation of emergency immediately after the passing of the constitution
  • Erosion of independence of judiciary through several successive amendments that clipped the wings of the justicies. These same amendments were used by Zia later on to swith the chief justices and then hand ZAB. 
  • Deterioration of the commercial banks, PIA, Railways, Pakistan Steel.
  • Atomic Policy
  • Islamic Summit
  • Abuse of slogan of Islamic Socialism; sidelining of his erstwhile socialist allies like Mairaj M Khan and JA Rahim. 
  • Language Riots in Karachi


  • Assumption of power after muk-muka with establishment. 
  • Installation of Governors of Provinces and President as representatives of Establishment. 
  • AZ as Mr 10%. 
  • Stories of corruption
  • Deterioration of public services
  • Deployment of rangers in Sindh. MQM vs PPP and Sindhis fights in Karachi and other areas. 


  • Assumption of power after muk-muka with establishment
  • Major operation in Karachi against MQM.
  • Stories of corruption
  • Easing of foreign exchange restrictions. 
  • Privatization of nationalized units became an art form for loot sale. 
  • The entire rein was punctuated with acrimonious allegations and counter allegations of corruption with BB. 
  • Public sector performance continued to deteriorate.   
  • Allotment of public land at throw away prices became the easiest way to earn tons of money. 





[1] Link to reference here

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