“Glorious Revolution” and constitutional monarchy in Pakistan

The uncanny similarities between the rule of James II of England and the reign of Imran Khan in Pakistan have already been mentioned in the previous post. What happened next in Britain is now remembered as the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

In 1688, the parliament and the army jointly invited the estranged daughter of the king, Princess Mary and her husband William, the King of Netherlands (subsequently Mary II and William III of England), who soon landed on the British soil with their Dutch armies. The unpopular James II took to exile, and the parliament offered the crown jointly to William and Mary on the condition that they agree to the Bill of Rights, according to which the monarchs were always going to abide by the dictates of the parliament. This is called the “Glorious Revolution” because monarchy became constitutional and so it remains to this date.

In Pakistan, the equivalent of the invasion of Britain by William and Mary can be found in the “long march” of the Pakistan Democratic Movement starting in late 2021, and culminating in a no-confidence motion in March 2022. Just as Mary and her husband had the support of the parliament as well as the army, the PDM is supported by the majority of the members of the national assembly, while the acclaimed “neutrality” of the army has been considered as good as any direct support.

And, just as William and Mary had foreign armies with them, an impression of “foreign backing” for the PDM prevails at least among the followers of Imran, although with much controversy.

Now, our political pundits are telling us that if the political leaders could agree to respect to the dictates of the parliament in the future, all will be well for democracy in Pakistan. They were wrong. The continuation of the present political parties in any form can only give us constitutional monarchy, just as Britain got it from the revolution of 1688.

This is because all our civilian rulers except the first two prime ministers have been elective monarchs, and not democratic rulers in the sense of modern Western democracy. In the best models of Western democracies, a political leader emerges out of a political party which been formed on the basis of a specific idea, and by no means due to the personality or charisma of the leader. This is true of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties in UK, and the Democrats and the Republicans in US.

In British India, the Indian National Congress was originally formed along these lines in 1885, but deviated from them with the rise of Gandhi in 1918. For the next three decades, while Gandhi lived, the Congress party was dictated by the Mahatma, and afterwards it transformed into an instrument of the dynastic rule of the Nehru family. This devastating example has been followed by almost every democracy in the developing world. No wonder, so many developing countries have failed to achieve stable democracies and the few which have, such as India, have still failed to empower their ordinary citizens in the ways in which democracies are supposed to empower them.

Pakistan was created as a challenge to this fake version of democracy, but remained on track only during the reigns of its first two prime ministers, i.e. Liaquat Ali Khan and Khwaja Nazimuddin. With the dismissal of the latter in 1953, Pakistan also adopted the Gandhi-Nehru model of politics. Since then, almost all our civilian rulers have either attempted to become a Mahatma or a Nehru, and quite often both. None of them ever served a political party that was based on an idea independent of them, or which was not subservient to them or their dynasties.

We do not have any justification for calling it “democracy”, and all the universities and academies of the world are wrong in calling it so. The reason is that we already have a name for this type of government. It is “elective monarchy”, and most of the Muslim monarchies of the past have been elective monarchies.

It needs to be remembered that in Muslim history, election was quite often the legally accepted principle for coming to power and only a shrewd manipulation of this principle ensured that power remains in the same dynasty and passes on from father to son, and so on. Unlike the Western countries, where the law required a relative of the king or queen to inherit the kingdom as birth right, the written or unwritten constitutions of the Muslim kingdoms quite often did not recognize any such right. Instead, they proscribed some form of election, just like modern democratic constitutions do.

The point here is not to prove that the Muslim monarchies were democratic but to show that the so-called democratic leaders of Pakistan have been monarchical. Just having a ritual of elections does not make a democracy, because the principle of election existed in many Muslim kingdoms of the past and we do not call them democratic governments.

The procedures adopted for elections in those empires were might not appear democratic by the modern standards but the principle was there, especially in the Omayyad and the Abbasid empires, but to a lesser extent even among the Mughals who ruled over the Indian Subcontinent.

Such famous rulers as Haroon-ur-Rasheed did not come to throne without feigning some form of election, no matter how much contrived or ridiculous by the modern standards. Haroon was famously succeeded, not by his nominated heir Ameen, but by another son Mamoon, after defeating the nominated heir in a battle.

Likewise, the Mughal Emperor Jahangir did not ascend the throne automatically after the death of his father Akbar but had to first engineer the support of the nobles. In turn, his nominated heir Shaharyar was ousted by the rival prince, Khurram, who ascended the throne as Shahjahan with the support of the nobles.

Such cases, which would have been considered illegitimate in most Western monarchies (especially the British), were regarded perfectly normal in Muslim societies. The reason was that monarchies in the West were usually based on the Divine Right to rule, but the monarchies in the Muslim societies were, technically speaking, “elective monarchies.” (For details, please consult the excellent research paper by Dr Sir Muhammad Iqbal, “Political Thought in Islam”, which remains arguably the best piece on the subject in spite of having been published as long ago as 1908).

Therefore, it makes absolutely no sense to categorize any of the civilian rulers of Pakistan since 1953 as a democratic ruler in the modern sense, not even Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his daughter, or Nawaz Sharif and his clan. They have been “elective monarchs”.

We mistake them for democratic leaders only because most of us do not even know that there has ever been such a thing as “elective monarchy”, still less be aware that it been the most prevalent form of government in our society for centuries. Otherwise, it should not require any long argument to show that the so-called political parties of Pakistan have nothing in common with the political parties of modern democracies, and have everything in common with the factions of the elective monarchs of the past (and this should also explain why these allegedly democratic rulers have always required the blessings of the army in order to come to power and also for staying in it).

This is why, there cannot be any glorious revolution for Pakistan as long as the so-called existing political parties continue to play any role in the politics of this country. Any continuation of their role in our political life can only mean a continuation of elective monarchy and not the evolution of democracy.

The events of 1688 became “Glorious Revolution” for Britain because the British people had wanted constitutional monarchy, and the events of 1688 gave it to them.

Do the people of Pakistan want to constitutionalize monarchy?

The answer is obvious. They do not want to do so.

Pakistan was created through a genuine democratic movement, and it can only be sustained through the kind of true democracy which its founding father, Jinnah, had envisaged for it. Before we proceed to see the possible hazards of constitutional monarchy in Pakistan, and the possibility of restoring the true democracy, we also need to understand that Imran Khan and the PTI are not an alternative. The only difference between them and the other political parties of Pakistan is that while the others are aspiring for elective monarchy, the PTI is unknowingly aspiring for the more Western type of monarchy based on the Divine right to rule. Let’s see this in more detail in the next post, “Imran Khan and James II: the future of the PTI in Pakistan”.

Note: This post is actually being published on 27 May but has been backdated to 6 April, because its essential content was originally included in the previous post which appeared on 5 April. That post has now been shortened accordingly, and this content has been expanded to make the second post in a five-part series. You may also like to read the first, third, fourth and fifth posts of the series on this blog.

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