Leading article: A nation on the verge of democratic collapse

Pakistan: A state that cannot, or will not, protect vulnerable minorities cannot be called a democracy

Related Topics

The world's nightmare has long been that Pakistan will become a nuclear-armed failed state. We might, or might not, be on our way to such a scenario. But what is painfully clear is that Pakistan is now very close to being a failed democracy.

Yesterday, Pakistan's minorities affairs minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, was murdered in Islamabad. This follows the assassination of the Punjab governor, Salman Taseer, in January by his own bodyguard. What links the two assassinations is that both Bhatti and Taseer had called for reform of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which they claimed were being used to persecute religious minorities in the country.

An atmosphere of fierce intolerance and religious extremism now pervades Pakistan. Even to question the application of the laws is considered by large sections of the population to be as bad as blasphemy itself. Some Muslim leaders responded to yesterday's assassination not with condemnation of his killers but by suggesting that the murder was part of some American-led conspiracy to destabilise Pakistan. This mixture of bigotry and paranoia is poisonous.

But what is most worrying is that the government of which Mr Bhatti was a part seems to be pandering to this intolerant mood rather than challenging it. President Asif Ali Zardari responded to the Taseer assassination by announcing that he had no intention of reviewing the blasphemy laws. There are also disturbing question marks over how seriously the Government is taking the death threats made against those brave figures who are standing up for religious tolerance. Bhatti did not have the same level of security as other ministers (although as the Taseer case shows, police protection alone is, sadly, no guarantee of safety). A state that cannot, or perhaps will not, protect vulnerable minorities, free speech, or even its own elected officials cannot be considered to be a democracy.

Pakistan seems trapped in a vicious circle. The country should be experiencing rapid economic growth like its neighbour India. But it is chained down by corruption and religious extremism. While the economy is weak, poverty grows and religious fanaticism increases. The country also seems cursed by nature. The devastation inflicted by last year's floods has pushed more of the rural population towards desperation and extremism. The outside world has not helped Pakistan. For many years, Western governments backed the military dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf in the belief that the general was a bulwark against terrorism. But religious fundamentalism ended up increasing under Musharraf's repressive rule.

The general has now departed the scene, replaced by an elected government. But the Western interference continues. The Obama administration has stepped up the number of drone strikes on the Afghanistan border, despite the deep anger that these attacks (which often kill innocent civilians) inspire among Pakistanis.

Rather than funding generals and drones, Western resources should go to building up the institutions of civil society in Pakistan. They have the best chance of establishing the stability that the country needs to prosper. We still have some influence. Plans from the Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, yesterday showed that Pakistan could become the biggest recipient of bilateral aid from Britain by 2015. And Washington channels $2bn a year to Islamabad in aid.

But we should not be under any illusions about the ability of the outside world to affect what happens in this struggle for the soul of Pakistan. Nor should we be in any doubt that it is a battle that, at the moment, the wrong side is winning.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam