Pakistanis want democracy: in substance and not just in form


    Comment by S.R.H. Hashmi:

    I.A. Rehman is of course right when he declares that there is 'No shortcut to salvation'. But that doesn't mean that the only other option is 'shortcut to annihilation.' Surely, the answer lies in taking 'a somewhat longer route to salvation'.

    It is also claimed often that even the worst form of democracy is better than the best form of dictatorship. But then, why do we have to have just the worst form of democracy? Why can't we have a better form of democracy.

    And on that basis, if the monarchical system of (non)governance which is in vogue in Pakistan, and which the writer, keeping a straight face, calls 'imperfect democracy', offered salvation even in the long term, one could accept it. However, what is happening is that with every passing day, things are getting worse for the masses while the wealth of the leaders keep multiplying.

    And when people oppose the present governments, it doesn't mean that they want military rule, which has also failed in the past, and will fail again. Surely, people are entitled to have a government which brings about at least some improvements in their living conditions and thus offers a promise that in the long term, things will get even better. However, what we actually see is a worsening state of affairs.

    In Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif has introduced metro bus and train projects which, at excessive costs provide services to relatively few people, and are heavily subsidized. And with time, the subsidies will only rise, creating an unbearable burden on the economy.

    And during its last tenure, Punjab Assembly passed resolutions for the reinstatement of Bahawalpur status and for the creation of South Punjab province. With Sharifs now ruling both in Punjab and at the centre, they were in the best position to implement these resolutions but instead, they just consigned these to the dustbin. One does not expect rulers to work wonders but at least they should have the decency to implement what they had promised, and which they had the means to do. Surely, with the population of Pakistan being about six times of what it was at the time of partition, these is a real need for more provinces.

    And the killing of fourteen innocent men and women and wounding of another over eighty people through straight shooting by the Punjab police at the peaceful gathering at Dr. Tahirul Qadri's Model Town Secretariat is not the sort of thing that happens in 'democracies'. And what is worse is that no one has received befitting punishment so far even though it is crystal clear that the Police would not have committed this needles and extreme brutality without obtaining clearance from the higher ups.

    And regular strikes by Young Doctors and other interest groups in Punjab and adverse civic condition in areas other than the main cities hardly support the government claim that Punjab is the best-run province.

    And things are much worse in Sindh which has been turned into a huge rubbish dump, with healthcare, education and various public service sectors in an absolute mess. Under the scheme of devolution of powers from the centre to the provinces under the 18th amendment, Sindh provincial government received a whole lot of additional powers but instead of passing part of these to the third-tier, local governments, it clawed back even the powers that a military dictator had given them. And it did not hold elections even for the much-depleted local governments until forced to do so by the court.

    And the much-delayed national population census has also been conducted on court orders, and with the armed forces sparing a large number of troops at a time when they are pressed at both borders. Just how could the government do any meaningful planning without knowing how many individuals it has to plan for?

    Of course the main reason behind all the decay is the excessive greed and the astronomical corruption by people that Maryam proudly and fondly calls 'ruling family'. Surely, in democracies, the senior state officials serve and not rule.

    A self-proclaimed liberal, Dr. Niaz Murtaza tells usthat corruption - sleaze - is not such a bad thing as we ignorant people think. And in support of his claim, he names India and China which have developed despite corruption. This is because he failed to note the marked difference between corruption in Pakistan on one hand and in India and China on the other. In India and China, corruption is nominal and is more the individual act of greedy persons and is in no way supported or even condoned by the state which punish such characters when found out. And China is known even to execute people for corruption.

    As compared to that, corruption in Pakistan is massive and is done at state level, with the ruling dynasties Sharfs and Zardaris wholly engaged in it to the neglect of official duties And in order to promote and facilitate their corruption, they have systematically hacked down all state institutions resulting in near-total-absence of governance.
    And both dynasties feel free to take liberty with the Constitution, changing it at will to suit their personal needs and greed. Remember, Constitutional provision, restricting the number of prime-ministerial terms to two was amended to create an opportunity for Nawaz Sharif. And Constitution was again amended to reinstate Nawaz Sharif as the PML-N head after he lost the position because of disqualification by the Supreme Court for not being Sadiq and Ameen.

    Panama papers issue, the Hudaibiya Mills and other mega corruption cases and recent disclosures by Uzair Baloch hardly serve to restore our confidence in our national level leaders and the system they operate in the name of democracy.

    Now, people of Pakistan definitely want democracy but have reached the conclusion, and not without justification, that democracy can not even function, much less progress and prosper, with Sharifs and Zardaris at the helm. There has to be a major overhaul which would require the formation of an interim, caretaker government which introduces essential electoral reforms, interprets eligibility conditions for Assembly aspirants, and ensures their strict application in order to keep out corrupt, habitual offenders which presently form the bulk of the political 'gentry' and to ensure that, through a free and fair election, honest people enter Assemblies, forming dedicated government and effective opposition later, which is about the only hope for the country. Sadiq and Ameen should be the basic criteria for Parliamentarians, but without religious connotations.

    Let us hope good sense prevails, and those who have powers to put the country on sound foundations, do not shy away from taking the necessary action.