A Deep Hole
Consequent to the May 2013 Elections, when the President, Prime Minister, the Chief Justice and the Chief of Army Staff changed in accordance with the procedure given by our constitution, there was jubilation all over that a new and better era was dawning. The past refrain that the country had not developed commensurate with its potential and resources, was thought to be changing into optimism. The public in general and the politicians in particular, maintained that the military interventions into political affairs had been the cause of our retrogression. There was a counter argument that military coups were provoked by gross incompetence and corruption of the politicians, when they were in power. According to Gen Pervez Musharraf he had introduced real democracy in 2002 in place of the Ã¢â‚¬Å“shamÃ¢â‚¬Â democracy usually practiced when power was totally in the hands of politicians. The intellectuals and social scientists were all in favor of strengthening institutions to strengthen democracy. The public went along with this general thesis.
The politiciansÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ preferred version of democracy has been in vogue since 2008. Contrary to the expectations of the people, the affairs of the state have not been launched on an upward trajectory. Instead, we have witnessed corruption multiply many fold. The national debt has soared astronomically. The development programs have not ameliorated the lot of the poor people. The rulersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ priorities in public expenditure show that vested interest supersedes the public or national interest. While the matters like building of dams, privatization of loss-making public sector enterprises like PIA, Pakistan Steel Mills, electoral reforms, health and education sector improvement, implementation of China Pakistan Economic Corridor, are mired in inertia and controversies, the governments have found a simple way to appease the public- by doling out cash grants or through laptop and taxi schemes. The National Accountability Bureau, which is supposed to tackle corruption, is overwhelmed by the latterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s incidence and quantum. Since it has insufficient capacity to deal with all cases of corruption simultaneously, whatever it takes up, it is accused of partisanship and political victimization.
We seem to be a nation of objectors. We will not do anything ourselves nor let others do something. Any project the government wants to start, there are protests. Normally, people in a real democracy elect governments with the mandate to do things. Here, the people do not let the governments do anything other than for their limited personal benefit. Every change will adversely affect some people while benefitting a larger majority but here, the minority holds everyone hostage. The traders and people in the services sector donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to pay taxes but demand every facility. Take the example of industrialists, they keep adding factories to their assets but claim that they are always in loss. People donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t work. Low productivity brings the enterprise to bankruptcy but they insist that the status quo be maintained.
Our constitution was based on the premise that the practitioners of statecraft would be men and women of integrity and would be driven by motivation to serve the people and that if they ever violate the law, the apparatus of the state would come into action to hold them to account. But what is the reality? A former president, who was supposed to have been the guardian of the state interest, when out of office, flees to the UAE and is now involved in remotely running a provincial government, obstruction of justice and protecting criminals. The city of Karachi was brought to a state of anarchy due to the factional quarrels of the involved political parties and the criminality and delinquency of their party members but they did nothing other than to blame one another for the prevalent state of affairs. Instead of being ashamed of their failures and bad intent, the provincial government enacted a law, empowering the Prosecutor General to withdraw cases against any criminal and to give them immunity from prosecution. In such a situation, what is the point of having a system of judiciary and police, might one ask?
With this brief review of our national predicament, we realize that our hopes with respect to democracy were misplaced. We expected that things would begin to get better. However, we have come to the realization that we are in a hole deeper than we thought. The Ã¢â‚¬Å“law-makersÃ¢â‚¬Â have no intent to set things right. They continue to break the law and there is nothing that anybody can do about it because all the pillars of the state, except the Armed Forces and Superior Judiciary, have been made subservient to the whims and needs of the rulers. The laws that exist cannot be applied to the rulers and the lawmakers will not make any laws that do not serve their personal interest or that curtail their own entitlements. With so many things wrong with the state of the union, the people have become despondent and frustrated. They see neither the intent nor the will in the rulers to try to solve problems that people face. Most rulers are corrupt and incompetent but the public has no way of getting rid of them. The recent local government elections in various provinces and districts have ceded power to the same groups as earlier on. They look to the Army to change this because that is the only institution not in the clutches of the ruling clique. However, the constitution has charged the politicians with managing the affairs of the state. The Army is an institution subservient to the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and the Legislature(s), as proven by the tussle over the Rangers powersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ issue in Sindh. The only way the Army can fulfill the publicÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s wishes is through extra-constitutional acts, which have been tried earlier and which brought only temporary relief but aggravated misery and complexity in the long-term. Consequently, the Army leadership has stayed aloof from political affairs so far. There is, though, no guarantee that if things continue along the same downward path, that the ArmyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hand would not be forced. We are told that democracy requires patience but what do we do when, while waiting, we drown in an ocean of debt and become a bankrupt country- if we already are not one? The only individuals and groups who can change things for the better are unwilling to do it. Others are unable to do it because the constitution does not empower them to! We are in a deep hole and we continue to dig deeper.
P.S. The only silver lining, according to residents of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa(KPK), is that PTI has brought structural changes to governance, which are beginning to make life easier for them and reduce corruption. That is a work in progress and we will know definitively the extent of success of these endeavors by the 2018 national elections. Will a better KPK, induce other provinces to put their faith in PTI too or will old politics thwart them? For this Imran Khan needs to change too because idealism is nice but itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not a virtue without tough-minded realism.