Remote control- By Chris Cork from Islamabad

There is now a palpable, and growing, sense of unreality about the political life of Pakistan. The brave promises of a hundred days or so ago are revealed as empty at worst and threadbare in their fulfilment at best. There has been some minor tinkering at the margins with the easing of controls on trades and student unions and a generally relaxed attitude towards the media; and we must welcome the re-appearance of the words ‘peaceful demonstration’ in the public prints. And yes, the new government inherited a fistful of intractable problems as well as discovering a slew of unknown unknowns once the economic veil was lifted…but there comes a point at which you can no longer blame everybody else for the nations ills – and the finger is now coming round to point at the current dispensation.

Parliament, government and governance are all one-and-a-piece in a democratic country but we seem to have arrived at a position in which all three are suffering considerable handicaps as institutions of state.

Parliament itself is something of an empty vessel – MNA’s are not turning up to the chamber and several sessions have had to be prorogued for lack of a quorum. Unless the legislators actually start legislating the institution will never empower itself. Parliamentary committees remain dormant; others are yet to be formed. Boring work it may be, but parliamentary committees are the nuts and bolts that hold the whole edifice together on the legislative side. Neglect them at your peril.

The government itself, or as many members of it as can be shoehorned into a stretch-747 seems to spend more time aloft deciding what it would like to purchase from the duty-free trolley than it does with its feet on the ground. Last weeks junketing will have cost the exchequer many millions of rupees as absentee party leaders called the faithful to their doorsteps in places other than Pakistan. The common man – frequently invoked, rarely consulted and heaven-forbid that he ever be listened to – will have looked at this display of wilful profligacy with cynical resignation. Anybody ever thought of having a top-level meeting right here? In Pakistan? You remember…Pakistan …that country a bit to the left of India, borders with Iran and China and Afghanistan…remember? Yes…Pakistan, that country you are currently flying over on your way to your next meeting. About Pakistan.

Ministers who are aboard the flying caravansary are themselves burdened with multiple portfolios, and work in the knowledge that the coalition that pretends to be the government has the structural integrity of the average ice-cream cone. Government, in a very real sense, is absent from the land and in imminent danger of falling apart if it stands still long enough.

And then there’s governance…rather, what governance and by who seems to the crucial question. Governance has been shunted into a siding while Messrs. Zardari and Sharif play out their own personal battles with one another and the President. The small matter of judicial reinstatement, once of vital importance, has shrivelled and withered to the occasional short march (most of the ‘long march’ participants being exhausted by a walk any longer than that from their front door to the passenger seat of their Pajero) and some desultory sloganeering for the benefit of the cameras. Governance, such as it is, is on auto-pilot, in ‘drift’ mode and government in the holistic sense is by remote control.

How little has changed in the last fifty years or so. It may not be of trouble or consequence to the parliamentarians and the grandees as they swoop overhead, but a report in the last week said that Pakistan had received $58 billion (billion!) from foreign donors since 1950 to support the health and population sectors and that there was very little to show for it. The country stands at number 137 in the UN’s human development index and the entire administration is corrupt, inefficient, riddled with jobbery and lacking direction.

Hmmmm…what was that you said?…sorry, just wanted to check on how much that 500cc bottle of Chanel Number 5 was. Oh, and steward, could you ask the pilot to radio ahead and ask my driver to pick up the kids from school…in Dubai.

The writer is a British

social worker settled in Pakistan.

Source: The News, 14/7/2008

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