The real meaning of freedom-Ikram Sehgal

Sixty-one years into freedom from British rule we are not only prisoners of the circumstances created by our leaders–because of their incapability, selfishness, greed and lack of vision–we are in serious danger of losing whatever independence we have left. Instead of recounting all our failures and lamenting our mistakes which have brought us to this sorry plight, it is time to lay on the line the vital steps the leadership in each strata of our society must take for the sake of a country that we all love, or prefer to love, but one which is in grave danger of becoming a place we would hate to live in. The meaning of independence is to be free, not dependent upon others.

Good governance is the demand of all our citizens. This will be achieved if democracy is not given short shrift by those who profess to be the principal proponents thereof. The February 2008 elections were meant to be contrived but these were fortunately free and fair, as much as elections can be in Third World countries. Accountability being the basis of his own existence, Musharraf overturned this by enacting the black NRO. What we got is hardly a pristine version of democracy. The manner the “inheritance” of the mantle of leadership of our major political party was passed onto husband and son, thanks to a disputed will, would have put any absolute monarchy in the world to shame.

One of the few Third World countries that can feed and cloth themselves, why do we have perennial shortages across the board? Unless we overcome our electricity shortages and potable water scarcity, our economic situation will go from bleak to even worse. It could trigger a social revolution which would put Dec 27 to shame. Only comprehensive planning based on genuine economic realities, and not dictated by vested interests, will provide lasting solutions for our downtrodden, poverty-stricken masses. Share prices in Pakistan have more relevance to a gambling den, their rise and fall having no compatibility with economic reality. Manipulation has rendered hundreds and thousands of poor investors comprising the salaried class and middle-income destitutes, in most cases depriving them not only of their livelihood but of their hearth and home. Only an exhaustive forensic investigation will pinpoint the perpetrators of this heinous white-collar crime.

The media in Pakistan has fought long and hard for its freedom, mostly against dictators but also against those closet dictators who conned us from under the cloak of democracy. The last shackles on media freedom were removed during Musharraf’s reign, to such an extent that in some cases freedom has become close to licence. The media should exercise self-restraint, an inherent responsibility for the sake of community well-being. Sensationalism certainly brings additional viewers (and more revenue ads) but at what cost to our society? This is the only country in the world that airs interviews of self-proclaimed terrorists. While exercising the right to resist any law curtailing their freedoms one must exercise prudence in sifting out what is dangerous for impressionable minds in our society. Multinationals apply Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in their own countries, why is the same ethics not applicable in Pakistan? We can ban smoking from TV and radio, why can’t we ban terrorists? Advertisement revenues thus indirectly promotes terrorism, spreading the message of this virulent cancer in our society. One notes with great sadness that seven days a week some media entities indulge in anti-Pakistan sentiment. It would be nice if they could set aside one day in the seven for pro-Pakistan views.

While it is democracy that must cement Pakistan together, the hard fact remains that it is the Armed Forces that do. For the Pakistan Army there is an inherent responsibility to ensure that while it remains the prime guarantor of our sovereignty it should not become the master of the realm; more often than not it does. This penchant to rule makes it vulnerable to the propaganda of external forces, duly parroted internally by those on their payroll. In their intense black propaganda they are joined by many who are ignorant of the crass motives of the cheerleaders against the uniform, the destruction of whatever is left of Pakistan after 1971. Pakistanis must wake up to the fact that our nuclear reality is the one strong deterrent that guards our freedom. The Pakistan Army zealously guards that deterrent, ISI being our first line of defence against external enemies. All the multi-dimensional attacks on the Army and the ISI are based on one objective, and one objective alone: to denude us of our crown jewels, the nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.

One must distrust populism based on personal motivation, this is where democracy is vulnerable. The fundamental bounden duty of those in uniform is to act according to their oath, guarding against such evil, even to the peril of their lives. The present military hierarchy has very rightly decided to stay out of the political process, as soldiers they are also citizens of the country and they do have a conscience. Their conscience must question whether all the leaders of the political process are honest and aboveboard. The present Chief of the Army Staff has been DG ISI and should have been privy to a lot of information. Can he confirm that the NAB cases against the present political players in governance (or running governance by remote control) were fraudulent and concocted? We will accept Kayani’s word and be satisfied! The spirit of the Constitution is far more important than a bland reading of the text, democracy may be used as a camouflaged weapon by those with greedy intentions to sell out our national assets. Can we hold the Constitution aloft and be deaf, dumb and blind regarding what is happening in governance? The Army is in serious self-delusion if it believes it is taking a calculated risk; unfortunately it is gambling with the existence of the country. What happens if the gamble fails and we are left without a country?

Pakistan does not belong to one individual, to one political party or to any one region. A strong, stable democracy is a must for a united Pakistan, one in which the rights of every section of society is safeguarded. While we cannot impose the will of the majority on a minority, in the same vein we cannot allow a “democratic” farce to be imposed on us in the name of the Constitution. What we need desperately is a refined PAKISTAN model, a national government with participation of all the political parties, from within Parliament but also those outside Parliament who boycotted the electoral process on principles, necessarily we need to include technocrats. The economic and political house must be put order before another test of public opinion, give it from 18 to 24 months.

The first priority must be existence. The ground realities of our existence are a strong stable democracy backed by society protected by strong capable Defence Forces. Democracy depends upon an honest and committed leadership that is selfless and dedicated to only one cause, the cause of Pakistan.

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder

The News, 14/8/2008

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