George Orwell wrote: “All men are equal, but some are more equal than others.” How true of Pakistani democracy. During the brief spells between military dictatorships, we have had democracies headed by virtual kings or at least cliques of those who are more equal than others. Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah chose to become governor-general and repository of all powers in the first government of Pakistan.
This initiated the route that all rulers have taken, so that now we have a president who enjoys all powers of a military dictator. This he has achieved by sneaking into the leadership of the largest party of the country, facilitated by party stalwarts who had their sights firmly fixed on ministerial and advisory positions, memberships of assemblies and others lucrative government posts. To question Zardari’s leadership at that juncture would have placed their own interests in jeopardy. It is of course a different matter that he does not have the qualifications or credentials to fit in leadership positions vacated by the likes of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan, Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, but that doesn’t seem to be the issue for now.The world does not ignore the fact that he has been the main accused in murder cases and corruption cases. And that he got out of these cases through the National Reconciliation Ordinance, which was clearly the result of a backdoor deal brokered by the US between the PPP and Pervez Musharraf. It should be noted that the practice worldwide is that honourable politicians quit and disappear from public view even at the hint of a scandal, leave alone prosecution or conviction. However, in our case, unfortunately this does not happen. Thus we see that our current rulers cut no ice even in traditionally friendly countries and have returned with empty begging bowls to fall back into the hands of the Shylocks of the IMF.
While the stage is all set for one-man democracy, the president’s shortcomings have necessitated the formation of a clique of cronies whose only qualification is that they are his associates and have known and have worked with him for a long time. Thus we have an ostensibly democratic set-up but where key posts are held by unelected and non-political fellow travellers — i.e., ministers of interior and finance, chairmen of the Planning Commission and National Reconstruction Bureau, not to mention many more posts.
The revenge for the murder of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, in whose name the government came into being and exists, has been forgotten and not even a customary complaint filed at the local police station. The approach to the UN is an unfunny joke. It is nothing less than an attempt to defuse the issue and bury the murder. However the circumstances of the case being akin to those of Mir Murtaza Bhutto’s murder, suspicion that the same people were responsible have been strengthened. At least the beneficiaries are the same.
The essence of democracy is separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and the judiciary with them being independent of each other. No such arrangement exists, nor is there an effective opposition to ensure the working of democracy. Pulao politics necessitates a nexus between the government and the opposition on the dubious principle that one must get into government by any means or remain reconciled to it, which does not permit genuine opposition. As for the endless refrain that parliament is supreme, the government is stuck with its recent unanimous resolution, passed in a joint sitting, calling for dialogue up in the north and an end to war. This is in direct conflict with Mr Zardari’s vociferous declarations of war against the militants. It is already clear that the parliamentary resolution has found its way to the wastepaper basket as not only war rages on but American bombings have become more frequent and deadly, invoking only a timid reaction from the government.
Thus the hopes of a new democratic order raised by the elections focused on solving the problems of the people have been trashed. This is now leading to desperation among the people, which may take a very serious turn. Less severe conditions have brought about bloody revolutions in various countries.
It must not be forgotten that the PPP of Benazir Bhutto has twice before been put in power by the people and it failed both times. The PPP of Asif ali Zardari seems to have already failed in the rather short period of seven months.
However, a miracle may occur and there may be a chance even for this government to prevent disaster. It does not have the ability or clout to operate at the international level therefore it must focus inwards.
It must counter corruption, which is the root cause of economic and administrative collapse. It does not allow good policymaking and its implementation. Incompetence and indifference in the services must also be dealt with. Expenses must be cut. Ninety percent of the wealth of the nation is spent on debt servicing, defence and government. A positive and effective foreign policy, emphasising good relations with neighbours is equivalent to thirty or more divisions of the army. The chief of army staff has taken a positive step in stopping construction of a new GHQ. This should be scrapped altogether. No one believes Zardari that there is no threat from India, but the urgency of defence is not so compelling as to deprive the citizens of even one meal a day.
The cost of government and parliament, including provincial setups, must be drastically reduced. Such costs were backbreaking in the Musharraf era and they have now doubled. Politicians come into power to serve people and thereby acquire fame and a place of honour in society and history. That is not the case today. They come up, very likely through rigged polls, to have a ball at government expense and to make a fortune. Such a mindset has penetrated to the lowest step of the political ladder. All-out effort has to be made to change this and bring back the politics of ideologies and principals. There has to be clean and uncompromising governance with a writ that cannot be challenged. The practice of merely “taking notice” of offences is absurd and manifests helplessness on the part of the government. Similarly, the appointment of committees to investigate complaints in fact implies that the government by itself is unable to or unwilling to act decisively and take quick decisions. The essence of good governance is correct and quick decisions followed by speedy implementation. Nothing is achieved if the economy is revived by scrounging all over the world.
All-out effort has to be made to produce more at home and play a leading part in world trade. The private sector must be encouraged by providing the essential infrastructure and creating a climate for investment, along with this, the public sector must be developed. Handouts like Ushr, Zakat, Baitul Maal and now the Benazir Income Support Programme, are not only going to increase the avenues of corruption but also make beggars of our people. These funds should be invested to create jobs. The people must be tuned into earning a living and not freeloading.
All this is possible with proper leadership and a clean political dispensation which inspires trust and confidence. The one-man democracy of the type we have today, with its blundering and stumbling ways, will continue to drag this nation down the drain.
The writer is chairman of the Sindh National Front.