Adapting to changing circumstances
IF the system of government is wholly focused on protecting the interests of a hand ful of elites, a few families have a monopoly on economic resources and the burden of taxes falls on the commoners, then politics leads a country nowhere but to a dead-end road.
Dictatorship is inhumane, but what the advent of democracy has made a difference? Given the miserable conditions the people continue to live in, thirteen years of democratic experience has made it irrelevant which political party is in power.
The aim is not to repeat the humiliation of the people meted out to them through regressive taxation and poor governance but to mourn the helplessness of the state as to how a handful of elites have taken it hostage.
Since the country’s founding party, the All India Muslim League, had taken onboard the clergy in its struggle for independence, the elites later hired them to protect and preserve the status-quo.
Although Quaid-i-Azam in his address to the 1st Constituent Assembly had openly declared that Pakistan would be a modern state where citizens would have equal rights without distinction of colour, race and creed.
Our aristocracy brought the religious parties into the arena of politics and under the guise of their violent protests and riots the country was put on the path of narrow-mindedness, anarchy and dictatorship. India withheld our share of funds and we did not have the financial resources to build the state structure.
The All India Muslim League had also laid the groundwork for the Kashmir dispute by making the accession of the royal states subject to the consent of their rulers.
Under these circumstances, the United States was the only country that could cure our financial and defence problems.
We turned to the United States for the survival and security of the country, and it duly held our hand, but thanks to the cunning elite, who persuaded the American authorities to forget democracy for now and focus on the containment of the evil power, the (former) Soviet Union, instead.
Thus, from day one, Pakistan’s alliance with the United States was short-lived and limited in scope. Whenever there was a major peace agreement between the Soviet Union and the United States, its alliance with Pakistan would break down and the dollars’ flow to our kitty would stop.
At the same time, Washington would start demanding from Pakistan to take care of human rights and democracy.
This would be the time when the elites would come to the forefront raising the banner of democracy. They were never trusted by the US, however.
Our squabble with the United States over the question of democracy continued until the end of the Cold War.
The story of the nineties and beyond is that the United States does not want to see any system in our country other than democracy.
If it has been stuck in Afghanistan for the last twenty years, it has done a lot for us as well but it has never stopped complaining to us that we did not play our part satisfactorily. However, after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, this story is over.
When the US Deputy Secretary of State visited South Asia recently, she said in India that US relations with Pakistan were ‘specific’, not long-term, although she later spoke of long-term relations at the insistence of Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
Apparently, Washington is embroiled in its worries. It needs time to recover from pandemic shock. The country needs to rebuild its economic structure and redefine its international role.
Our situation is that instead of putting our own house in order to brace the changing times, we are looking around. The world has turned upside down but we still have to determine our direction.
If the democratic path is to be taken, the journey can be long and difficult without reverting to regional trade and protecting fundamental rights. We have to move from a deficit economy to a sustainable economy.
The benefits of democracy and development must be passed on to the common man, rather than to a particular class.
In order to build a society based on the principles of freedom, equality and justice, the Constitution must be adapted to the vision of Quaid-i-Azam.
If liberal democracy does not serve our purpose, the Chinese model of government is there to follow.
In contrast to the democracies in the throes of a free economy, leaving the provision of basic rights (education and health) at the mercy of the private sector, this Asian country and our neighbour has pulled billions out of the whirlpool of hunger and disease. The efficiency with which it has overcome the pandemic is being praised all across the world.
Actually, the international system does not bind a country to any particular form of government or economic model, but subject sovereignty to the preservation of human dignity. Rulers may or may not realize, but the standards of human dignity set globally are at work round the clock.
Records are being compiled and reports are being made public at regular intervals to determine which state stands where on human dignity.
All civilized nations of the world have an atmosphere of competition vis-à-vis protecting preserving human dignity.
One reaction to the reports of international human rights organizations is that regrets are expressed over the identification of shortcomings and serious efforts are made to rectify them.
The second type of reaction is a straight forward denial. That is, certain factors were overlooked in the investigation of the case.
Now, on the one hand, if a country’s economy is in deficit and, on the other hand, and its rulers are not willing to mend their ways, then the world does not take such states seriously.
China and the United States, even the ruler of a small country in Europe will not be willing to talk to you.
—The writer is politico-strategic analyst based in Islamabad.