For a Different Democracy (Part 20)

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Prof Atta-ur-Rahman,
FRS, N.I., H.I., S.I., T.I.

Pakistan is on the brink of a huge financial crisis with a debt of $ 89 billion accumulated, mostly during the last 10 years, and more loans being taken to pay off the earlier loans. As a result we sink deeper and deeper into a hole.
The rampant past corruption, has brought us to a position where the military regimes of yesterday appear to be a bed of roses as compared to the free “democratic” systems that we appear to so deeply cherish. Democracy does not mean the freedom to loot and plunder through control over key organisations that are responsible for catching and punishing the corrupt. This has happened in Pakistan through appointment of cronies of the government in power. As a result, poverty has increased in an alarming manner. Many young men are being forced to become criminals and carry out thefts so that their families could have dinner that night. Jobs are non existant and a large number of industries across the country lie closed because the power rates are so high that they have become uncompetitive. The election process has become a farce with “donkey” (“horses” is too polite to describe such crooks) trading at prices ranging from 4 crores to 40 crores per seat for Senate seats while the Election Commission of Pakistan stands paralysed. The dream of Quaid-e -Azam has turned into a nightmare. Those in power have in the past amassedbillions of their illegally acquired wealth in foreign bank accounts. The estimated quantum of corruption, based on calculations by Amnesty International, was about Rs. 8,500 billion in the first 4 years of the previous government. The noose is tightening to a point where we will be forced to barter away our nuclear weapons before we are given more loans by foreign aid giving agencies. All this appears to be proceeding
according to the game plan of certain external powers in which the persuasion of president Musharraf to agree to the National Reconciliation Ordinance and the subsequent assassination of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto were key landmarks. Massive corruption in the rental power projects that followed cleared the way for the collapse of our industry. Balochistan has become a hot bed of intrigues, with India as well as certain Western powers, who profess to be our friends, creating chaos and encouraging separatist movements.
The failure of the British parliamentary system of democracy in Pakistan is primarily due to three interconnected factors. Firstly the provincial and Federal Parliaments in Pakistan are controlled by feudal landlords who have turned elections into a dirty business. Most of these corrupt and incompetent parliamentarians do not appear to have any inclination to serve Pakistan — they are too busy in lining their pockets to think of the nation. They spend 10-15 crores to come into power and once elected, they start plundering national funds for their benefit. Pakistan must be the only country in the world where 249 of our Parliamentarians, including Members of the National and Provincial Assemblies and Senators, shamelessly forged their degrees to get elected under the previous government. The Higher Education Commission should provide the names of all such dishonest ‘law-makers’ to the Election Commission as well as make their names public so that they do not get re-elected till their degrees are properly scrutinized. If it is found that they had indeed committed forgeries, then they should be barred for life from contesting future elections and face stiff jail sentences.
The second factor responsible for the failure of democracy in Pakistan is illiteracy among the masses and low level of education. About half the people of Pakistan are illiterate. Of the remaining half, a major portion can barely sign their names. In this situation, elections are not fought on the basis of party manifestoes but on the basis of power footholds. It is not in the interests of those in power to invest in education as they would like their serfs to remain as slaves. Pakistan spends only 1.8% of its GDP on education, ranking us among the bottom7 countries of the world.
The third factor is the failure of the judicial system to dispense justice swiftly in cases of financial corruption or even terrorism. This suits the corrupt who rule over us as they can get away scot free after committing the most heinous of crimes. We have established a tradition in Pakistan in which crooks get away without punishment. The National Reconciliation Ordinance is one hideous example of this. Judges are bribed, threatened or, as happened in the case of late Justice Nizam Ahmed, even murdered if they do not submit to the demands of the criminals.
A major change needs to be made in the system of governance if democracy is to survive in Pakistan. Firstly the Constitution needs to be changed so that a Presidential system of democracy is introduced, and the President then selects his own team of technocrats as Federal Ministers from the most suitable persons available. The Parliamentarians should not be eligible to become Federal or Provincial Ministers or Ministers of State. This will thus remove the desire of the corrupt feudal landlords to “invest” hundreds of millions to get elected, in order to plunder billions subsequently. Parliamentarians should also have at least Masters degrees as their prime role is law making. The removal of educational qualifications as an eligibility requirement to become a Member of Parliament was a bad mistake. How can we expect our Parliamentarians to make laws unless they are properly educated? They should also be independently screened for integrity and competence before being allowed to contest national elections. Similar screening should be carried out for the President and other key persons in the government and heads of key national institutions. Genuine land reforms should be introduced, as was done in India, and later in Bangladesh that laid the foundations of genuine democracies. Capital punishment should be introduced for cases of mega-corruption as done in China.
Pakistan is at a precipice. Most of the present Parliamentarians and Senators will not change the system as it suits their motives. In Bangladesh it was the Supreme Court that abolished the feudal system and paved the way for democracy. The Supreme Court of Pakistan needs to take suo motu notice of our alarming situation before it is too late.

— The author is former Federal Minister of Science & Technology, former Chairman Higher Education Commission and Chairman of UN Committee for Science, Technology and Innovation for UNESCAP

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