Zahid Malik

Monday, August 02, 2010 – A cursory look at the print media and the talk shows over Television Channels gives an impression of growing disenchantment of the people with the democratic system, not because they are not democracy-loving but because they have not seen the fruits of democracy trickling down to them so far. I think such a disenchantment, and that too so soon after 18th February 2008 general elections, has primarily three dimensions: (a) people are getting hard-pressed as they have to struggle a lot to pull the cart of life in the face of rising poverty, crushing price hike and unemployment, (b) the impression that the country is being turned into a US client State in the war on terror and resultant bleeding of our dear motherland, and (c) image problem of the Government due to all sorts of allegations of corruption.

Some individuals, whom I personally know for the last many years, always stood for democracy and they never reconciled with the idea of GHQ’s intervention in any form. They abhorred President Musharraf and earlier Shaheed President Ziaul Haq. They too are now being heard with sarcastic comments that indicate their disillusionment with the ongoing democratic process. As I gathered it is because they believe that there is a lack of good governance and the failure of the system to deliver.

Is there anything wrong with democracy? Democracy is actually a political form of government where either people govern themselves in a structure of direct democracy or there are elected representatives of the people who form the government in a representative democracy. Just like some other political ideas, democracy looks very good on paper and in practice too in some developed countries.

Unfortunately, whoever invented democracy did not calculate the negative aspects when the ruling Party showers all the benefits to its workers, who, it is claimed by the party leadership, suffered and worked for the party and now that they are in power, it is their turn to get share of the bounty. Since it is widely recognized that democracy is the best form of thegovernment the mankind currently has, it seems that at least for a while the humanity will be sticking to it, albeit the form of democracy deployed may vary significantly, depending on the surroundings and the capability of the population to bend to the amendments applied.

Aristotle, one of my favourite philosophers in my youth days, defined democracy as freedom, where rule by the many should allow the citizens to live as they are pleased. While there should be some sort of government ruling over citizens and some sort of constitution defining the liberties, the freedom should be the paramount goal of a peaceful togetherness. However, this wonderful theory has nothing to do with the harsh reality; a true democracy would employ citizens’ preferences into a binding law. Since that people are individuals and opinions are abundant, furthermore tastes are as variable as the colourpatterns or the stars in the sky, it should have been vivid that the theory would remain just words on paper.

In spite of that, by and large, a national consensus is emerging conveying that in no way the ongoing democratic process should be interrupted. It is for the first time that even die-hard adversaries of the PPP are demonstrating a remarkable patience and a great sense of maturity and consequently they are not looking towards Rawalpindi.

I am privy to an encounter at a fabulous wedding party in 1990s when a prominent Opposition Leader almost begged the then Army Chief that for God’s sake get rid of the sitting Government. It is also our history that politicians used to openly invite the leadership of the Army through public statements and letters to intervene and dislodge the Government of the day. Sweets were always distributed and joyous scenes were witnessed on the streets when Army removed an electedgovernment. There is something wrong with our DNA that we get tired of a Government after two to three years. We always feel comfortable with new faces. Yet for now, there is a surprising but pleasant change in our attitudes towards Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani-led democratic Government. This is a healthy sign which I call a maturity. No one is talking of toppling the electedGovernment.

The future plans of the still popular Opposition Leader, Mian Nawaz Sharif, and his stance towards the unpopularGovernment is enigmatic. It is not in the knowledge of even his close associates as to what Mian Sahib is up for? Periodic statements do come out from his side to establish his credentials as a genuine Opposition Leader giving his viewpoint on critical issues of national importance, but there is no dependable consistency in his policy formulations. I think his commitment to Khadim Al-Haramain Al-Sharifain, His Majesty King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, could be a factor that he would not take part in elections for ten years. Insiders point out that Mian Sahib enjoyed a close relationship with the Kingdom but he did not oblige them when he was asked to demonstrate large-heartedness and forget the past in the interest of Pakistan. Now he cannot afford to further annoy them. Another reason could be that if he takes a genuine 1990s-like hard stance and invites people to come on the streets for a long-march and mass agitation, there could be intervention by BrigadeTriple One. Such an episode would dampen chances of his coming to power for proverbial 10 years. At the moment, as per his calculations, Mian Sahib is confident that his Party would win the next general election in 2013 and maybe with a two-thirds majority.

In the present scenario, there are some other indications which support my contention that political stability may finally dawn in Pakistan. The encouraging pro-democracy principled statements from the lion-hearted Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mr. Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry that the apex court would not allow the system to be derailed is one such factor. There is onerous responsibility on the shoulders of the superior judiciary to keep the democratic system going. I am glad there appears to be an encouraging realization that the apex court should never go down in the history as a spoiler of the democratic process. The Judiciary is indeed an important stabilizing factor.

Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani appears to have the same views as, after granting three year extension in the tenure of the Chief of Army Staff, philosopher-General Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani, he, in a press talk, expressed the confidence that the system would go on smoothly because all stakeholders have guaranteed tenure till 2013.

This well-conceived arrangement, according to some observers, will ensure elimination of possible intervention of Rawalpindi. But who knows? I say so because the dynamics of intervention are totally different and they have nothing to do with any guaranteed arrangements. Whenever the Army intervenes it is because of the well-considered and ultimate outcome of totally different environment. In Pakistan the political environment changes in no time. Anyhow, let us hope for the better.

While the Government takes credit for several achievements, there are certain disturbing developments as well. For the sake of brevity, I would only mention the target killings in Karachi, violence in Balochistan forcing about one hundred thousand settlers to migrate, suicide bombings, unprecedented price hike, unbearable poverty, denial of merit, rewarding the loyalists, corruption, and of course the all encompassing energy crisis.

To those who are getting fast disappointed and rapidly frustrated with the ongoing democratic system, I would like to point out that my dear countrymen this is what democracy is all about. In a democratic system, the majority prevails and re-election of Dastis and Mastis in spite of all the accusations, demonstrates how the democracy works. In this system an illiterate cook and a novice mali i.e. there being two persons, carry more weight than their boss, a Grade-22 policy-maker Federal Secretary, because it is the number that matters in democracy and not the position or status of a person.

Anyhow, after having witnessed various systems of governance, I believe the prevailing system would move on. But please remember people want the Government to deliver according to their expectations. If it fails to deliver then who knows what path we would tread?

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