By Ahmed Quraishi
The time has come in Pakistan to end the culture of ignoring democratic failures under the pretext that imaginary ‘anti-democracy forces’ will draw benefit, or that time will correct democratic practice.
One of the biggest charades in Pakistan since the restoration of democracy in March 2008 is the idea that the worst democracy is better than anything else.
Experts and NGOs receiving aid money to assess and promote democracy will not criticise serious and disturbing trends because criticising democracy has become taboo. Pundits and commentators routinely ignore glaring faults in Pakistani democracy. There is a strange restraint. An unhealthy concept has developed in Pakistan that says if you criticise democracy and politicians then you are supporting dictatorship.
No one is ready to see the obvious; that there is no dictatorship around and the term ‘anti-democratic forces’ is ridiculous and nothing but a fig leaf. In short, no ‘anti-democratic forces’ are preparing to seize power in Pakistan and we might as well relax and begin an overdue exercise: an honest critique of Pakistani democracy.
Pakistani politicians are getting away with a lot. The media gives them disproportionate television airtime and accepts their flaws as natural weaknesses that time would heal. This is wrong.
In three years of democracy, no Pakistani political party cared to hold party meetings or release policy guidelines on education. Civic services in cities and towns are basic to a minimum. The quality of life of the Pakistani middle and lower classes is deteriorating, and at times it appears ridiculous even to talk about things that ordinary citizens in places like China, Malaysia and Dubai take for granted, like public sports and cultural facilities, shopping malls and world-class business districts.
Our politics have become too divisive, chaotic and suicidal. Forget major elections, even balloting on smaller scales, as in labour union elections, results in violence and chaos. Last month, a major artery that connects Islamabad and Rawalpindi to the only civilian-cum-military airport was blocked for a few days because of the national airline’s union elections.
Major routes in all cities are closed and life comes to a standstill whenever political parties of all sorts hold their political and religious rallies. Flags and posters of political parties distastefully ruin the look of our cities and towns and often trump the national flag (remember how the ruling party’s flag adorned the lampposts of Islamabad Highway for months before being removed in February after public grumbling).
The Pakistani nation shows remarkable unity at important junctures, but it is our politicians who divide it along regional and linguistic lines for political gain. For example, politicians who have nothing to offer voters raise the non issue of a new language-based province in southern Punjab. President Zardari’s ruling party shuts down one province, Sindh, on the death anniversary of a former prime minister to play up a linguistic card (why not a national holiday? Was the ex-premier not a national prime minister, elected by a majority of Pakistanis outside one province?)
Not to mention the biggest flaw: that Pakistani parties are no longer incubators of change and new blood and thinking, which is the original idea of parties in a democracy. Our political parties are bastions of indispensible mini-dictators who will not abandon party slots to allow new blood to rise. With the exception of one or two parties, the rest of them are all passing the mantle of leadership from fathers to sons, just like Syria, Libya and Yemen.
No other democracy in the world allows its elected representatives to maintain bank accounts and conduct local politics abroad, in Dubai and London. There are also the falling standards of personal integrity of Pakistani politicians. Our democratic warriors include thieves, looters, credit card thieves, rape suspects, and even accomplices to murder and to burying women alive in the name of honour (at least in one case). Lastly, the Pakistani political system is now structured to stifle the emergence of new faces and ideas.
We cannot rely on time to heal these major flaws in our political system. The culprits will not step forward to correct themselves and these flaws will damage the state. We are already on the path of slow suicide. The only solution is extra-constitutional intervention – by the people and the judiciary – to force change onto a dying political system. Such an intervention has enabled the Egyptian people, for example, to force changes in their constitution and political system to root out incompetence and allow for fresh faces and ideas.
Source: The News, Pakistan