THE politicians in power these days are heard saying: “It is not the democratic system but governance that has failed.” The success of the system is seen in parliament completing its constitutional five-year term for the first time.
For growing poverty, crime and social inequality, they seem to contend, career civil servants, professional planners and judges are to be blamed.A democratic system must find its justification and superiority over other systems in economic progress, speedy and even-handed justice, education and jobs for the people, and not in the ministers and legislators wielding power in ever-growing numbers but with declining commitment.
One wonders how Pakistan’s parliamentarians, and no less influential clerics, would rate China’s political system and governance where only the Communist Party rules, elections in the sense that we understand them are not held and religion finds no place in politics. And yet having started from a lower level at independence (both countries became independent at about the same time) individual incomes are now much higher and crime much lower in China as compared to Pakistan.
With this fact sheet, to claim that since our system is Islamic hence more just and egalitarian flies in the face of ground realities. Whatever the form of government or economy, the administration of public affairs must take care of the masses rather than permit the rich to become richer.
Merely because the people have an opportunity to vote their representatives into power once in five years (though usually not more than one-third actually vote and the ballot is often rigged) does not make the system a success while the majority remains poor and feels oppressed. Let it not be forgotten that the people fared better under Ayub’s authoritarian regime that was backed by the army and drew political legitimacy from basic democrats who were dismissed as mere pawns in a power game.
A stagnating economy and rampaging inflation aside, it is hard to say who is to blame (the parliamentarians who make the laws or the administrators and judges who enforce and interpret them) when Shias are killed or Ahmadis are shot dead or a Hindu woman is kidnapped by a feudal lord and a cleric is at hand to pronounce her as the wife of the kidnapper. The lawmakers flout the law and the administrators connive with this while the common man is left to suffer the consequences.
The alliances and shared self-interest of the rival politicians at the top bode ill for the people at the bottom of the pile. Their primary and common concern is to safeguard their own privileged status. It is hard to discern how the programmes of political parties contending for power differ from each other.
The PPP, two or three Muslim Leagues, and the Awami National Party all have been in power in one or the other part of the country. The people saw no change, and neither did their lot in life change. Left behind are only tales of corruption.
The task to reform the system that works to the benefit of the common man is left to some mavericks, philanthropists, journalists and a diminishing number of civil servants who put their careers at risk by defying the politicians and their hirelings. It is such men at the fringes of the polity who, time and again, have rescued the country from bankruptcy and anarchy.
However, there is reason to worry when credible international surveys rate an Islamic (meaning theocratic) Pakistan as more corrupt and, in terms of purchasing power parity, poorer than a secular (meaning democratic) India.
Just imagine, in 1947 millions of people laid down their lives and a much larger number had to abandon their homes. Halfway down the road, yet another carnage split the country as secessionists were hailed as freedom fighters. The troubling question now is whether democracy is any safer and economic prospects any brighter for the remaining half of Pakistan under the pervasive influence of the Islamists.
The answer would be surely in the negative. A democratic system can work true to its form and content only if citizens of all faiths, race and regions enjoy equal rights and opportunities. Even wealth does not bind diverse people to a state if they are excluded from the national mainstream for the belief they profess, the language they speak or if they consider themselves a sub-national entity as the Baloch do.
It is such exclusion that explains the diminishing number of Parsis in the country. Their number now is said to be not even one-tenth of what it was at the time of independence. Their migration has deprived the country of their investment, trading skills and, more important, charity.
Based on personal incomes and other indices denoting security and contentment (quality of life, so to say) Pakistan comes close to the bottom of the league of nations. Even India and Bangladesh rank higher. The secessionists of East Pakistan thus could one day become a source of inspiration for the regions, races and sects that are denied fair play and equal status. The politicians and economists must work together to avert the prospect.