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Poverty of understanding

July 17, 2014


The writer is a director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).
The writer is a director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

THE lack of understanding of substantive issues that is evident in the current political discourse in the country could make Pakistan’s multi-dimensional crisis more intractable, not less.

The challenges posed by the military operation in the tribal areas are being only marginally addressed. Although much is being said about extending full relief to the displaced families, the information available does not suggest that the relief operations are adequate and efficient. One is not sure how the operation itself is going. Little is being said about the militants who might have crossed over into Afghanistan or who have found refuge anywhere in Pakistan. Above all, no assurance is being offered that we are not creating more militants than are getting killed.

No discussion is taking place either on what may be described as emotionally and arbitrarily determined development priorities. The country’s economic experts have apparently lost the capacity to ask for a justification for or the feasibility of princely adventures such as the building of a Lahore-Karachi motorway, while a smaller investment could have restored to health the consistently sabotaged railways network that the country needs more than roads for vehicles running on costly fuels.

While real issues are ignored, a great deal of energy is being wasted on misleading the people through slogans.

While real issues are ignored, a great deal of energy is being wasted on confusing and misleading the people through reckless sloganeering.

A competition is going on as to who can vulgarise the concept of revolution most. Why don’t the newly converted revolutionaries spell out their goals? Will the landless peasants become owner-cultivators? Will the bonded haris be given land to employ their skills in freedom? Will the workers start getting their rights? Will patriarchy be buried and gender justice established? Will non-Muslim Pakistanis be treated as full citizens? Will the

people be rid of the curse of pirs, feudals and bloodthirsty, pseudo-religious sharks? Do today’s contractors for revolution realise that parasites like themselves should be the first casualty of a genuinely revolutionary change?

Vows are being made to enable the poor to get all that the Constitution guarantees them, betraying a stunning ignorance of the fact that the Constitution hardly recognises the rights of the poor. Even the much-touted article on the elimination of all forms of exploitation, Article 3 that nobody talks about, merely refers to the fundamental principle — from each according to his ability to each according to his work (not need).

It may be a pro-poor provision by implication but it does not recognise the right of the poor to freedom from exploitation and poverty. The only other provision that offers anything to the poor is Article 38 in the chapter on ‘Principles of Policy’. And if any politician wants the poor to be allowed the rights referred to in this article — the right to work, social security and basic necessities for the infirm, the sick and the unemployed — let them say so.

There is no harm in threatening derailment of a fictional democracy if the idea is to make the rulers conscious of their democratic obligations. But the use of such slogans without any guarantee that the successors will be effective democrats is liable to censure. Since the only potential replacement will be greater military control over the state, direct or indirect, those shouting for change cannot be accepted as upholders of the people’s sovereign rights.

Quite a few politicians are trying to woo GHQ. And quite unabashedly. This barely seven years after the signing of the Charter of Democracy that prohibited preferring the armed forces to political rivals. There is no other explanation for antics such as the discovery of a safe passage deal with Musharraf.

The Election Commission is a favourite punching bag. The demand for an independent election authority is unexceptionable. But let those asking for it explain what exactly is needed. However, even an ideal Election Commission will not be able to guarantee a fully representative government.

The realisation of that goal demands, among other things, an end to the people’s dependence on landlords, religious clerics, and rich employers, non-Muslim citizens’ freedom from discrimination and women’s liberation from all constraints. The political gladiators should produce plans for realising these imperatives of democratic governance.

As for the clamour against rigging in elections, the practice is no doubt condemnable but it is only one of the many forms of corruption that tradition has made widely acceptable. All political groups indulge in electoral malpractices wherever they can. From the public point of view rigging is largely an issue between the spoiled brats of the ruling factions, neither of whom may be legitimate representatives of citizens.

Democratic dispensation demands much else besides an end to vote manipulation, such as socio-economic equality of voters regardless of belief, gender or social distinctions, lowering of election expenses so that people of modest means can join the electoral contest, and creation of guarantees that those elected reflect the pluralist nature of Pakistani society.

In short, the answer to many of the admitted flaws in the polity does not lie in slogan-mongering or calls for agitation. Let all agitation follow the preparation of detailed agendas for change. The people have had enough of pied pipers; all those who wish to lead them now must prove their proper understanding of whatever is wrong and how it can be set right.

Tailpiece: It seems the rulers cannot appreciate the people’s suffering during the long hours of electricity shutdown. Therefore, all exemptions from load-shedding, except for hospitals, should be abolished. Power supply to the presidency, Prime Minister House, the bungalows of ministers and bureaucrats, and the lanes where the electricity bosses reside should also be cut off every day — maybe for shorter spells than those fixed for the worthless citizens. During load-shedding no private generators should be run at state expense. The rulers must sweat for their privileges. Those determined to end the VIP culture have a good campaign cut out for them.

Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2014