THERE are three national options for the next general elections. Two of them, according to a recent study, are represented by ‘leaders’ estimated to be the second and fourth richest Pakistanis respectively. Both are dollar billionaires with their disguised and undeclared wealth reportedly stashed abroad. The third option is represented by a leader who is nowhere near super-rich.

It is hardly acceptable for the second and fourth richest persons to be leading a country whose masses are kept ignorant and poor by the politics and practices they embody and have profited from. Their vast personal wealth was made while serving in the highest offices of public trust.

Besides the three, there are other voting options: don’t vote; vote only for deserving individual candidates; or vote NOTA (none of the above.) This should be a voting option. Those exercising it would be making a clear political statement.

Democracy is a political state of being whereas the path to it is political movement.

There are almost no good guys in the unfolding political drama in Pakistan, except for the mass of wretched victims. As for heroes, they are so few they have to be invented. The rare genuine heroes are pearls who provide inspiration and hope, and embody future possibilities. They also incur directed, incessant, vile and loathsome hatred.

Unsurprisingly, none of the political, establishment and deep-state heavyweights know how to handle a genuine grass-roots movement like the PTM. The Balochistan syndrome (struggle for dignity and justice) has come to KP and Fata, and is likely to spread throughout Pakistan. It can become the ultimate answer to the IS syndrome.

The miserable state of politics in Pakistan consists of the ranting of disgraced and dubious leaders; accusation and invective instead of sensible and sincere discussion of issues; a dysfunctional parliament; kowtowing to power centres or resorting to innuendo; the use of religion for divisive, extremist and special interest policies; ignorance dressed up as learning; unconscionable corruption and betrayal; elections as diversion and entertainment for a condemned people; disappearances, torture and bodies; lies, damn lies and statistics; and a profound elite contempt and fear of ordinary Pakistanis standing up for their rights.

Those charged with the responsibility to protect have failed to protect innocent children, women and minorities against the predations of extremists, rapists and murderers often in the name of honour and religion. Nor have they protected the sovereign interests of Pakistan against arrogant and intrusive demands by foreign paymasters. Meanwhile, the media is told to behave itself.

Try building a democracy on such foundations! The very attempt is suspect. Terrorists decide — with or without ‘isharas’ — who can campaign safely and who cannot. The choice of options in 2013 is more or less the same today. However, circumstances have changed and preferences may have shifted.

The best option, however, remains unchanged. That is a set of grass-roots movements to promote the priorities of the impoverished, exploited and deprived majority of Pakistanis. Despite claims, it is doubtful whether any party can credibly claim to represent such movements. The PTM is not yet a party.

Elite interventions to impose elite priorities have thwarted the political and economic development of the country. Such interventions have enlarged the democratic deficit, deepened insecurity, and enveloped the country in a pall of futility. This is well known. Our champions, except for a precious few, are defeated by this reality.

The relatively honest non-billionaire leader option appears to have its best-ever chance of winning the elections despite its alleged decline in popularity, especially among the educated middle-class youth. Victory will provide the leader an opportunity to open up pathways to new possibilities. It won’t be easy. Faceless ‘deciders’ who some say influence him will try to ensure against unguided wanderings off script. They will resort to manipulating the pressures of coalition management and other stratagems to constrain him from pushing the envelope too far.

This would sooner or later result in disappointing expectations invested in him — again. Meanwhile, 2050 with all its gathering calamities will beckon without any national strategy for the nation to even get there in coherent shape. With such politics who needs enemies?

In these circumstances, what can ‘democracy’ really mean? There is a fundamental confusion among its advocates between path and goal. The goal of democracy is path-dependent but it cannot be the path itself. Democracy is a political state of being whereas the path to it is political movement. Democracy is accordingly the outcome of movements towards good governance and overcoming obstacles to structured and inclusive political processes.

Without such movements the pretence of democracy, and elections associated with it, are no more than choosing between various obstacles to democracy. This is not a ‘learning process’. In fact, it is a charade that ensures against progress towards substantive and stable democracy.

In traditional societies, the emergence of modern democracy does not precede sociopolitical transformation brought about through multilayered struggle and human resource development. India may be a partial exception, more likely not. Leapfrogging is a technological process; it cannot substitute for political and social processes. One can steal a manual or a blueprint; one cannot steal political experience, social history and wise leadership. Without sociopolitical struggle, technological leapfrogging only exacerbates economic inequalities and social disparities.

Accordingly, mimicking democracy and providing a façade of elections cannot develop a political dynamic including budgetary allocations to redress the long-standing grievances and deep-rooted disabilities of the people. Despite electoral swings and wobbles, such elections merely reflect and reinforce existing structures of repression and power, which are making Pakistan a political dystopia.

Soft states hate such truths. ‘Democracy’ fake or not is considered a sacred cow. Lee Kuan Yew, however, observed democracy is like a Rolls Royce. It is the best car on the road provided one can afford it. Otherwise, it is the worst investment one can make. Pakistan’s ‘democratic leaders’ drive their Rolls while their people pay the tolls. Despite the political fanfare, elections in Pakistan are non-events unless they interface with movements that do not end with elections. Elections are for high office. Movements are for Pakistan.

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

Published in Dawn, May 5th, 2018