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A different manifesto

July 05, 2018


TWENTY-FOUR years ago, Asma Jahangir and Dr Mubashir Hasan announced their intention of launching a new political party, called Sawera (dawn). For some reason their plan didn’t materialise. But the manifesto-like statement issued while declaring their intent is still relevant as an indicator of how much Pakistan’s politics has, or has not, changed over nearly a quarter of a century.

The declaration described the situation in the country in these words:

‘Peace and rule of law are out of people’s reach. They don’t have the slightest protection against violence, fear and exploitation. The victims of mismanagement and socially and economically weak classes — peasants, workers, women, minorities, youth, professionals, etc — find themselves helpless while being plundered by new tyrants, thugs and criminals that emerge every now and then. The other factors contributing to this grave situation include unsatisfactory provision of civic facilities, such as electricity, water, drainage and transport. All institutions of society are crumbling. The citizens have neither an opportunity nor the will and resolve to ensure better state control and durable administrative policies.’

The sponsors of the new party claimed to believe in the rights and duties of a progressive and accountable society, rule of law and equality, and affirmed their resolve to wage a united struggle so that the people’s rights could be defended and a just order established.

An old statement from the ‘founders’ of a party that was never launched still has relevance today.

The agenda for change had 17 points:

  1. To inform the administration, the police, the judiciary and the people about cases of illegal detention, unlawful interference in any citizen’s life, property or privacy, torture and wrongful treatment of detainees.

  2. To put pressure on the state machinery to operate within the law.

  3. To ensure that all orders of ministers are issued through secretaries to government and the latter giving their advice in writing on any paper put up before the minister.

  4. To strive to end ministers’ discretionary powers to relax or suspend rules and regulations for giving jobs, plots, and licences.

  5. To oblige members of the federal and provincial legislatures and influential citizens to advise government officials on uplift steps.

  6. To ensure that all state employments are made on merit through selection boards and service commissions.

  7. To strive to ensure academic freedom at universities, colleges and schools. Education must be organised along modern lines and in accordance with society’s needs. All admissions on merit.

  8. To launch a meaningful campaign to eliminate bribery.

  9. To ensure that all civil servants and other state employees enjoy due protection and that honest officials are not harassed.

  10. To struggle for the removal of all obstacles to the establishment of a benign, just and democratically constituted state.

  11. To support human rights organisations working for an end to human rights abuse, especially crimes against women, children, minorities and the poor.

  12. To mobilise the country’s lawyers for the defence of people’s rights, and secure the rule of law.

  13. To try to secure the judiciary’s separation from the executive and to ensure its independence.

  14. To help the people receive proper services from the revenue, irrigation, health, public health engineering, labour, forest and railways departments, local bodies, civil courts, Wapda, PTCL and other development institutions.

  15. To make the people aware of their rights.

  16. To persuade the conscious and conscientious members of society that in order to regain their capacity to secure rights and change the environment they must give up their barren pursuits, bitter speech, indifference and pessimism.

  17. To launch a struggle to transform the pessimism of the conscientious and the indifference of the weak-willed into hopeful attitude and action.

The task of mobilising the people was to be done by citizens’ committees. Membership of these committees was to be open to all citizens, including members of political parties, who were prepared to give time to undertake their responsibilities. In the beginning, these committees were to be set up at the tehsil, district and provincial levels. Committees concerned with security of life and property were to be formed at the thana level. Other committees were to deal with problems related to Wapda, the highways, irrigation, civil courts, crimes against women, dispensaries, hospitals, water supply, drainage, human rights (those not already mentioned), schools, colleges, communications, municipality, development institutions, labour, gas supplies, railways, forests, environment, and audit.

Quite obviously the authors of the declaration wanted to promote a reform movement as membership of a political party was no bar to joining them. While today’s manifesto writers might largely agree with the analysis of the situation in the country, they might find the situation today far more alarming. It is impossible not to envy the past generation that didn’t have to deal with enforced disappearances, sectarian bloodbaths, suicide bombers and a foreign policy that makes no sense at all.

This document attracts attention for four main reasons:

First, it rejects the verbosity of standard party manifestos in favour of brevity. The authors of the declaration come to the point without beating about the bush.

Secondly, the test for good governance is adequately broad: respect for the Constitution, rule of law, efficient delivery of services to the people, effective dispensation of justice by an independent judiciary, elimination of corruption, a forward-looking education system, and due recognition of citizens’ basic rights.

Thirdly, the document stresses the point that problems related to the state’s relationship with the individual and delivery of services to the latter concern the entire body of citizens and they should tackle them in a united manner, without looking at them from the perspective of their political parties. Since the people’s day-to-day concerns should be settled at the local, district and provincial levels, politicians will be required to concentrate on major political and governmental issues that require action at the federal level.

And, fourthly, what decisively distinguishes this declaration from the usual run of manifestos is that it envisages the citizens as the most essential agents of change.

Published in Dawn, July 5th, 2018