KARACHI, Aug 12 Though hereditary politics dominates throughout south Asia, heads of Pakistani political parties behave like “mafia bosses”, maintaining a system that thrives on patronage and muscle power.

“This is the culture we have to challenge. Why join a party headed by a decent human being when you can join a party headed by [questionable elements]. Party building is very important.”

This was what prominent lawyer and human rights activist Asma Jahangir had to say about the current system prevalent in Pakistan while delivering a lecture titled 'Democracy and human rights in Pakistan a dead-end?' at the Aga Khan University here on Wednesday. The lecture was part of the AKU's special lecture series.

Ms Jahangir spoke on various issues confronting the nation, from the military establishment's domineering role over the country's affairs to the steps needed to reform Pakistan's institutions. “Are we at a dead end? We are heading in that direction, but the evil days have been postponed,” she said at the top of her talk, quoting a foreign journalist friend's description of Pakistan.

The reason, she said, for the postponement of the “evil days” was that a section of the citizenry wakes up and does the right thing at the right time. “I don't want to be pessimistic. The recipes are not coming from outer space. We should insist on the democratic process.”

She said that though Pakistan was surviving, if the nation wanted to keep step with those countries that were truly progressing, something more had to be done.

Asma Jahangir said one of the biggest problems facing Pakistan was the “absence of skilful leadership that can steer us out of these challenges. How do you [fix this]? Gone are the days of revolution. Pakistan does not have any Che Guevaras.”

She observed that the transition from military rule to the current dispensation was “too good to be true. The generals gave us the democracy they thought we deserve. A system of democracy cannot take root through Supreme Court judgments. The building of public opinion is the biggest guarantee of democracy. There is no alternative to informed public opinion. We need to look at principles. That is the test of a mature civil society”.

Ms Jahangir said the notion that democracy was not cut out for us and that military governments undertake more development work is “a fallacy. Military governments are never economically feasible nor politically viable. I think the military is still in power. They have not gone back to the barracks”.

On relations with India, she said the shortage of water in the future would be a huge problem and our relationship with India would hinge on the issue of water.

'Institution building'

The solutions, Ms Jahangir said, lay in “institution building”. Starting off with the judiciary, she said that though the judiciary was more independent than a few years ago, “it is not independent enough”. She said the selection method of superior court judges should be transparent while the Supreme Judicial Council should be reconstituted, with the inclusion of former judges.

She also recommended setting up of a federal constitutional court. Asma Jahangir said that the Election Commission should be strengthened while the criteria for choosing the chief election commissioner should also be revised.

The veteran human rights campaigner said the police and internal law enforcement were being ignored, claiming that there were only 400 policemen in the NWFP. Ms Jahangir said the bureaucracy — which she claimed had been sidelined — should be brought into the mainstream.

Regarding reform of parliament, she said those members who were excessively absent from sessions should have their membership of the house cancelled.

She urged for a political settlement to the problems of Balochistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). She did not agree with the notion that Fata was a lawless zone out of the central government's grip. “Fata is the most controlled part of Pakistan. It has been manipulated. Fata legislators serve as agents of the establishment. They are used to topple governments and to demolish the democratic credentials of parliament.”

Ms Jahangir also observed that there was a “political vacuum in the Northern Areas” of Pakistan.

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