By Misbah U. Azam, Ph.D.
On January 13, 2015, Dr. Moeed Yusuf, Director, South Asia Program in US Institute of Peace (USIP), shocked many democrats by writing a piece – A Rotten System — in Daily Dawn. Here what he noted, “Ever since the Zardari government took over in 2008, I have struggled to place Pakistan among the established models of democratic consolidation? I have increasingly questioned my own defense for the current ‘system’. My unease has brought me to the recognition that Pakistan fits models that represent basket cases of political development. It has led me to an uncomfortable conclusion: survival of the current ‘system’ may be a net negative for our future. Nope, I haven’t gone crazy.” He completed his article by writing, “If we want to see a truly democratic Pakistan, we must begin to talk in specifics about what it will take to force this system to evolve in the right direction. We must have the stomach to stand for transformative changes. We must stand to undercut perverse elite interests even if these include our own. We must focus on the common man, on the substantive delivery of services and justice, as the centerpiece of our discourse. The only alternative I can see is for us to stand by and see Pakistan implode sooner or later”.
Ejaz Haider, a private Pakistani TV talk show anchor person and a public intellectual utilized two of his talk shows, may be not to discuss Moeed’s article, but to debate the issue raised in the article with two political analysts and then some politicians. As per expectation, the politicians defended the system and talked about the reforms while the analysts argued against the current system. Dr. Yusuf kindly accepted our invitation to join our weekly show “Viewpoint from Overseas” (talk4pak.com) where we asked him about his thought process behind this article. In his opinion, the way system is moving it may be keep on going but he does not see any movement towards the improvement of real problems like human development, education, health, clean water, clean environment, gas, electricity, employment etc. He argued that this is all because of the fact that the political class have very different “incentive structure” then what people can imagine. To further strengthen his argument he asked how the candidates who do not deliver gets re-elected – may not be in next elections but sometime later. He asked us what do we think about Mian Nawaz Sharif who assigned his daughter a high position, wasn’t he aware that this would create a controversy? He argued that it is all happening because the system is such that these politicians and other rulers make so much during their days in office that they don’t mind even if they lose the elections and they have to stay out for 4-5 years from the power corridors. He argued that there is lot has to be done to clean up this system which include the justice system reforms, local body elections, electoral reforms and many more steps which he is willing to discuss in coming days.
What Dr. Yusuf argued cannot be argued against or denied and I am very curious to have another session with him to discuss what and — the bigger question is — how he believes that this change can be brought in. There is no doubt about the incompetency of the political leaders but the shrill and loud “background noises” must not be forgotten. In Pakistan’s 67+ years history, almost half of the time the military and civil bureaucracy directly ruled over the country and remaining half — when the so called democracy came back — it could not get rid of the military/bureaucracy tentacles from the civilian governance. It must be kept in mind that a) most of the politicians were created by the Army whenever it assigns itself the role of governance and want to strengthen their grip on power and b) the military keeps on asserting through some opportunist politicians, print and electronic media persons, Judiciary and in some cases – through direct threats. When President Zardari — who was the product of National Reconciliation Ordinance, which General Musharraf signed off to stay in and strengthen his grip on power — tried to assert, a Memo Gate was slapped on his face. As a consequence, the foreign and defense policy was outsourced to the security establishment. When Mian Nawaz Sharif — an industrialist, who was brought to the power corridors by Governor Punjab and the ex-ISI Director General, Ghulam Jilani Khan when General Ziaul Haq wanted civilian protectors to perpetuate his autocracy — tried to take lead in the policy matters, he was whacked by “Azadi” and “Inqilab” sit-ins and media campaign to clip his wings. Imran Khan — who struggled for 16 years and could only got elected once during the time when he became a blue-eyed child of General Musharraf in the most rigged 2002 general elections — suddenly became a leader of millions when General Shuja Pasha – Director General ISI – allegedly helped his party to create a “counter weight” for Zardari and Sharif.
Observing the actions – or may be the inactions – of the politicians, in the light of these traditions, would reveal that it is not just the political vested interest around but it is a consequence of a strife for survival and power struggle between institutions, which is going on in Pakistan for decades. This endeavor will slow down only if the confidence levels among the civilians leadership will restore over time and which is only possible if the electoral process will keep moving forward and slowly new faces will emerge in the leadership of Pakistan. Staggering the election process – in which the National Assembly, Provincial Assembly and Local Body elections will be conducted in different times from one another (National Assembly elections then two and half year later Provincial Assembly elections then one and quarter year after Provincial Assembly elections, Local Body elections then one and a quarter year after Local Body election, National Assembly elections and so on) may be one way forward.
It’s widely believed and understood in the organized democracies of the world that although the democracy is not a perfect system but it may be the only system which works. It’s a process not the end game, and process must go on and improved and reformed as time proceeds.
President Bill Clinton, during his short visit to Pakistan in March 2000 said on Pakistan state owned TV, “What is in the way of that vision [of Qaid-i-Azam]? Well, clearly, the absence of democracy makes it harder, not easier, for people to move ahead. I know democracy isn’t easy; it’s certainly not perfect. We share your disappointment that previous democratic governments in Pakistan did not do better for their citizens. But one thing is certain: democracy cannot develop if it is constantly uprooted before it has a chance to firmly take hold. Successful democratic government takes time and patience and hard work. The answer to flawed democracy is not to end democracy, but to improve it”.
“O’ the soil of my mother land, let me keep on rubbing my heels on you
I have a belief that one day the spring will surge from here”