Unpalatable or Disastrous

By Misbah Azam, Ph.D.


In his interview in 1867, with St. Petersburgische ZeitungIt, the German aristocrat and statesman, Prime Minister of Prussia and first Chancellor of Germany, Otto Von Bismark described the politics as “an art of possible”. However, famous Canadian — and later US — economist, public official, the diplomat, and a leading proponent of 20th-century American liberalism, John Kenneth Galbraith disagreed. He wrote to President John F. Kennedy in 1962 that he believes that the, “politics is not the art of possible, it consists of choosing between the disastrous and unpalatable”.

In the Election 2013 in Pakistan, like all over the world, the choice was the same — the choice between the “disastrous” and “unpalatable” and just within the next two years the Pakistani voters understood what they chose. Pakistani society came from the centuries old monarchies, the tribal systems and subservience of imperial powers. Even its contemporary history is full of Martial Laws, bureaucratic and feudal/family oligarchies directly or indirectly controlling the governments. As a consequence, masses still have propensity to look for messiahs who — in their beliefs — will drive them and provide antidote for their day-to-day problems. Even after the globalization and free media access they show the proneness of worshiping and disdaining the individuals and expecting the zero sum game in favor of what they believe is right. This behavior was clearly observed during last decade when the masses — especially the young generation – defined and treated democracy as a war between the forces of Christ and the anti-Christ. When the election 2013 results were announced, large number of people, who supported the losing candidates, refused to accept these results. They argued that by “history’s worst rigging” their leaders’ mandates were stolen, although, national and international institutes all agreed that though, there was some rigging and mismanagements by the election authorities and individual candidates, but large part of the election did not have any significant issue, especially when these are compared with the previous elections when the elections were systematically rigged by country’s self-imposed and even elected rulers.

When Ayub Khan snatched power illegally, the common people on the streets believed that their prayers are heard by the heavenly forces and these “Marshal Law bhayyas” (Martial Law brothers) will provide them everything which they were deprived of. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto brought new hopes to the people but just in six years when he was thrown out and later hanged by Ziaul Haq who was another self-proclaimed “messiah”, common people forgot Bhutto and attached all their dreams of “New Pakistan” from Ziaul Haq. When General Musharraf took over the power, media reports suggest that people distributed sweets in the markets to celebrate the arrival of new “healer”. Even now, whenever people get angry at the government, their first demand from the military chief is to take over the country and “hang” all the politicians. During the recent deaths due to heat strokes in Karachi this demand came not only from the common people but also came – although not directly – from some media anchors and political pundits. Those who are nostalgic for the military rule conveniently forget that if military rule was a solution then Pakistan would be among the most prosperous countries in the world, because more than half of its history, military had a direct rule and most of the time during the civilian governments military played a role of the “king makers” and it influenced critical policy decisions, which is the situation on the ground now, in post-dharna (Imran Khan’s sit-in) Pakistan.

The million dollar question is that, are all these leaders which people put their trust on, really disappoint their supporters or it is simply that, the common people expect too much from an individual or party to bring about rapid change, without understanding the ground realities. The intellectual community somewhat agree that the military regimes, bureaucratic control and oligarchies’ manipulations of internal and external policies in Pakistan created a generations of politicians who are incompetent and incapable of making tough decisions. It is observed that for most part they are ineffective and incapable to deliver on the peoples’ demands which make the large number of people suffer. They can deliver the programs like the Benazir Income support but they cannot render a plan through which people can be trained of skills which are necessary for the job. They can build huge bus systems and railway systems — which may be necessary – but cannot come up with plans to resolve the very basic problems like electricity, health, education, police system etc.

When the civilian government took over from the other civilian government in 2013, people have lots of hope that the new leadership would work hard to bring some relief in common people’s life but the new governments – in provinces and centre – engaged themselves in the political fights to take over the power. The Prime Minister hardly visited the parliament during the first year of his government. He was very busy trying showing his will to stand up to the security establishment by actions like invoking Article 6 against Gen. Musharraf and statements to challenge the Army. It is true that military must not meddle in governance matters but expecting Army to stay out of policy matters is rather a pipe dream in the country like Pakistan, where Army rule is an acceptable alternative even for the large part of intellectual community. The establishment-Imran Khan-Tahirul Qadri nexus further damaged the business and made the centre very vulnerable in front of establishment.

Even now when the Karachi clean-up operation is at its peak and the Rangers are now scrutinizing the MQM and PPP individuals who are allegedly involved in the extortion, target killings and other crimes, Mr. Asif Ali Zardari expects that the government in centre should stand with him because – as many media persons claim — he stood by the PML (N) government during PAT-PTI sit-in. The common argument in the media that Asif Zardari “supported” PML (N) during the PAT-PTI sit-in does not seem to have any weight. Actually, the PPP knew very well that if Khan-Qadri nexus would be successful in his sit-in, there would be no democracy and the “umpires” would take over in a way that even Khan and Qadri would not get anything other than a long term house arrest in Bani Gala like Air Martial Asghar Khan after he somewhat helped the military takeover in 1977. If PAT-PTI re contracted again by some other “umpire” and they would create a similar situation like they did in last August, Asif Zardari will be seen standing behind Nawaz Sharif once again.

Over the history, it is observed that the attitudes of the societies alter as time progresses and people learn and change for the good. However, it is also a question how an individual will grow and learn about the realities of the world. The mass media is usually a tool to alter and build the opinion on different issues. If the media starts taking sides then it is very difficult to educate the common information hungry people. Media can train people about the sanctity of institutions and the ways around in the constitution if there are any complain about the manifesto of the institute or the action of any individual belongs to it. Unfortunately, other than some individuals, the media so far has failed to deliver as well like the governments.

Democracy is not flawless system but it is a best system available which works and in Pakistan — as a famous Pakistani political scientist and military analyst Dr. Hassan Askari Rizvi noted – the history already gave the verdict against the dictatorships and in favor of democracy. However, if in the democracies there is a scarcity of good governance and accountability but abundance of corruption and incapacity, it does not drive the countries to the path of progress and prosperity. State institutions become resilient if these are left to work independently without unnecessary influence and pressure from other state institutions and the governments. Once the institutions become strong and buoyant they are capable of controlling the unpalatable individuals and prevent them from exceeding their authorities. The key to the success of the West is that they have viable institutions.

In countries like Pakistan, no single political party, military or any other institution single handedly fight with its burning problems. The government is responsible to work in the right direction. If people will see the work in progress they will sure give a chance to governments, however, if they see the issues like load shedding, governments’ response to the disasters like the recent heat wave which caused over 1000 deaths, political point scoring by the opposition on the dead bodies of innocent people, they will be forced to believe that what leadership we have is “disastrous” and then they will look for new “messiah” like before.