Pakistan : What Next?
By Dr Nazir Khaja and Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi
When the baby elephant is born, his leg is tied to a small chain to keep him under control. The baby tries to break the chain to run around but he does not succeed. In the process, it learns to be helpless and stops exerting pressure and decides to live with reality. With this ‘Learned Helplessness & Cannot-Do Attitude’, it spends its entire life believing that it cannot break the chains.
Unfortunately, the largely impoverished and uneducated people of Pakistan find themselves in a similar state. They are in this frame of mind due to the conditioning they have been exposed to at he hands of those who have held the reins of power in Pakistan throughout its history, be it military dictators or civilian rulers. Even though the Pakistani people are endowed with the same basic, universal rights as everyone else, they’ve lost the will and the desire for preventing the unfolding tragedy.
Pakistan ’s saga of a corrupt political order pitted against the overall interests of the masses continues. This despite the latest round of victory for the legislative in getting the constitutional reform – the 18 th Amendment passed without challenge in both houses of the parliament. Though this should help strengthen democratic progress in Pakistan, will this actually result in the real devolution of power to the “grassroots” or will the power remain in the hands of the elite? The question itself is a part of the discourse regarding democracy and Pakistan. Are Pakistanis unworthy and incapable of democracy? Or is it that somehow democracy is unworthy or inappropriate for Pakistan?
In the parliamentary forms of government an elected Prime Minister yields power on behalf of the people and the presidential role is mostly ceremonial. This system works efficiently when the democratic institutions are developed and provide for the people not only the safeguards with proper transparency and accountability but also inform the masses on issues that impact their daily lives and future.
The pillars of a functioning democracy are political parties, local bodies and direct elections for representation. If the parties operate transparently along rules that uphold and sustain democratic values the parties empower and inspire the people and democracy is strengthened. It is necessary that the parties hold regular elections for party positions. On the other hand, local bodies’ elections provide representation at the grassroots level and direct elections for most positions of power, including parliament and senate is an essential ingredient for people’s power.
Sadly, in Pakistan’s political system many of these elements are missing. Most parties are controlled by either powerful families or a small group of industrialists and large land owners. The local bodies do not have a long history of elected representation. Many experiments were done starting from Field Marshall Ayub’s local bodies or “Basic Democracy” to General Musharraf’s early rhetoric of “devolution of power” but these have not been successful. Also ironically it seems that the civilian democratic governments have not done any better in promoting local bodies. In the recent case the coalition government of PPP and PML-N has disbanded the local bodies that were established under the Musharraf regime and were functional for the last five years and now have reverted back to the bureaucratic management of districts. Despite the periodic exercise of election and voting ---which are only instruments of democracy rather than its sum and substance - the masses remain marginalized.
“Revolution is the festival of the oppressed,” says Germaine Greer, a thinker/philosopher. Many in Pakistan argue that a “Revolution” is indeed what may be needed. The people of Pakistan have mustered up courage to march in demonstrations and organize protest marches against their governments from time to time. But these have largely been contrived and controlled partisan exercises and no tangible or sustained benefit has accrued from these for the masses. Revolution is neither needed nor desirable for Pakistan.
Despite the ongoing tussle between the politicians and others it appears now that there is a growing feeling among Pakistanis that Pakistan’s fledgling steps towards democracy must be allowed to continue and be strengthened. Ongoing support of constitutional and judicial reforms, and further strengthening of law enforcement agencies may yet facilitate the process of empowerment of the people and a truly democratic government would emerge. It is necessary that a balance between the functions and responsibility of the judiciary, the legislative and the executive is achieved early enough during this critical period.
The media which besides the three branches of state is referred to more and more these days as the “The Fourth State” must take its responsibility to the people seriously. Despite the proliferation of television channels and newspapers, it seems that the media has abandoned its role as a mirror reflecting on the lives of the multitude which is going to bed hungry and without hope; sadly, instead it has elected to be the standard bearer of various political views and seems involved in partisanship. The story of the masses remains untold.
In order for the masses to get empowered and a true democratic form of government to emerge, the pursuit of accumulation of power and wealth by the politicians and others at the expense of the collective interest of the nation must be brought to an end. With greater co-operation and much needed balance between the executive, the judiciary, and the parliament, the current dysfunctionality can be eliminated and a strong government can emerge. The challenges that Pakistan now faces - of economic development, reform of the defunct law and order system and the neglected educational system - can only be met through a stable sustained effort towards institution building. The process of “learned-helplessness” of the masses can only be reversed over a period of time.
The people of Pakistan are fully deserving of democracy and democracy is the appropriate form of government for them. They have the full potential to free themselves from the baby elephant syndrome of “learned helplessness”, the critical question is whether the politicians and those who have wielded power throughout Pakistan’s history are willing and able to unlearn their habits.
The future of Pakistan’s democracy rests on this.
(Dr. Nazir Khaja, Founder, Council of Pakistan-American Affairs. (COPAA), Los Angeles. - Nazir.firstname.lastname@example.org
Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi, is President, Pakistan Chamber of Commerce-USA. - President@PakistanChamberUSA.com)