Is Pakistani Democracy a Theatrical Farce?
By Dr Haider Mehdi
“The sanctity of human life is not diminished because it is violated by a democracy. But our rulers would have us believe otherwise to stifle criticisms, and, as the legendary public intellectual Noam Chomsky would put it, to manufacture consent.”
–Adel Safty, distinguished Professor at the Siberian Academy of Public Administration, Russia, and the author of the book, Might Over Right
In so-called democratic Pakistan, as Noam Chomsky would put it, manufacturing public consent by all means, fair and foul, appears to be the only political discourse that is designed and orchestrated by its traditional ruling elite to safeguard and promote their vested class interests.
Dr. Haider Shah, who teaches public policy in the UK and is a founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan, commented in a recent article that “like emperors of the bygone period, our political elite likes to be seen as benevolent distributors of livelihood to the needy. While ordinary voters sacrifice…for the cause of democratic ideals, the fruit of hard labor is taken away… many political leaders (in Pakistan) are still frozen in the 1970s and 1990s. For the current decade of the 21st century Pakistan they need a new model that is not based on feudal loyalties and massive patronage but on clean governance and sensible economic policies.”
How many of Pakistan’s ruling elite, fatly paid TV talk show hosts, influential journalists or wealthy media group owners, public policy managers or crafty public-opinion maker “gurus” or “pundits” ever ask the common citizens what they expect of the holy-cow called democracy in this country?
The frightfully deprived masses of this nation, whose suffering is unprecedented, will say that they want “quick fix” solutions to their daily problems. They will say that they want reasonably priced food on their dining tables so that they can feed their children. They will say that they want unadulterated food and medicine and health services that are available to every segment of society. They will say that they want electricity in their homes, gas, petrol and transport services available to all of them to run their daily lives. They will say that they want to give their children education that is affordable. They will say that they want “justice” dispensed to local communities at their doorsteps. They will say that they want honest and God-fearing judicial and police officers providing solemnity, solicitude and solidarity to community life all over the country. They will say that they want healthy communities, clean and beautiful villages and spirited, energetic, creative and vivacious urban centers. They will say that they want an end to rampant corruption, political, economic and social oppression and they want a national emancipation from a traditional corrupt and dysfunctional political culture and its manifested political-economic structure. They will say that they want to be treated as human-beings and not “objects” dispensable at the whims of a power-structure that exploits and decimates human spirit. They will say that they would prefer a dictatorship over a democracy that gives them starvation, indignity, physical and non-physical misery. They will say that hunger, poverty and suicides are not what they had hoped for in a democratic Pakistan.
They will tell you that they want a vibrant nation taking a leadership role in creative arts, technological innovation, scientific development, medical research and human resources development unprecedented in human history. They will tell you that they want a moral-ethical society, tolerance for each other and a “quantum leap” in societal development with socio-economic equilibrium and respect for human dignity confirming and compatible with their social values, faith and cultural heritage. They will tell you that they are a nation of poets, “fakirs,” saints and “qalandars” and they want their heritage given back to them.
They will tell you that they are tired of political charades conducted on a daily basis by their ruling so-called democratic leadership. They will tell you that they abhor the visibly observable emerging national disintegration and obviously failing national solidarity. They will tell you that they hate the lying, hypocrisy, double-talk, behind-closed-doors hidden public and foreign diplomacy conducted by their elected representatives. They will tell you that they have lost trust in the prevailing system of public representation, and their tolerance for existing public representatives is close to “zero.”
They will tell you that they are hopelessly dismayed and appalled on the continuing and ever-expanding incompetence, inefficiency and organizational incapabilities and inabilities of their national political managers: their non-performance, non-execution, and undertaking short measures in setting national political-economic and foreign policy discourse to put this nation on a roadmap of gradual and continuing progress, development and self-reliance. They will tell you that they want a change - a virtual transformation of the existing political-economic system and culture to a revolutionary renaissance compatible with the modern-day needs of a progressive nation.
Indeed, a democracy cannot be wedded to orthodox ideas and spent and worthless doctrines. A democracy ought to be a vibrant, self-correcting, self-adjusting, optimal force of an inherent political organism that determines its own directions of political-economic innovations, systemic changes and overall socio-political transformations on a national scale. It ought to change its foreign policy directions on pragmatic national parameters and regularly adjust its domestic policy planning accordingly. This is what happened exactly at the dawn of democracy and its resulting democratic social-contract movements in Europe.
The fact of the matter is that right-wing capitalistic democracy and its orthodox approach to nation-building all over the emerging Third World nations has proven to be a flawed prescription for self-reliant development and equitable socio-economic progress of these societies. Hence, in Pakistan, there is an inevitable need for a revised political-economic system that gives top priority to raise common citizens’ income, stature, and participation in the political processes and national decision making. It also needs to massively transform the economy to absorb large-scale employment through public work programs and drastically narrow down the ever-expanding socio-economic gap between the majority “have-nots” and the select minority of “haves”.
The right-wing, corporate capitalistic democracy of today’s Pakistan, has failed time and again on the same fault lines. This existing system inevitably serves the interests of vested classes more than it attends to the interests of common citizens. This system has failed in the past and it will fail again.
Hence, this question is legitimate, politically correct and relevant as well as rational: Is Pakistani democracy a theatrical farce?
Will you as a reader and a common citizen of this country articulate your views on the said subject?
On a personal note, I would like to have your disagreement on my perspective. However, your views will be much appreciated if they are based on solid verifiable arguments rather than on emotional engagement with the issue or with the loaded sentimental rhetoric of “save the democracy,” as our ruling elite have been disposed to do, as Adel Safty said, “to manufacture consent.”
(The writer is UAE-based academic, policy analyst, conflict resolution expert and author of several books on Pakistan and foreign policy issues. He holds a doctorate and a master's degree from Columbia University in New York)