Impatience With Democracy

By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

In her article ‘Pakistan’s Governance Deficit’, published in FT on July 8th Maleeha Lodhi has tried to build up an argument against the governing practices of the present elected government. The argument she makes is not new. It has been made by supporters of military-technocrat rule time and again in relation to every elected civilian government that has followed a dictatorial regime.

Ms Lodhi herself points out that issues of governance are not new to Pakistan. She also acknowledges the conditions under which the present coalition government assumed office. Not only is the government faced with the mess created by the previous regime of former General Pervez Musharraf, it inherited a backlog of difficult economic problems as well as rising international oil and food prices and the affects of the global financial crunch.

All six characteristics that she has attributed to the style of the present government were most prominent during the regime of Mr Musharraf, which Ms Lodhi faithfully served. To make her point, she stretches the truth somewhat. For example, only two of Pakistan’s 49 ministries are headed by appointed advisers but that does not prevent Ms Lodhi from claiming that “most” key portfolios are in the hands of unelected advisors. Pakistan’s constitution anticipates the possibility of up to 5 cabinet portfolios going to professionals outside parliament. Other than the current advisors on Finance and Petroleum, all government ministers are elected Senators and members of the National Assembly.

Given Pakistan’s history, one cannot but note that creating misperceptions about the democratically elected government are often part of orchestrated campaigns that precede the country sliding back into the lap of dictatorship.

While the military dictatorship of Mr Musharraf vacillated in tackling growing Taliban terrorism effectively, the democratic government has been able to take a policy decision to eradicate the scourge by launching a military offensive. This offensive is backed by a national consensus, by the Parliament, political parties, religious groups and civil society. This national consensus is the singular achievement of President Asif Ali Zardari’s policy to carry the entire nation along in Pakistan’s war against terrorism, which the elected government considers our own war.

As far as reliance on external help is concerned, the previous military regime relied far more on unaccountable foreign assistance from several countries, multilateral donors and sources. The present government has come out of the framework of conditional aid and is seeking external flow in a transparent manner with a view to jump start our economy. Mr Zardari has made it clear that our country needs more trade than aid. The government is now focusing on strengthening Pakistan’s economy through enhanced investments and trade and has time and again raised the issue of increasing US & European market access for exports from Pakistan.

The investigation into the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto is also underway, contrary to the assertions of critics and pro-dictatorship propagandists. The United Nations was approached to probe into Bhutto’s assassination transparently since suspicions existed about the previous government’s inquiry. Ms Lodhi’s former boss was indicted by the nation in this crime most foul. Even Mr Musharraf sought help from Scotland Yard not to discover the real murderers but to cover up the crime by restricted terms of reference.

Bhutto was a leader of international standing and had the investigation into her murder been carried out by the present government, people like Ms Lodhi would have condemned it as political vendetta against the current government’s opponents. Impartial and substantive investigation of the murder of a leader of international stature by the UN is not a new phenomenon. UN commissions have conducted such investigations in the past as well, especially if people within the state structure were implicated by any segment of the population. The murder of Lebanese leader Rafique Al Hariri’s case is in point.

Deficit in governance has remained a major problem of Pakistan throughout its history. Most of it was due to long dictatorial regimes supported by time servers, political opportunists and so-called academics who lethally performed in support of and to sustain totalitarian regimes jack-booting the democratic aspirations of the Pakistani Nation.

Pakistan has an elected government and is making a concerted effort to build democratic institutions. Democracy should be allowed to run its course. If the government does not fulfil the people’s aspirations, let the people of Pakistan pronounce on the subject at the next general election. There is no need for people of Ms Lodhi’s like to repeat the past pattern of condemning elected leaders to pave the way for another military technocrat intervention.

The writer is the High Commissioner of Pakistan to the UK

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