Has Democracy Failed Us?

by Babar Ayaz for Daily Times

The magnitude of problems faced by Pakistan is gigantic. The present success or failure of an elected government should be analysed in that perspective. It is through this analysis that one can reach an unbiased conclusion whether the present government should be changed or not. The process of change however, has to be within the normal constitutional framework and not outside as demanded by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) or a section of the media.

The positive news is that it seems after many mistakes political parties have matured at least by one notch. Unlike the 90s, they are not inviting the khakis to change the government. Even the recent statement of Nawaz Sharif is clear that if a change has to happen it has to be within the parameters provided in the constitution. The MQM is isolated in parliament for pleading to ‘patriotic generals’ to step forward for supporting a revolution. History has now shown that all revolutions led by an army in the world ultimately degenerated into dictatorships and are anti-people.

I would even urge the honourable judges of the Supreme Court not to fall into the trap of those who want to bring the army in at the court’s request. Such a move would be counter-productive for the judiciary and its supporters, who worked hard to bring down a military government, but not without the support of the political parties. Those who want to give the sole credit of bringing down the Musharraf government to the restoration of a sacked judiciary are only misreading history and distorting the political process that the country went through.

When this government came into power in 2008 it was evident that what lay ahead is a rough ride and that they will have to face political, economic, internal security and foreign policy challenges of no ordinary nature. And more recently, as if other major challenges were not enough, the worst floods in the country’s history have exposed the government to all the just and unjust criticism.

Before I move to analyse the mistakes and achievements of the democratic forces in the country that includes the government, a disclaimer is necessary: no government and democratic process delivers 100 percent. The beauty of the system is that they are criticised and exposed for their mistakes and shortcomings till the next elections. There is no shortcut in the evolution of democratic systems, as desired by some impatient politicians and journalists.

Let us now analyse the challenges faced by the government and other elected parties when they landed in Islamabad and how they have fared so far. The first political challenge before the political parties was to accept the election results or to reject them as rigged. The parties by and large accepted the results in true democratic spirit.

The second challenge was how to cobble a coalition to the satisfaction of all the partners. The good sign is that Benazir’s reconciliation ideology helped in building a government. It was the right approach set by Ms Bhutto, who had the vision and sagacity to understand Pakistan’s serious internal and external problems. This is no time for one party to take a heavy burden of solving the problems single-handedly.

The third challenge was how to get President Musharraf out. The democratic forces led by the government tactfully got him out without creating any major commotion in the country.

The fourth challenge was how to handle the issue of the restoration of the judiciary to its rightful place. An independent judiciary is one of the three pillars of the state. Though belatedly, and after some pressure from the opposition, the judiciary was restored. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) dragged it out for its own ulterior motives, as it was afraid of the chief justice. Subsequent developments proved that they were taken to task by the newly independent judiciary.

The fifth challenge was how to manage the economic difficulties such as high prices of food items, inflation and the energy crisis. So far they have failed to meet this challenge even halfway. But again the government’s advocates may say that just when the economy had started to stabilise and a 4 percent growth rate was in sight, the floods washed away all the gains. As far as the energy shortage is concerned, it is mainly mismanagement by the government that failed to remove the bureaucratic red tape and control the losses, which results in circular debt.

The sixth challenge was regarding the most serious issue of internal security, which is directly related with our foreign policy. Here the General Headquarters (GHQ) makes all the important decisions. Historically all the important foreign policy issues related to India, Afghanistan, Iran and the US are decided by the GHQ. The political government did try to claim its rightful place, but we have seen that they were hounded to concede this right to the establishment. As our establishment is not willing to accept that the policies followed by them since the early 50s were wrong, there can be no rethinking and correction of the mistakes. For this the leading political parties are on the same page and want to have a fresh approach to our national security policy. But they are helpless because this domain is a no-go area for them.

The seventh challenge was establishing the writ of the government in the terrorist-infested areas in the north. The operations in Swat and South Waziristan have been successful. The khaki supporters may say the army did this. Yes, they led from the front and many soldiers lost their lives. But then many politicians and journalists also lost their lives. And the operation was given full political support by the democratic forces and financial backing by the government.

The eighth challenge was amending the constitution and creating a consensus on the division of powers and economic resources between the federation and the provinces. The democratic government came out with flying colours on this, while the military government had failed in this regard.

Lastly, the latest challenge is to rehabilitate the people affected by the floods and the reconstruction of the flood-affected areas. This is a colossal job. I think for this all the democratic forces should first decide that this is not the time to squabble about change. This is the time where the entire nation has to work hard, honestly and with only one focus — rehabilitate the 20 million affected people. All moves to destabilise the democratic process at this stage would only add to the misery of the people. The government’s focus would be diverted to saving itself instead of saving the flood victims. The transition to the new government, even if it comes through constitutional means, would slow down the rehabilitation process, something the people cannot afford. But this does not mean that the government should have license to continue making petty mistakes of cronyism and allow corruption. If the government can gear up and perform even to 50 percent of the people’s expectations it would not need to worry about its public image as it has done previously.

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