Ministers In Waiting

My goodness the names keep changing but the song remains the same. Minus-One Formula became Bangladesh Model which became Caretaker Government which became Midterm Elections which became Patriotic Generals which became French Revolution which has now become Technocrats. Why don’t we just call it what it is – the pipe dream of ‘Ministers in Waiting’.

The truth is that the lists that are being circulated provide the answers that everyone already knew, even if nobody wanted to say it out loud – there’s a group of people in this country who put their personal ambitions ahead of the good of the nation.

Kamran Shafi is calling shenanigans on the whole bunch of schemers.

Most of them have been in the various and varied engineered dictatorial/caretaker/lota so-called governments of which we’ve seen more than our fair share; governments that failed in every which way, made a bigger mess of things every single time that they “rescued” us, and after whose failure and subsequent departure the political leaders thrown out came back into the assemblies with larger majorities than they had when they were shown the door.

So why are these names making it to the lists being “prepared and finalised” when they were such abject failures in their earlier incarnations as ministers and advisers to dictators? It is not as if manna fell from heaven when they were ruling the roost, nor was there a chicken in every pot in the land. So, who are these people that pop up every now and again whenever the Deep State decides democracy has to take yet another setback?

No prizes for guessing, reader, for the matter is a simple one for any Pakistani who knows the shenanigans of the powers that be in the Land of the Pure: they are the handmaidens of the Deep State, who are always waiting in the wings in the ‘sit/stay’ position, ready to leap at the next command. They are the darlings of the establishment, the actual inheritors of this country who can do no wrong, who are pure as driven snow. And whose acts of omission and commission when in (extra-legal) occupation of their offices have never been inquired into, let alone being prosecuted. Never mind that one of them virtually bankrupted Pakistan Railways.

All of this ‘technocrat’ nonsense is simply marketing. It’s a new name for the same old soap that didn’t clean anything the first time.

Mosharraf Zaidi is right on this one, we need to be realistic and stop listening to the marketing schemes of these ministers in waiting.

No matter how good a technocrat is, she or he has no stake in the system of governance. A good, honest technocrat can fly in, fix what seems broken, and leave. Technocrats are not responsible for sustaining an overarching system, they are responsible only for the small domain they occupy. The sustenance and vitality of change and reform in Pakistan is wholly dependent on this country’s civil service. The fact that there is no public discourse, on what changes this essential national resource required to meet today’s challenges, should worry us all deeply.

So why are the people calling for change? Oh, that’s right…they’re not.

Actually, the only people you really see calling for change are the ministers in waiting who use every possible chance to exploit something to mislead people and get small groups of their supporters worked up in an effort to build their own political base. Again, from Kamran Shafi’s column…

Let us see who wants this so-called ‘change’? I see no great demonstrations in the streets, neither against provincial nor the federal governments. So why this tsunami, this cacophony for ‘change’? What, and who, drives this demand? Again no prizes for guessing: it is the Deep State itself which wants this change primarily to puncture the democratic balloon one more time and relegate rule by parliament to the backstage so that any advances made are brought to naught. And, secondly, wants to have absolutely untrammelled suzerainty over foreign affairs as the Afghanistan imbroglio heats up. The Deep State would want no interference whatever from an independent parliament as it goes about playing the Great Game, no matter how disastrously.

Far from wanting change, the people of NA-194 elected Khadija Waran. The people elected Jamshed Dasti. This drives the ministers in waiting crazy because they want their turn at the plate, and are not of any concern what the people want. Well, maybe if they spent more time listening to the people and less time lecturing everyone they would get elected to something other than head of their dinner club.

That’s not to say that the people don’t want progress – the people do want progress. But these ministers in waiting and their puppets in the right-wing media are trying to take the country back in time. Remember, these are the same people that complain about wanting to restore “the prestige and dignity” to the parliament. They see the common people as below them.

If these ministers in waiting actually get their way, Babar Ayaz asks, “what will change for the common man?”

Again, what will change for the common man? All we do is run around in circles. Nothing in this formula helps in bringing inflation down, fiscal deficit cut, relief for the flood affected people and bringing terrorism and sectarianism under control. People may argue that the change will bring in an efficient and less corrupt government. But past experience shows that no revolutionary change is possible at present; genuine change should come but through the natural process of democratic evolution. As a matter of fact, the right course should be to keep pressing for better governance and exposing corruption as it is being done at present and wait for the next elections that are not that far away. This would help in focusing on the real problems instead of politicking for quick gains.

We would be wise to follow Babar’s advice. “Genuine change should come but through the natural process of democratic evolution”.

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.

You Say You Want A Revolution

“Revolution” seems to have re-entered the public debate lately. But recent events once again raise the question – who is the “public” in this debate?

Last year it was “the Bangladesh option” that was on the tongues of all of the chattering class. Lately, Altaf Bhai’s talk about “patriotic generals” and the French revolution has re-inspired the dreams of the talking heads. But these people exist in climate controlled studios and expansive flats with all the modern conveniences. In a nation of 160 Million people with a Gross National Income per captia of under Rs.85,000 (US $1,000) and a literacy rate of about 55 percent – what do the common people think?

In a way, it’s hard to know what the common people think because usually nobody cares to ask them. Sure, there are a lot of people who claim to speak for the masses, but when was the last time Shahid Masood had a hawker or a farmer or someone’s driver on his show to discuss their “Views on the News”?

The only time the common people are asked what they think is when they are asked to select the person they want to represent their interests and opinions in the assemblies. So if we want to find the best measurement of the popular opinion, we should’t be looking to the media elites talking “live from satellite”, we should be looking at who people are actually voting for.

Judging by the results of yesterday’s by-poll in NA-184, the people are not clamoring for a revolution.

Khadija Waran, wife of Amir Yar Waran and candidate of Pakistan People’s Party has won by-elections in Bahawalpur’s constituency NA-184, according to unofficial results.

The unofficial results disclosed that Khadija Waran bagged 75507 votes and leading by 27362 votes. Her closest rival was Pakistan Muslim League-N’s Najeebuddin Awaisi with 48,145 votes.

Polling for by-elections in NA-184 was held today from 8 AM to 5 PM without any interruption. Reports of minor clashes were received from different parts of the constituency during the vote.

So, despite the chattering classes predictions of the demise of PPP, it seems that ruling party has at least one constituency that still supports it – the voters.

But what’s even more telling about this recent by-poll election is that it not only undermines the claims that the people want (or need) a “revolution” or that the PPP has overplayed its hand is unpopular with the masses. It also exposes the media elites for being completely out of touch with the people about what issues matter most.

For months now we’ve been hearing all manner of funeral speeches for the government because a handful of people had “fake degrees”. This was an issue that was created and cared for only by the media – and even some of those darlings were unimpressed.

But the NA-184 by-poll proves that outside of the comfort of Geo’s studios, nobody really cares. The newly elected MNA, Khadija Waran, is wife of Amir Yar Waran – the outgoing MNA – who had a degree declared fake. If the people really thought fake degrees was important and that PPP was discredited, wouldn’t they have voted for someone else? Certainly so.

But the voters did no such thing. Rather, they spoke clearly with their ballots: We don’t care about fake degrees issue. We don’t want “revolution”. We want the government to be given the opportunity to work.

Salman Tarik Kureshi makes a perfect point yesterday:

For a nation like Pakistan, with no monarchs to behead and an already extant constitutional democracy to run, the concept of revolution is irrelevant. We would only add a few million more violent deaths to the numbers already generated by the Partition massacres, the East Pakistan civil war, the military actions against the rebels in Balochistan and the MRD (Movement for Restoration of Democracy) movement in Sindh, the sectarian killings in Punjab, the ethnic killings in Karachi, the continuing terrorist atrocities and so on and so forth.

We are fortunate to have already established an independent republic, a democratic system, popular sovereignty and a constitution. It is these we need to cherish and nurture.

The decision to change the government lies not with carefully coiffed media talking heads and wannabe revolutionaries. The decision lies with the people only. If they want a revolution, they will make it at the ballot box. Judging by the actual votes of the people, they’re not interested.