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Introspection is not something we would expect from ourselves, especially when it comes to collective introspection. And so here we are, galloping in a wild cacophonous frenzy towards May 11 – a frenzy that signifies nothing more than our ham-fisted realisation of ideas, some as great as democracy. Nevertheless, before indulging in yet another bout of democracy fever, it’s still worthwhile to glance back at our last affair with democracy which reached its finale with the august luminaries of the National Assembly in Islamabad and provincial assembly in Sindh giving themselves lifelong financial perks and protocol privileges.
The merry toing and froing was an apt end to the tenure of the democratic setup that came into being under the rule of the former military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf – the once blue-eyed dictator of the US, and through the 2008 elections that were won by politicians holding fake degrees and hiding dual nationalities.
Incidentally, the last day of the democratic government’s tenure fell on a Saturday, a public bank holiday which was promptly annulled for the convenience of the business of democracy in the country. The politicians, their families, friends, favourites in bureaucracy, sycophants in media, all seem to have benefitted a great deal by our mode of democracy. All this while the country progressed from being the 42nd most corrupt country in the world in 2009 to 34th in 2010 and 33rd in 2012 according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI).
In December 2012, the chief of the National Accountability Bureau – ironically a government body tasked to fight corruption – raised his estimate of daily corruption levels from Rs7 billion to Rs13 billion a day which is around US$130 million.
Pakistan’s GDP growth rate fell from 6.81 percent in 2008 to around three percent as the Pakistani rupee suffered epic depreciation during the five democratic years, crashing from Rs60 to a dollar to almost Rs100 to a dollar. The cost of living for the common Pakistani, the main recipients of the fruits of democracy, doubled during the five democratic years with around 100-200 percent increase in the prices of essential commodities. For example, the price for a litre of petrol jumped from Rs62.81 to over Rs100; wheat flour (staple food for Pakistani families) hiked from Rs16 to Rs35 a kilo; rice from Rs46 to Rs70; sugar from Rs25 to Rs52; beef from Rs200 to Rs440 and so on and so forth.
All this has had a telling effect on the 180 million Pakistanis vulnerable to the glory of democracy. By 2010, 48.6 percent of the people in Pakistan were affected by varying degrees of food insecurity as disclosed in ‘The State of Food Security in Pakistan’, a report sponsored by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation released in June 2010.
In the same year, Wolfgang Herbinger, country director for the World Food Programme in Pakistan, revealed that consumption of wheat in Pakistan fell 10 percent in 2009 because people lost the purchasing power to buy even the most basic of food staples. 36 percent of Pakistanis were termed as undernourished, placing Pakistan among the 21 hapless undernourished nations of the world according to an interactive map published in August 2011 by Oxfam.
Furthermore, according to a report by the UNDP released in February 2011, 54 percent of Pakistan’s population was deprived of the basic necessities of life as the country slipped two steps further down to 125th on the world index of human development compiled by the United Nations. It was but perhaps eventual that the country ranked as the 10th most failed state in the world, three places below Afghanistan in an index issued in June 2010 by the magazine, Foreign Policy and the Washington-based NGO Fund for Peace.
Keeping in mind what people have gone through during the five years of democracy, it is not surprising that their trust in civilian/democratic government steadily decreased from 54 percent in 2008 to 31 percent in 2010 and 23 percent in 2012. On the other hand, people’s confidence in the military soared to 88 percent in 2012 from 76 percent in 2008 according to a Gallup survey released in February 2013.
During this time, efforts by the judiciary to check corruption and nab corrupt elements were persistently foiled. The powerful establishment which still enjoys popular support will have to shun its reluctance and support the judiciary in its fight against corruption and lawlessness in order to let justice prevail. But apart from weeding out corrupt politicians, corrupt civilian and military bureaucrats also need to be checked.
The US, Britain and Saudi Arabia should also consider their historical approach of patronising corrupt, and unlawful elements in Pakistan’s politics and the military and civil bureaucracy or else face the danger of Pakistan collapsing into chaos. Pakistan simply can’t survive the kind of ‘democracy sans justice for all’ that has become a practical synonym for corruption and for violating the constitution in the last five years.
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