The demoralising impact of the perceived sense of injustice in Pakistan has aggravated the protracted crisis of public legitimacy of state institutions. The current judicial trials of the prime minister in the Panama leaks case do not seem to provide enough respite to restore public confidence in the justice system and democracy. In a nutshell, our tall claims of democratic transition from years of dictatorial rule do not provide sufficient evidence to refute popular perception of lack of accountability of rich and affluent in Pakistan.
The optimism of the current regime to transform Pakistan into an economic powerhouse of the region by 2018 doesn’t go well with the real Pakistan of the poor. The continued pessimism, which is intertwined with a losing battle of inclusive governance and democracy, remains unchanged for the majority. Unaffected by key principles – accountability, transparency, good governance and collective ownership of national spoils – our brand of democracy perpetuates plutocracy and kleptocracy. The ultimate political objective of this mode of governance is to create an autocratic sultanate of the medieval ages.
Our political regression has a history that cannot be revealed publicly for fear of persecution. One cannot question the material pursuits of the exotic heroes of history who are glorified as saviours, quite contrary to their original ambitions as warriors. Our problem lies in our state of self-denial and our propensity to distort history through mass education. Our textbooks do great injustice to our generations by teaching them ideologically induced history which is full of bigotry and hatred. The beneficiaries of this gross national ignorance rule the roost with unmatched political and economic power.
The political calculus of the core team of Nawaz Sharif does not seem to count the heavy price they were to pay for this ill-gotten democracy. The price they paid was not for democracy – it was the result of an egocentric rule to control everything.
When Pervez Musharraf deposed Nawaz Sharif and sent him behind bars, no one stood for the prime minister and his popular mandate did not work for him either. The equation of democracy and dictatorship in Pakistan is separated by a thin line of civil and military political complex but both have no respect for the aspirations of the citizens of Pakistan.
Freedom of expression has been trampled and the confidence to reassert popular will has been lost in the face of an increasingly plutocratic rule. The vicious cycle of changing hands between civil and military rule will not usher in any transformative change in the system of governance unless we gather courage to deconstruct the systemic causes and reconstruct a new social contract where people are at the centre of political governance. Part of our work is being done by modern technology – what we need now is disruptive ideas to stir stagnant waters that are too stinky for our political noses.
The way judicial reports are disputed is an outcome of lack of coherence in our judicial system itself. However, it is not just the judiciary but the entire system that deserves blame. Justice cannot be dispensed unless there is a strong system of accountability in place. Our political leaders have already had their chance to prove their democratic mantle but they have been unable to demonstrate that democracy is an inclusive form of governance.
Most of these leaders were pampered under the shades of dictators – including our current rulers who do not believe in citizen-centric political governance. They are good at building metro lines, orange trains, tall buildings, roads and other municipality-related infrastructure because there are huge economic returns for their business empire. Their mayoral spirit is well-acknowledged but their political character is dubious and one that needs to be questioned. A prime minister is expected to show statesmanship, political acumen and strategic thinking above the mundane mayoral services but our prime minister’s obsession with monumentalising the achievements of his government knows no bounds.
Our ruling elite plays a role smarter than alchemists and with unprecedented success tries to transmute iron into gold through smart investments. One must appreciate this business acumen of linking national development objectives with the business priorities of ruling families. The taxpaying citizens will bear the brunt of misplaced national development priorities and one can easily term this as the safest business model with zero percent risk.
The model externalises all its economic risks to a submissive and obedient taxpaying citizenry which does not look beyond its own nose to make a reasonable income. The political apathy and lack of will to counter the wrongdoings of society tells all about our moral decay, our fraying social fabric and our self-imposed servitude. The wounds of our social pathology are quite deep. We bash corrupt systems in public but imitate our leaders in our social and professional lives. We strive to centralise power and we abhor being accountable and answerable for our misdeeds.
Arguably our most conscious segment of society, the educated middle class, finds it less convincing to stand up against corruption, injustice and nepotism than to be pragmatic about making a decent living by maneuvering the system. Moral degradation, political apathy and alienation have diluted our primordial instinct of will to freedom in an Orwellian state. The tyrannical rule of our ‘Animal Farm’ has two species – those who are privileged to be equal and those who are the downtrodden, less equal and untouchable poor. Our hypocrisy to yell at the weaker and submit to the mighty helps perpetuate the system of injustice and we must now rise to fix our problems before they get irreparable.
Just recently, at a marketplace, I was amazed to see the spirit of those otherwise docile citizens who beat two young bikers (said to be drug addicts), caught red-handed trying to steal a bottle of mineral water from a shop in an educated neighbourhood of Islamabad. Each passer-by indulged in this moral duty to abuse the boys. Can our enthusiasm for correcting the wrongdoings of others be converted into a collective voice to fight against the thugs and plunderers of national wealth?
The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.