The mantra of change may have created a ripple of excitement among a few elite circles in the country, but the much-vaunted radical transformation is nothing but a chimera for around 200 million Pakistanis.
The newly-appointed federal cabinet is filled with Musharraf’s tedious acolytes. The government in KP has been handed over to a billionaire who has been accused of corruption in the past. In Punjab, the appointed chief executive is a tribal lord who is believed to be one of the beneficiaries of an archaic tribal system that exploits the weak and supports the powerful.
Imran Khan’s choice of team members in the centre and provinces flies in the face of the tall claims of change. Although Imran Khan has heaped scorn on Musharraf and his team in the past, he has ended up inducting the same people into his inner circle. He has even cosied up to the Chaudharys of Gujrat – whom he had lambasted in the past – to form a government in Punjab.
The PTI had once abhorred the politics of horse-trading. But Khan’s close comrades have been accused of luring independents and disgruntled PML-N lawmakers into joining the caravan of change. These lawmakers wouldn’t have thrown their weight behind the Kaptaan without being guaranteed perks and privileges in one form or another.
How can the PTI bring about any change through the same old faces that have benefitted from a rotten system that is built on the exploitation of the poor and marginalised sections of society. Under this system, you can only get a good education if you have a considerable amount of money. You can only receive quality medical treatment if your pocket allows you to pay the exorbitant fees of doctors and shell out for the bills of elite private hospitals. This system will only ensure justice if you can afford to line the pockets of smart and expensive lawyers. You need to have at least Rs20 million to contest for a National Assembly seat and Rs10 million for a provincial assembly seat. We can easily imagine what a winner will expect after making such a huge investment.
The people of Pakistan have always been led to believe that a change in government will transform their lives. But neither dictatorship nor democracy has brought about any radical change that can alleviate people’s miseries and improve their lives. The country is still home to more than 60 million hapless people who struggle to make ends meet. Over 67 percent of Pakistanis don’t have a roof over their heads. Around 80 percent of the country’s population suffers from water-borne diseases that could easily be prevented. Around 44 percent of Pakistan’s children face the risk of stunted growth. For millions of Pakistanis, the much-vaunted change hasn’t brought about anything new.
Owing to this exploitative system, it is difficult for the three major parties in the country to name even 30 members of parliament who belong to the bottom layer of social stratification. It is difficult to come across a lawmaker who isn’t at least a millionaire. Our current system allows people to make huge investments on their political career and also rewards them financially. This is why politics has become a business. This isn’t just a claim. There are many people who had nothing before they entered politics, but witnessed a phenomenal rise in their assets after they gained access to the power corridors.
So, those who are pinning their hopes on the mantra of change will soon be disappointed. The PTI has already hinted that it will fall back on the IMF – an institution that is considered to be a tool of the neoliberal world. Its austerity-driven philosophy has triggered chaos in several parts of the world. Its stringent conditions are believed to be one of the factors that contribute to falling living standards in advanced capitalist countries. For developing countries, it brings the panacea of the free-market economy, demanding liberalisation, privatisation and deregulation.
All Pakistani rulers – with the exception of a few – seem to have been following these three deadly prescriptions. Ayub Khan was a Westernised dictator, but a firm believer of these principles. Zia was an ‘Islamist’, but a worshipper of the market forces. Although Benazir was a pro-people leader, she was a proud market reformer. Nawaz was a blind follower of the free-market philosophy while his ardent enemy Musharraf was also a strong proponent of laissez-faire policies. Imran’s finance minister doesn’t seem to be too different either and is believed to be a strong believer in the philosophy of the free market.
For most Pakistanis, this is nothing new. All leaders and parties are the same when it comes to running the economy. All of them want to reward the rich. All of them endeavour to cut down on public uplift projects. All of them want to retrench workers. All of them want to dole out estate entities to private individuals that could use it to make money. All of them agree that austerity is the way forward.
For Pakistanis, real change will only be possible when the children of parliamentarians, judges and generals study in the same government schools where millions of working class children take their lessons. Change will become all the more visible when our politicians and ruling elite obtain treatment in the same government hospitals where the hapless masses have been waiting for decades to gain access quality health facilities. The people aren’t willing to accept any definition of change that doesn’t make it mandatory for our ruling elite to drink the same water that more than 98 percent of Pakistan’s citizens drink.
For the marginalised sections of society, a change that allows the elite to continue living in their palatial and gated communities, sending their children to prestigious and expensive schools, and flying abroad to obtain medical treatment is nothing but a charade. A change that projects the idea of retrenching workers by privatising state institutions is little more than a deception. A change that allows only millionaires and billionaires to make it to the corridors of power is ludicrous. A democracy of this nature is tantamount to changing the branding for the same soft drink.
Can the PTI summon enough courage in its first 100 days in power to formulate a new law that requires all generals, judges and parliamentarians to send their children to state-run schools or universities? Can the PTI-led government make it mandatory for everyone to obtain treatment at government hospitals and drink the same water that is being provided to 200 million people in the land of the pure? Only a change of this nature can restore the confidence of the people in our political system.
The writer is a freelance journalist.
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