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June 18, 2019

A new charter of democracy?


June 18, 2019

Despite all the recent blunders at the governmental level, opposition parties have failed to bring people onto the streets. This is so because it seems that the country’s general population is convinced that all parties are the same. For them, leaders in this country are just busy filling their own pockets and remain indifferent to the day-to-day problems faced by the more than 19 million unfortunate souls. They believe that politicians are unable to provide them quality and free healthcare, good education and decent housing.

The victory of the PTI and tall claims of its leader Imran Khan had created a ray of hope but in the last ten months all the people can see is the same old duplicity of the ruling elite. Let us begin with the independence of the police department and the current ruling elite’s claim to put an end to political influence. Soon after the government came into power, the DPO of Pakpattan was transferred – some say for merely doing his duty – something that shocked many admirers of Khan. The ex-IG of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Nasir Durrani, who was tasked to carry out reforms in the Punjab police, resigned after what critics said was interference by politicians. This further fuelled suspicions about the claims made by the new government; and later developments seemed to have vindicated them.

The Islamabad police came under tremendous pressure when reportedly people belonging to federal minister Azam Swati’s side beat up a poor family close to the minister’s farm house. Interestingly the minister admitted to have encroached upon a few kanals of CDA land.

There has also been talk about insufficient attention having been paid to the matters of Aleema Khan, KP Chief Minister Mahmood Khan, Federal Defence Minister Pervaiz Khattak, Faisal Vawda and other PTI leaders. While a number of opposition leaders are in NAB custody, opposition politicians say that only a few PTI leaders have been arrested in corruption cases.

The recent announcement by the prime minister regarding the formation of a commission to probe into debts and loans has also led to speculation of more opposition leaders being taken to task. Critics believe that if the government wants to learn about these loans and their details, it could easily obtain all information from the auditor general of Pakistan who is legally and constitutionally bound to provide all such information. There are those who believe this may be another tool to divert people’s attention from the deteriorating condition of the economy which has already affected millions and is likely to create more problems for the common person.

The government seems to have been in much confusion since coming into power. It seems that the party in reality had not been much prepared to solve the problems faced by the country. Before coming into power, it had given the impression that it had the key to all Pakistan’s problems. It assured the people that its ranks were brimming with genius minds that could not only comprehend the complexities of the economy but were also capable of lifting millions of Pakistanis out of poverty. But instead of carrying out any substantial reforms after gaining power, the government started exposing the luxuries of the ex-prime minister, showing the number of cars that he used, the kind of animals that were kept at the PM House and the brigade of staff that served him.

The government vowed that they would not use these luxuries. It also claimed to turn the prime minister, chief minister and governor houses into public universities. Such promises never translated into reality.

The claims of austerity at government levels have also been questioned. The recent tender of the President House, regarding cages for birds, has led to more questions. In addition to that, the use of a helicopter by Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, the protocol at the President’s House in Karachi, the recommendation letter by federal minister Zartaj Gul etc have also dented the government’s claims to serve the people and promote rule of law and merit.

Despite all this, the opposition is unable to convince people to agitate against the government because people believe that the governments of the N League and the PPP were not ideal either. Some of them may find them slightly better than the incumbents but the majority of the people do not find any major difference between the policies of the three parties.

It is true that the PPP did a few good things in health and other sectors. It upgraded around 15 district headquarters hospitals besides pumping money into the Trauma Center of Karachi, National Institute of Child Health and some other health facilities but by and large the health department failed in extending this basic necessity to the public. Hepatitis was already endemic in several parts of Sindh and now HIV also seems to be creating panic among citizens. Nobody knows what happened to more than 4000 non-functional schools in Sindh. It is believed that thousands of schools in the province are without a proper roof, pure drinking water and toilet facility. The PPP may claim to be transparent but it has not done anything to get rid of its tainted reputation regarding corruption, which still seems to be seen as the hallmark of its government.

The N League may claim to have carried out the construction of mega projects but after ruling more than 16 years over the most populous province, it could not build a single world-class hospital where Shahbaz Sharif and his family members could be treated. The province houses the largest number of more than 20 million out-of-school children. While it lavished a large number of development projects on Lahore, it failed to pay any attention to southern Punjab and other less developed areas of the province. The majority of the residents of the area do not have access even to pure drinking water. Decent housing for the poor is still a dream. The Punjab police is thought to be a compromised institution, while the ‘Patwari culture’ has also remained intact despite all claims of the computerization of land record. The largest numbers of those who sell their body organs out of poverty also live in the province of the Sharif brothers.

The above criticism, though, does not mean that the PTI has done a wonderful job in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In fact, its metro project is said to suffer from some of the worst issues. And, despite all claims of serving people, the party of change has not only slashed public-sector funds at the federal level but in Punjab and KP as well. It is believed that in Punjab this fund has been almost halved.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Maryam Nawaz need to understand that a large majority of Pakistanis do want the supremacy of parliament. They have no difference with them over the question of constitutional jurisdiction. All the people want, though, is a substantial plan for social welfare. If the two leaders are really planning any new charter of democracy then it must feature a mechanism to lift more than 60 million people out of poverty.

What deadline do they want set for making pure drinking water to more than 80 percent of Pakistanis accessible? Most of the diseases in Pakistan are water-borne. Will this charter strictly ban dynastic politics? Can they introduce internal democracy in their parties? Can they allocate 98 percent of the seats in parliament for their workers instead of political families that have been ruling over this region since colonial times?

Only a movement addressing people’s issues will catch the attention of the country’s citizens. And only then can the two leaders prove that they are more concerned about the plight of 20 million masses than the incarceration of their loved ones.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Email: [email protected]

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