Independence Day and the two Eids are the few happy occasions in the otherwise non-descript lives of our common folk. We set aside all our woes, exchange mubarakbads and pleasantries, renew lost contacts with friends and relatives, and share moments of laughter and joy. Before we return to our real world that seems to be going nowhere, let me also extend ‘Eid Mubarak’ to all our readers and fellow country men and women.
The people expect the government to work for their welfare, adopt their worries, make their lives comfortable by providing jobs, justice and order, ensure a minimum standard of health, education and civic amenities and inculcate a pride in the nationhood. The government has at its disposal a well organised, tried and tested administrative structure that is divided into numerous ministries; each one with its own earmarked and clearly defined functions. These arms of the government, each headed by a minister, function simultaneously in a parallel fashion within their own respective jurisdiction. The hierarchy is in the form of a pyramid, at the top of which sits the executive head - the Prime Minister and the ceremonial head - the President.
Conversely, the government expects people to honour and promote their cultural and national values, maintain discipline, educate themselves, contribute in the economic progress by honest hard work and innovation, and pay their taxes and utility bills. The revenue collected, finances the expenses of the government. People elect their representatives to the National and Provincial Assemblies that are entrusted with the responsibility to legislate laws for their welfare and among which ministers are appointed to lead the various ministries. The judiciary is responsible for adjudicating in accordance with the laws of the land and the Constitution in cases of clash within the various segments of the state, between the people and the state or within the people. In order to exercise this function without fear or favour, the judiciary must be an independent entity not subservient to any other arm of the government or to any other pressures.
The present government led by the Pakistan Peoples Party comprises a coalition with its former political adversaries. During the last few years, its concentration has remained focused on battles of retaining the numbers required for political survival and to gain control over the establishment and the higher judiciary (and to learn to live with the army). The coalition has prospered from strength to strength - but at the cost of making unsavoury pragmatic compromises with its varied factions that lack commonality in principles, ideology or game plan.
Each component has sought to benefit its own constituency and promote its regional priorities (over national priorities) that were readily granted with least resistance. This was called policy of reconciliation. However, the unity among the coalition partners is exposed at the grassroots level where they confront each other (at times violently as in Karachi) for turf control and shares in the spoils of power. Thereby, localised centres of interests and power have emerged that do not necessarily coincide with the larger interest and welfare of the nation or even the people of the area.
The administration has thus become a hostage to the whims of politicians, who consider being elected as a carte blanche to be irreproachable. Officers that do not comply are destined to face the wrath and sycophants are rewarded, resulting in a weak and corrupt government. Major projects integral to the social and economic health of the country, like Kalabagh Dam (politicised), Steel Mills, Railways and PIA (filled with political appointees and redundant workforce), education and health (less than 2 percent of GDP, whereas Malaysia spends over 20 percent on education), have consistently suffered indifference driving them to the verge of their last breath.
Enquiries of mega scandals, like the issue of licences of spurious drugs, land scams and hefty commissions, are unscrupulously blocked to shield favourites. Citizens are abducted by government agencies and held in secret custody in violation of law. Ironically, the government gets offended, calls it judicial activism, overstepping of authority and a threat to democracy, when the Supreme Court is forced to takes notice of the administrative failures, irregularities and ineptitude and hauls them for correction.
The government lays the blame of poor performance on the prevalent violence, our state of war and the higher judiciary. That is an admission of the bankruptcy of statesmanship and vision. Is there any country in the world that does not have its share of violence? Violence stems from social evils, deprivation and inequality and has to be overcome by understanding the root cause and systematically eradicating it. Wars are most undesirable and devastating, but they pay economic dividends.
Presidents Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharaf reaped immense financial benefits from the Afghan wars that generated brisk industrial and economic activities (though ill planned) in the country. Both dictators developed good personal rapports with the then Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush of the USA, the Saudi Arabian monarchs and the Chinese. That our democratically-elected President Asif Zardari is given a cold shoulder by US President Barack Obama, our relationship with Saudi Arabia has never been worse, the numerous personal sojourns to China by the President have been inconsequential and the taps of international financial institutions and USAID have been turned off for the present government under US orders, point to the failure (or non-existence) of our foreign and economic policies.
As the government has failed to deliver, we the people have done no better. We do not learn from our mistakes and keep returning the same representatives to the parliaments whom we accuse of incompetence and corruption. We accept injustices and do not stand up for our rights. We flow with the tide, give in to corruption, many of us steal electricity, gas, water and whatever we can lay our hands on. Many others have developed religious and social intolerance. The rulers have failed to lead and inspire and the people have done little to arrest the downslide.
The recent deliberate outbursts of a few reputable politicians against the Chief Justice and against each other have crossed all limits of decency and decorum. Extremists within us have launched well coordinated attacks on sensitive military installations, like Kamra (four times since 2007), the Karachi naval base and the GHQ, and numerous other security and civil targets. The bottom is falling under our economy. Separatists defy all state laws fearlessly in view of cameras. No one dares to rein in the political and religious fundamentalists - in fact, their support is on the rise.
Historically, the ground situation is ripe for a military take over. Fortunately, the army has learnt its lesson and is determined to support the evolution of democracy, the forthcoming general elections promise to be free and fair and 55 million youth are looking to make a future in our country. The only way for us now is to go up - if only we stop fighting among ourselves!
The writer is an engineer and an entrepreneur. Email: email@example.com