The former PML-N and current PTI leader, Javed Hashmi, once pronounced that a PhD is required to understand the political intricacies of our erstwhile President Asif Ali Zardari. His deep insight omitted to mention the other craft that our President excels in - he can give a lesson or two to many PhDs on the art of ’how to win friends’. His acumen of preserving the loyalties of his friends of yesteryears, as well as transforming arch enemies of the past into faithful friends in need, has been established beyond any doubt.
Riding high amidst unprecedented goodwill after the 2008 general elections at yet another critical juncture in our checkered history (a regular event every 10 years or so), he successfully acquired the support of several political parties by generously granting them their wishes. Since the PML-N broke rank and would not accede to his authority, he imposed Governor Rule in Punjab in an endeavour to put them in their place. After the court’s decision, he quickly retreated with no hard feelings - another trait that he has skilfully exercised whenever he finds himself in a tight spot. Plan B soon came into action. The net was extended to PML-Q that was already waiting for the offer. Both sides conveniently and unhesitatingly set aside the label of Qatil League and the decades-old rivalry between the Chaudhries and the Bhuttos. The coalition government strengthened further with a near two-third majority in the lower house. The despised doctrine of necessity is alive and kicking, reborn as politics of reconciliation.
The beauty of democracy has been disfigured in the process. The so-called reconciliation has blunted any meaningful opposition that is one integral wheel of the cart of a parliamentary system, other being the government. All ruling parties share a common interest that certainly is not to serve the common people. Parliament is dominated by various interest groups that jealously guard and promote their own benefits. The landowners will not allow agriculture and its income to be taxed. The business groups want exemptions and subsidies, and take positions before introducing innovative legislations that earn them instant fortunes. The sole objective of many to enter Parliament is to retain or enhance their influence in the area where they lord over its people, whom they keep under virtual slavery. The ceasefire among political rivals and an accommodating opposition allow them to avail and compound their privileges.
The economic reform agenda that is as clear as sunshine to anyone who cares could never take off because it clashed with the personal interest of someone or the other - all of whom had to be kept appeased under the policy of reconciliation. The tax base could not be widened because the rich who evade taxes are the ones with influence most of whom sit in the Assemblies. The government officials have always been corrupt to a certain degree. Now they are neither efficient, nor competent and are only too happy to oblige their political masters. The level of their combined corruption keeps escalating. The large public sector has perpetually been abused. Cronies of dubious qualifications are placed in plum jobs without merit in order to control the award of contracts to favourites and take advantage of the perks. The already overstaffed and bankrupt organisations are further stuffed with party workers. The Cabinet never acted, or even seriously considered any proposals, to plug a big hole reported to be a colossal Rs 400 billion that alone could rid the electricity loadshedding to a large extent.
Reforms are possible only if they are ingrained in the mindset and the culture of people. Our public representatives are busy in short-term quick fixes with no thought of rendering personal sacrifices for the long-term good of the next generations. No one is even thinking of the catastrophe ahead. The country has piled up enormous debts simply because the government is unwilling to cut expenditures and has no plans to increase productivity or to develop additional resources.
Our system of governance has divided the society into minority elite that rules and has everything, and the rest of the population that has to struggle for everything. The ruling class can talk about, but does not know, feel or sympathise with the pain and problems of the ordinary people. The rural and tribal lords have traditionally maintained their hold in the areas that inhabit by denying basic opportunities to their people. The country has never developed its middle class that is the smallest among any of the developing nations.
It is a Herculean task for an ordinary person to make an inroad into the elite class. The irony is that the few who manage to penetrate, lose no time in getting moulded to the ways of the elite. Another such bourgeoisie elite political party is emerging in the form of the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf that is attracting the fashionable crowd from the civil society, in addition to the middle class youth. Their charismatic leader is academic, high on morals and ideals, but does not appear to fully comprehend the real problems of the common people. Nor has he any plausible solutions to the quagmire in which the country is sinking rapidly. He has also deviated from his original thrust of sparking a revolution with new faces that had kindled great hope. The veteran tried hands that now surround him offer little hope of bringing a drastic and radical change to the mindset that the country needs.
Great expectations should not be linked to the upcoming general elections and our existing system of governance. The people will once again be fooled and return the usual faces with the addition of a few new ones that will not be representatives of the various cross sections of our society or pursue their interests. There will be lofty slogans and promises that are never made to be kept. If the people really care the change will have to brought from within.
The writer is an engineer and an entrepreneur.