A dear friend of mine who is closely related to a family of the highest echelons of political and economic power in the Punjab told me a couple of weeks ago that the present Punjab Chief Minister personally came to see the “elder” in his family and told him that he (the CM) did not know of the Model Town police operation that unfortunate night - and my dear friend believes that to be so. But that was the way it used to be in the bygone days of an old world: a world that was completely defined and existed in terms of personal relationships and loyalties, patronage and unquestioned faith in common vested interests and irrefutable beliefs in shared concerns and mutual welfare. The intensity and the behavioral impact of this element of personal relationships was so strong (and still is) that, at times, it has even defied reason as well as common sense.
But now we live in a different world and it cannot go on like this anymore. In my vision, in this “New World,” reason, honesty, straightforwardness, ethical imperatives, moral judgments, personal integrity and a commitment to community welfare and accountability of one’s personal conduct in private affairs and public life ought to be non-negotiable elements.
And so without bias or prejudice, I have some serious difficulty in understanding the CM’s narrative. Even if it is true that the CM did not know of the police operation, wasn’t it a serious breach of public confidence, lack of appropriate political management and outright apathy and disregard of public safety? Let us give the CM the benefit of the doubt: the CM is telling the truth and the local police and civil administration acted on their own. Does it not indicate that the Punjab police and civil bureaucracy has, in itself, become a threat to public safety – a brutal force unto itself and completely out of the administrative and political control of the CM? Is this not incompetence in political and administrative management?
In any case, in a “New World” of reason, personal integrity, ethical-moral imperatives, and subjecting oneself to democratic norms, the CM should have stepped aside voluntarily so that the process of inquiry into ultimate responsibility could have been conducted freely and fairly.
I wish my dear friend’s family “elder” had advised his esteemed visitor to leave the stage NOW - at least for the time being.
The questions are: Will our traditional political culture ever transform? Will the status-quo forces ever learn to understand the undercurrents of change taking place in the political consciousness of this nation and its common folks? Will the politics of personal integrity ever replace vested-interests politics? Will our traditional political rulers ever appreciate the vital importance of “people-centric” governance? Will they ever comprehend the real issues that have besieged this nation: the growing disparity between the country’s rich and poor, the expanding gap between the haves and have nots? Will they ever have enough political competence to judge that democracy is all about the “management” of large, complicated, and complex societies focused on the overall interests of the majority of its common folk? Will our present so-called democratic dispensation ever learn how to plan, how to organize, how to decide upon actions, how to prioritize national policies and how to stop resorting to duplicitous talk to define objective reality?
The fact of the matter is that the unparalleled magnitude of catastrophes that have afflicted recent Pakistani so-called democratic history (2008 - present) is dangerously close to bringing this country to political and economic abyss. This nation is absolutely at the verge of a total collapse: economic, political, social and cultural - all because of political-economic mismanagement at the hands of its national managers.
The Prime Minister should be worried; the Punjab Chief Minister should be worried; the entire PMLN leadership should be worried; and all the supporters of the PMLN party should be worried - not only about the prospect of current political events spiralling out of control, but also about a confluence of national political-social trends that threaten the PMLN’s ability to manage the war of public perception that is being waged in every Pakistani street targeting the PMLN leadership’s inability to resolve fundamental national issues. Pro-PMLN advocates are now at war with several other major political parties and a generally held public perception which shows a decisively skeptical view of the PMLN leadership claims that they are moving Pakistan rapidly towards structural, highly efficient and self-reliant economic development and in the direction of a compassionate and institutionalized democratic society based on the concept of a modern Islamic welfare state.
What appears to be lacking in today’s democratic Pakistan under the PMLN leadership is a complete absence of “people-centric” governance: unsuitable economic development projects, a lack of transparency in the conduct of national affairs, corruption at every level, the intervention of foreign actors in the domestic affairs of the nation, expanding poverty, and inappropriate planning and prioritizing of national issues. In fact, the so-called democratic Pakistan is a complete mess - the harsh reality these days in the country raises moral, political and social challenges. Who is to be held responsible for the deplorable plight of the suffering masses and their sad existence?
It was Abraham Lincoln who once said: “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.”
Who will tell the nonperforming Pakistani political rulers that politics is all about the “effective management” of a society? Historically all of them have failed - and failed the nation miserably.
An important concern at the moment is that no one can guess how far the status quo forces will go and what their reaction will be to mounting public pressure to relinquish state power – being aware of the lack of visionary political imaginativeness of their mindset and the historically impelling neurosis of their political conduct. Have we already forgotten the Model Town massacre? Or have we not?
Who will tell them: leave the stage NOW!
The writer is UAE-based academic, policy analyst, conflict resolution expert and author of several books on Pakistan and foreign policy issues. He holds a doctorate and a masters degree from Columbia University in New York.