As I write these lines, our disqualified prime minister is on his way to Lahore, somewhere on the GT road. God knows how his homecoming-march would end and where it would lead to. We can be sure of one thing though: More like a cornered cat than a wounded lion, Nawaz Sharif would go to any extreme measure to save his neck. He’s ready to bring down the whole house to do that.
In this respect, he’s pretty much like Uncle Sam who’d destroy the world rather than come to terms with new geopolitical realities. They’d both like to rewind time to their days of glory but their hegemonic hold over power has been destroyed forever. The world is marching on to a multipolar future, just as Pakistan’s democracy project is progressing in its own chaotic way. They can drag their feet as much as they like but they cannot stop the march of time.
They cannot arrest human imagination and intellect in the trap of their deceptive rhetoric, whether it is about world peace, democracy or some other high-sounding ideal. Their incoherent narratives contradict their practice. Don’t we know that the peace that Uncle Sam brings looks like Iraq and Libya? Have we not seen democracy in action under Nawaz Sharif, during his earlier stints in power and in these recent four years? Have we not seen how our brand new prime minister and his bloated cabinet were chosen?
So what sort of democracy is Nawaz Sharif fighting for? A democracy which flows from the top, with him at the top of the heap forever? A democracy where he gets to approve or reject judgments of the highest court of the land? A democracy with no checks and no balances; where the prime minister is an unaccountable monarch? Where all powers flow from his person rather than the Constitution? Where officials of the state do not follow their institutional rules but his feudal whims?
Surely, this is not about civilian supremacy. We can’t blame the military leadership for Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification and everything else that ails our democracy project. Can we, for instance, blame the ‘establishment’ for the dictatorial farce that our parliamentary democracy boils down to, complete with its parliamentary committees and parliamentary parties? Can we blame it for the elitist farce called elections, whether they are intra-party or general? Don’t we know how hollow these democratic forms are?
It’s a myth that all these imperfections would eventually be removed through continuity. Things have only gotten worse. Civilian dictators like Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari have used state power and resources to consolidate their highly-personalised and corrupt networks of patronage and privilege, in state institutions and among the public. Besides, nothing about the functioning of their parties suggests that they are becoming more democratic than before.
The same undemocratic trends are seen in governance and policy. Billion-dollar deals are kept secret from the public. Relatives, cronies and loyalists are gifted official posts while competent individuals who deserve them on merit are sidelined and wasted. State funds are doled out as royal patronage. Schemes in the name of public welfare are launched to benefit private corporations. The vision of national development is made subservient to the IMF diktat for the sake of loans, billions of dollars which only add to our woes. And so on and so forth.
To tell you the truth, I’m pretty sick of the whole circus enacted by parliamentary power-players in the name of democracy, principally because it has nothing to do with people. People are just the excuse our power-players need for their selfish games. People are an after-thought, to be managed like animals; fed with crumbs if they are willing to be domesticated, hunted if they remain untamed. Do I sound a bit harsh? I don’t think I’m harsh enough.
Do you expect me to retain a soft spot for a sordid game in which hapless people are herded periodically to vote for the lesser evil; to essentially choose between their various tormentors? Call it simplistic or whatever you like, our parliamentary democracy is neither ‘of’, nor ‘by’ or ‘for’ the people. It is not about representation of diverse socio-economic groups and negotiation among them. It is designed to perpetuate a corrupt power-elite, ever-willing to serve corporate imperialism for measly crumbs.
The political parties fighting for their pieces of the power pie in the parliament have failed to address our national development challenges. They are too busy maligning each other and trading political horses. Surely, there is more to democracy than their petty fights. The tectonic plates of geopolitics are shifting rapidly and we need to put our act together as a nation lest we miss the historical opportunity knocking at our door.
Ideally, we need a new constitution that revisits our democracy project from a scratch;8, restructuring the federation based on administrative efficiency, decentralising power and creating a credible electoral scheme that ensures inclusion of all social groups. To end the civil-military tug-of-war, we need a National Security Council where civilian and military leadership jointly formulate our foreign and strategic policies. This is not an infringement of civilian authority but something that is logical and practiced by all developed democracies.
This might be too much to expect from our political leadership which has failed to agree on much smaller issues. For the time being, the least our parliamentary power-players could do is not to make things worse. If they don’t have the imagination to think beyond the parliamentary circus and propose a new Constitution, if they can’t agree on reforming the present constitution, they should at least follow the provisions that exist. So how do we stop a disqualified prime minister from bringing the whole house down?
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. And here we are talking about moving pictures, hours of taped videos taken during the JIT investigations. The public has the right to see Nawaz Sharif and his family members defend their wealth and the maze of financial transactions hiding it. It is time the Supreme Court made these videos public.