The all-out hybrid war against Pakistan has entered a new, more dangerous, phase and the recent terrorist attack in Lahore is just one glaring reminder of this fact. The question is: Are we prepared as a nation to fight this war and win it? Our armed forces might be among the best and most battle-hardened in the world, but can we count on our oh-so-democratic government to measure up to the task? Its track record doesn’t inspire much confidence.
It is not merely the failure to appoint a foreign minister at a time when the tectonic plates of geo-politics are shifting, or the non-implementation of the National Action Plan. It is not only the mounting debt and how that compromises our development and foreign policy options. It is not just the government’s resistance to a counter-terror military operation in Punjab, or its shielding of sectarian extremists. These are all symptoms of a deeper malaise afflicting our democracy project.
Have you ever wondered why the power-players infesting our august assemblies never get down to resolving the most pressing national issues? Why is it so difficult for them to give full citizenship rights to citizens in FATA and Gilgit-Baltistan? Why can’t they institute the much-needed electoral reforms? Why is all their time and energy spent pursuing agendas that are petty, personal and partisan?
Why do they save their best smiles for their imperial masters? And why are their handshakes with our multipolar partners half-hearted at best? Why is the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline still in the pipeline after so many years? And why is the strengthening of our ties with Russia progressing at a snail’s pace? Most importantly: Will the problems go away with the PML-N government or do we need an overhaul of our democracy project?
Thankfully, an increasing number of media commentators are finally moving beyond the hackneyed civil-military discourse to appreciate our parliamentary circus for what it truly is. Putting the blame for everything wrong with the working of elected governments on military interference doesn’t cut any ice any more. The spotlight has shifted to the corruption and ineptitude of our so-called democratic leaders and their failure to deliver even a modicum of democratic governance.
The champions of democracy insist that all our spoilt-brat democracy needs to grow into a mature adult in time. They tell us that the horrid parliamentary circus must go on and we must endure each excruciating hour of every cruel act because these champions are sure that someday the heartless show would not be so inhumane. They believe that time will automatically heal a cancer-ridden democracy without chemotherapy or alternative medicine.
Surely, there is more to nurturing democracy than allowing it to ride the tide of time. Look at what’s happening to what were considered, until recently, exemplary democracies. Even after all these decades of uninterrupted evolution, Modi rules India with his mob, we’ve got the gutless May in UK and Trump is the king of America. What makes us think that our transplanted sapling of parliamentary democracy would grow into something better?
To my mind, the notion of democracy within a neo-liberal capitalist framework is essentially flawed. It is a matter of time before moneyed interests hijack the system and make it subservient to their oligarchic ends. We can see that happening in the developed democracies of the so-called developed world where governments blatantly serve corporate interests to the detriment of their public. The trajectory can be viewed most clearly in the case of the US.
Our transplanted parliamentary democracy is further stunted by the patently non-representative first-past-the-post electoral system among other things. There is no democracy within political parties and large segments of the electorate do not have the information, resources or freedom to make independent choices. The constituencies are carved out to consolidate hierarchical and criminal power structures. The system lends itself to dhons and dhandhli, bribes and biradari. Power is abused as a rule and there is no accountability.
By and large, western-sponsored transplanted democracies in the developing world have little to do with national interests or public welfare. They are designed to be appropriated by elites that are duly programmed to serve as an extension of imperial interests. They know no other way. They don’t mind opening up their countries to imperial plunder and social engineering, all the while making hay for themselves, their families and their cronies. Just see them at work in the world’s largest democracy next door.
So, shall we go round and round the democracy bush without addressing these concerns. Should we let the single-minded obsession to save ‘democracy’ at all costs blind us to the structural defects that plague it? Should we keep spoiling the spoilt-brat with our unqualified approval? Will it help the brat become a mature adult? Don’t we know that it never works?
More than ever before, we need to reimagine our democracy project from scratch. We need to think out of the box of our parliamentary circus and the neoliberal capitalist framework. Rationalising the federating units, devolving power, building a new money-proof electoral system and reorganising the structures of governance is not a luxury we can mull over for the coming years but an urgent task we should have accomplished yesterday. This is necessary to ensure that our future leaders represent the interests of the public and our future governments work for their welfare.
Criticising the present system and highlighting the dangerous repercussions of its continuation is not necessarily a call for another martial law. Though every attempt to restructure our political system so far has come from military regimes, there is nothing stopping political forces in the country to dream a new future for the state and citizens of Pakistan.
Our politically correct and theoretically chaste champions of democracy would like us to believe that all our stunted sapling of democracy needs to mature into a fruit-bearing tree is the water of time. This is now a clearly false assumption. You can water a weed for as long as you wish and it would never become a tree, let alone one that bears fruit.