Public disillusionment with Pakistan’s nascent democracy has rarely run higher than it is at the moment. The PMLN ruling leadership has been unable, in the last 14 months to act even in areas where there has been widespread agreement that measures were absolutely necessary. It appears that the PMLN leadership is being justifiably condemned as ineffectual, incompetent, and mismanaging national affairs by failing to appreciate top national priorities and the real short and long term pressing challenges, and how to address and resolve them. The Sharif political regime (more of a plutocracy than a democracy), has failed Pakistan in the manner in which the Zardari PPP regime (more of an oligarchy than a parliamentary democracy) failed this nation. The so-called democratic era (2008-present) seems to be one of the most dismal periods in this nation’s history.
The fact of the matter is that Pakistan’s present-day democracy is virtually without democratic substance. The political “superheroes” of a “Muk-Muka” democracy are in ideological agreement that the doctrine of vested interest politics and its relentless exercise is the only option that is suitable for a democratic Pakistan. In other words, what is good for them (PMLN-PPP plans) is good for the nation – nothing else can work or can be allowed to work. You, as an ordinary citizen, already know that – so do I. It is not knowledge of their intentions that we lack. What has been missing so far today, is the courage to draw substantive conclusions from what we know – and to act.
And what do we know to be the truth of the matter in August 14, 2014, Pakistan? Here at the confluence of Pakistan’s so-called democratic history of “Muk-Muka” dispensations, of widespread poverty and the blatant use of political-economic power by the vested interest ruling elite, the lives of common folks in this country are worth nothing. Hence, the inevitable conclusion is that for all figurative ways in which present-day Pakistani democracy is being hailed as a sacred cow, when it comes to matters of substance, it has no substance whatsoever. It amounts to nothing more than a meaningless exercise of sentimental and symbolic democratic rhetoric.
Ironically, on top of this ground reality, the incumbent PMLN regime continues to ask some polemic and naive questions: Why are we being blamed? Where have we gone wrong? What have we done inappropriately to deserve such negative criticism and harsh treatment at the hands of prejudicial politicians and the misled public?
Let us start from the beginning. In the first place, the PMLN leadership is accused of rigging and stealing the public mandate in last year’s general election. Hence, it is an unlawful government. Even if this accusation is set aside until proven as such, there are other serious violations of normal democratic norms and the lack of application of democratic objectives as practiced all over the democratic world. My observation is that in blind and relentless pursuance of their vested interest political and economic politics, the PMLN leadership has completely ignored a people-centric approach to governance during the last 14 months. Even before this, in their entire political history, they have remained consistently unsympathetic to the concept of general public welfare. The fundamental problem is that the Sharifs, unable to shake off the shackles of their traditional mindset of defining democracy in an extremely narrow sense (as the exercise of political power for vested economic interests), have been unable to appreciate the contours of the changing nature of public consciousness in this country and consequently, have failed to understand what real public issues are and how to resolve them. The PMLN leadership’s central flaw is that they have misunderstood what democracy is all about.
Let me illustrate my point by an example: Take for instance the former Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, whose public popularity has made it possible for his election as the first directly elected President in Turkey. Erdogan has been controversial and accused of being authoritarian, overbearing and combustible in his political behavior, but his public image and popularity is because of the unprecedented socio-cultural and economic boost that he has managed to give the Turkish nation in a relatively short period of a decade long era. His, is a prime example of how a democratic leadership establishes its credit-worthiness and democratic legitimacy. I dare ask the PMLN and PPP leaderships: Where is your credit-worthiness?
Both the Sharifs and Zardaris have allegedly amassed huge sums of wealth from the political power they have misused for their personal vested self-interest and economic benefits. The issue here is that of the conflict of interest principle; a fundamental parameter of a democratic polity. The socio-economic inequalities in the society at the present time are unprecedented in Pakistan’s history; poverty has increased, social services are absent, life and property is under threat, the socio-cultural set-up is collapsing and the nation is losing its self-esteem, self-respect and sanity, while the so-called democratic leadership is getting more powerful, rich, and authoritative.
The relationship between the traditional Pakistani status quo-oriented ruling elite and political actors demanding change have recently swung to extreme ends of a pendulum. It is not something that has happened suddenly – Pakistani society has finally reached a level of political consciousness and awareness where the need for an exclusive doctrine of “people-centric” democratic culture and structure has become an inevitable need. There is no other alternative available to sustain this country as a unified nation. We have reached an impasse. Status quo politics is an old disease and that disease is in the process of being cured.
I would conclude that the Sharifs-Zardaris and their kind, are politically irrelevant to this nation now. This is the judgment of history – not any less than that. You may disagree, but lay down your cards as I have. The game is already over.
Cry, my beloved country, but you are experiencing the pangs of re-birth.
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.