Or a demockery?
Democracy is a wonderful, all-encompassing word with many definitions:
In Pakistan, our democracy should:
- Have an obligation toward citizens and give individuals a sense of participation
- Ensure equality while protecting people’s rights and safeguard common interests
- Uphold transparency and prevent monopolies
- Educate the masses and distribute authority
- Make informed decisions and always prefer the people when interests collide with politics.
With the Sindh and Punjab assemblies met in session for 62 and 63 days, respectively, in 2015, their efforts served as a reminder of May 14, 2006.On that date Benazir Bhutto and Mohammad Nawaz Sharif signalled an exhilarating alliance between the political parties.
While in exile, Bhutto and Sharif added their signatures to the Charter of Democracy during a ceremony in London. The Charter called upon ordinary citizens to bond together to save Pakistan from the clutches of an oppressive military dictatorship. The document challenged ordinary citizens to defend fundamental, social, political and economic rights to ensure a democratic, modern and progressive Pakistan as envisioned by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, our country’s founder.
The former political rivals deliberated on the crisis at hand in our beloved homeland. Putting aside party ideals, they considered threats to Pakistan’s very survival, including the erosion of the federation’s unity, which had pushed the country to the brink of disaster. Each vowed that their political party would never again indulge in disingenuous tactics to subvert the other just for the sake of power.
They agreed to focus on issues of substance, lofty challenges and a pathway full of solutions.
But facts are facts. Little of what was spelled out above their signatures has been put into practice.
The outspoken Bhutto gave her life in a bid to rid the country of an unsavoury dictatorship. But it seems as if her heirs, as well as the co-signers from PML-N, have forgotten their decade-old promise to secure better opportunities for those who proudly call this country their home.
The charter was supposed to address the marginalisation of civil society, the mockery of the constitution and representative institutions, increasing poverty, unemployment and inequality, the brutalisation of a downtrodden society, a breakdown in the rule of law and unprecedented hardships facing so many of our people.
Instead, politics remains business-as-usual and efforts to implement any portion of the document have devolved into more power struggles.
While political parties have spent the past two and half years taking stock of their performance in the 2013 general elections, the unmitigated neglect of national issues and the miseries of our people certainly have not been of major concern to politicians in any province.
While keeping PML-N and PPP in view, the performance of provincial assemblies in Sindh and Punjab have been alarmingly poor.
A PILDAT report reveals that in Sindh, of 62 sessions last year, the average working hours per sitting was only three – and Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah attended 18 of those sessions. Charter co-signers from the PML-N-led provincial assembly in Punjab worked just 2.63 hours per gathering of their 63 sessions; and CM Shehbaz Sharif, “honoured” it only once.
This shows a blatant lack of seriousness or resolve in both parties toward our democracy and democratic institutions.
Both parties, though, have shown they can cooperate — when it is in their interest.
The “Sinned files” in Sindh, that led to an intervention by the army along with raids and arrests instigated by NAB and Rangers – pointed that both parties have failed to significantly improve law and order without involving the army. With operations taking place in Karachi on a mega scale – although quite targeted in Punjab – such introduction of army personnel once again served as a reminder that both parties must perform better in matters of governance.
Sindh tried to reclaim the higher ground as former president and PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari lashed out at the military establishment in his famous Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) speech last June. However that proved to be his undoing and he has been living in self-imposed exile ever since.
Corruption charges within the Sindh government have been grave. Arrests of Uzair Jan Baloch, the political face of the PPP in Lyari, and Dr Asim Hussain, a former federal minister and right hand of the co-chairman of PPP, have made affairs much more difficult for the party. By comparison, land grabs and kickbacks within the province are comparatively small concerns, although they are being explored by NAB.
Punjab fares no better.
CCTV footage allegedly shows Education Minister Rana Mashood accepting a bribe. The provincial government immediately halted a campaign of demolishing illegal plazas.
Whether it be the Rs30 billion Sasti Roti project, construction of substandard barrages or the mismanagement of billions of rupees at the Nandi Power Plant, audits have not been forthcoming. And where is the Rs150 billion spent by dysfunctional local governments since 2009?
The National Action Plan’s (NAP) anti-terrorism drive certainly has not been effective. Safe havens for banned outfits remain present in southern and central Punjab.
Such matters are part of the national debate that highlights a special leniency adhered to by the establishment within Punjab.
Systematic corruption, and allowing institutions of law and justice to escape any accountability, has stripped our society of its values. This has rendered state institutions not just unmanageable, but ungovernable.
Members of both parties believe in subverting the autonomy of state institutions in the name of strengthening democracy –only if their vested political interests are served.
If we take the chronology of events that initiated a rift among PPP and PML in 2015 and 2016, the reasons were more personal than national. Submitted for your consideration: Aitzaz vs Nisar, Zardari vs Nawaz, Shah vs Nisar.
And on national issues, like Pakistan Steel and Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), the parties have chosen not to cooperate. A dead Pakistan Steel and the mismanaged PIA are devouring billions of taxpayers’ rupees each year without a legitimate effort to save one or the other.
Leaders have not met to resolve implications of yearly floods that overtake farms and farmers, nor have they agreed to look collectively into matters of unemployment, substandard education, pathetic health facilities or farmers facing marginalised agriculture produce rates. Nor are they interested, it would seem, in the accelerating shutdown of major industries and production shifts going to neighbouring countries.
Dr Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a professor of political science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), has said that without such arrogance, Pakistan might have enjoyed economic acceleration, greater equality, expansion of resources, a knowledge-based economy, technological advancements and a rapid rate of employment,
Instead, both parties have shamefully buried the country under mountains of debt – internally and externally.
State Bank reports unveil that during the previous PPP government, debt ballooned from $45 billion in 2008 to more than $65 billion in 2012. The government debt-to-GDP ratio, which was down to 55 per cent in 2008, rose to 60 per cent in 2012 and obtaining a massive amount of $18 billion during a two-and-a-half-year term, by current dispensation, could create problems related to national sovereignty in the near future.
The parliament, in 2005, passed the Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act. It sought to ensure that the country’s debt does not go beyond 60 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But debt has risen to more than 63 per cent of the GDP. If the current debt taking policy continues, foreign debt which now stand at a little more than $70 billion, could reach as much as $105 billion by the end of the 2018-19 financial year.
Despite the best of intentions, the people behind the Charter of Democracy could not ensure all that their document had promised.
Instead, grand standing and subterfuge on both sides are guiding the masses away from democracy. Votes are being ignored and once again there is a clamour for power that is divisively based on pulling down one another.
With each passing day, our leaders fail to live up to the challenges laid down in the hollow document Bhutto and Sharif signed. It might as well be referred to as the Charter for Demockery
Someday, perhaps, there will be another charter. If so, let’s hope it will be an iron-clad covenant between true-to-their-word political leaders and the deserving people of the great state of Pakistan.
Only then will Pakistan’s supposed Democracy become sustainable.