When I am asked how our old-new government will perform, my answer is: “We’ve seen them twice before in the centre and thrice in the Punjab. Now they face much greater challenges. Their track records don’t inspire hope. They have the bad habit of overreaching and self-immolating. Simply holding elections does not automatically bring democracy or progress. Until our hearts and minds are imbued with a correct understanding of the spirit of democracy and its purposes, elections are but a charade.”
When even the ruling elites don’t understand the difference between democracy and elections, what should one base optimism on unless one is a beneficiary or wishful thinker? Elections are but a tool that both elected and military rulers use for gathering more power and wealth, an exercise in futility that inevitably leads to societal and economic regress, not progress. On the other hand democracy obtains in a country that has a political system that regularly throws up governments that continuously and significantly improve the human condition starting from the poorest, for that is precisely the purpose of creating a State. Continued human improvement justifies the State’s continued existence. Without it the justification is lost.
In twelve general elections civilian rulers have tried to become dictators and dictators to become democrats when they have to fill the vacuum caused by civilian failure. Both use elections to create the facade of democracy to legitimise and reinforce themselves. But in both civilian and military cases democracy’s essence is missing and its facade remains a hollow shell, like the set of a movie. They surround themselves with relatives and stooges without consideration for merit — no different from Saddam, Assad et al. These relatives and stooges become gatekeepers and alienate and mislead their leaders.
Before elections Nawaz Sharif and particularly his brother and cohorts talked big, very big. So did Imran Khan. Now they have to walk the talk. Its early days yet but last month’s budget doesn’t enthrall. Imran Khan’s provincial budget looks better on the face of it for at least it tries to place humanity at its centre. In the federal budget the human being is entirely missing. So while Imran’s first step shows that he is trying to walk in the right direction, Sharif’s first step shows that he has got onto the wrong path. There is no such thing as “What choice did we have?”
Ability to solve problems has to be seen in context of the enormity of the problems. The yardstick to judge a government’s performance has to be relative to its challenges and the expectations it has raised. On both counts Sharif is in trouble: our multifarious and multidimensional problems are more enormous and complex than his government’s ability to solve them. Its seems they are in over their heads. While solutions have to lie at home they must also be cast in fast-changing regional and global realities. It requires great flexibility to roll with unexpected punches and make immediate strategic corrections to meet sudden unforeseen eventualities.
As to expectations, the government has set the bar so high that it makes one pause. They have to bring down the temperature. “Give us time,” they say, but there is an explosion of expectations and an expiry of patience. What time? Didn’t you prepare for exams before? You want to study during them? It’s like going to a five-star hotel and wondering which restaurant to go to and what to order. As Keynes said, “In the long term we are all dead.” Our people want delivery before they die because of lack of it.
Instead of choosing horses for courses they are running those already weighed, measured and found wanting. People look at them askance. The greenhorns are without merit or relevant background and brimming with conflict of interest that doesn’t inspire hope either. Any bets that they will become richer by the time they are done? It seems that everything is up for grabs. Let’s wait for them to surprise us.
The acute problem of the three branches of government and its institutions not working in tandem but at cross-purposes persists. Often they work for self-interest, like getting extensions or moving on to other or higher jobs.
The genius that ruled that electricity outages should be evenly distributed doesn’t know the difference between equality and egalitarianism. Equality is before God only. Man cannot achieve equality. But it is incumbent upon him to be egalitarian, which means that the law applies equally to all regardless of station in life but dependent on need. For example, just as a hospital cannot have electricity outages as equally as I do, neither can factories because without a full eight-hour shift they would become useless and shift to another country. These geniuses don’t even realise that the idea is to end pain, not distribute it ‘equally’. The hypocrisy is the lack of realisation that nothing can be equal or egalitarian as long as the high and mighty remain exempt from the pain: the presidency, the prime minister’s palaces, the judges enclave and the armed services. Unless they feel our pain how will they learn to do the right thing — solve the pain instead of spreading it unequally in the name of equality? If our generals cannot sit outside air-conditioned comfort how will they wage war in high summer? Electricity outages should be equal for all, beginning with the president, prime minister, judges and generals and then the people, except for vital institutions and installations. Cure the pain, not distribute it. Treat the disease, not its symptoms.
It is too early to tell whether Nawaz Sharif will be able to walk his talk — or Imran Khan for that matter. As to the people, Mir’s verse springs to mind: “What a simpleton is Mir; he goes to the same doctor that gave him the disease.”
Let’s say it in the most charitable way possible: it is not that their capacity is less but that the problems are more. It is the paucity of capacity that caused these problems in the first place. It is inadequate ability that makes solvable problems seem intractable. We are asked to think out of the box. Sorry, the box is theirs, for their benefit and the benefit of their cronies. Why should they think outside it? Anyway, they are boxed in by our decrepit much-mutilated minority constitution based on the alien British parliamentary system that is programmed to make people choose their leadership from amongst the worst. The prime minister, himself a child of the National Assembly, has no option but to choose his council of ministers from parliament comprising mostly the worst from amongst us. Unlike the US president, he cannot choose from amongst the best, except for advisers of ministerial rank, and they are no great sheikhs — sorry, shakes. He too is from amongst them and chooses advisers not on merit but to dole out favours for loyalty to person, not the State. I wait hopefully to be proved wrong. It is our simplicity and mental enslavement to fake holies, feudal barons, tribal chieftains and the urban feudal to the point of shirk (wittingly or unwittingly making someone or something God’s partner) that makes us say silly things and ask silly questions. The onus is on them to prove me wrong. Though Asif Zardari and gang proved me more right than even I expected our political evolution did take a big stride forward in the last five years, with the Bhutto overhang nearly dissipated and its PPP declining to a sub-provincial rural Sindh entity. Seen like that, there’s progress. Now it is Sharif’s turn to either become a national party or decline to a sub-city party from a provincial party. Let us see.
If Sharif goes Zardari’s way and Imran gets hit for a six, who will be the last man standing: the polyglot ‘Taliban’, the army or Tahir ul Qadri? The army should not intervene except as a last resort, to prevent Pakistan’s collapse or the country being parceled out into terrorist fiefdoms. As to Qadri, I have to admit that virtually everything the man said has come to pass. I would like to meet him one day. But the army and Qadri should know that they too would not be able to walk the talk for the walk will become even more difficult by then.
A military government gets initial support of a people fed up of bad governance and non-delivery but it evaporates fast as they get onto the wrong track with the dictator trying to become a democrat. Generals are not trained to run governments. They come a cropper when they do. But they can give support to a revolutionary force backed by the people instead of hindering it.
Who do we have on the horizon? Imran Khan? Tahir ul Qadri? Who else? Bilawal Zardari? Asifa Zardari? Maryam Nawaz? Suleman Shahbaz? Give me a break. But in Pakistan anything can happen. Did you ever imagine in your wildest nightmares that Asif Zardari would become president one day or Yusuf Raza Gillani and Raja Rental prime ministers? Now wait for Raja Mental. q