Wisdom to ensure peace, prosperity
February 11, 2011
Asif Zardari has been in the political limelight since the day his spouse was slain in Rawalpindi on the election campaign. He, as he said recently, had the option to raise the slogan of revolution, but he opted for democracy, for he feared such an adventure could make the present leadership disappear from the scene.
“Long live Pakistan,” was the slogan he raised amidst the talks of country’s disintegration around him. The people rallied behind his party making it the largest stakeholder in politics. But, quite understandably, it was far from gaining majority in the parliament or making government on its own in Centre and the provinces other than Sindh. Mr. Zardari did face problems, and the leadership of other parties, specially the PML-N, took some time to understand his strategy of political reconciliation, but, ultimately, he is secure in his seat in the presidency and his party is leading the political show despite all its drawbacks. Now when the PPP feels confident enough to undertake the job of passing the benefits of democratic rule on to the common people, only a paradigm shift in development policy will matter
“Long live Pakistan,” was the slogan he raised amidst the talks of country’s disintegration around him. The people rallied behind his party making it the largest stakeholder in politics. But, quite understandably, it was far from gaining majority in the parliament or making government on its own in Centre and the provinces other than Sindh.
Mr. Zardari did face problems, and the leadership of other parties, specially the PML-N, took some time to understand his strategy of political reconciliation, but, ultimately, he is secure in his seat in the presidency and his party is leading the political show despite all its drawbacks. Now when the PPP feels confident enough to undertake the job of passing the benefits of democratic rule on to the common people, only a paradigm shift in development policy will matter.
Political reconciliation is a good strategy to provide Pakistan political stability — a prerequisite for regional trade and foreign investment. After all, it was the confrontational politics that brought army in. Staying together can make politicians stay in power. Mr. Zardari has made his point: virtually none of the political party feels alienated this time. Even Pakistan Muslim League’s sufferings are confined to horse-trading in Punjab and Balochistan.
But there is some problem with this strategy: the first and foremost being that we have no opposition presenting some alternative agenda and aspiring for power. This fact, though not a proof of Pakistan having a sham democracy, is a strong indicator that there are some flaws with democracy that need to be effectively removed.
There is no problem with consensus-formula, but the political parties which now adhere to it. Most of them are authoritarian in their organizational structures. They shun from the pro-people legislation and lack the will to bridge the ‘legitimacy gap’. They appear to be heavily relying on religious groups and have invested a great faith in bureaucracy and the managers of violence.
Democracy of the few, you may identify it as oligarchy, can’t benefit anyone beyond the sections of the society the political parties tend to represent. No wonder there is a mafia rule, especially in the subjects which directly affect the common people. Food, kitchen items and petroleum/ energy products are highly taxed and there appears to be no move to control the inflation that is eating up the purchasing power of the people.
Independent judiciary is, for sure, a source of relief but it can’t do the desired job. Ultimately, its mandate does not extend beyond interpreting the constitution. It has given verdict on some well-known scams of corruption and misappropriation of national wealth, but how many big fish are netted, is still to be seen. Given the fact that the judiciary has yet to achieve the level of efficiency that may prove assuring for the poor and downtrodden, one has to look back at the political parties which can do wonders by being democratic in their ways — picking leadership from the lower and middle strata of the population.
About the free and independent media, it should be kept in mind that it is ultimately the business that keeps them in operational mode. It lacks the desired knowledge-base and professional ethics to matter. The news channels have still to expand their coverage to the countryside which has so far absorbed the shock of corruption and misrule. The rural population heaved a sigh of relief when provided with the opportunity to have a say in urban affairs through district governments, but its leverage has been ended with consensus — the colonial-day commissionorate system has returned with its full colors.
But all this does not mean losing faith in democracy. It is a good system given the society is open to debate and dialogue. For sure, it is only democracy that can create necessary and appropriate conditions for its survival. Its main source of strength, unfortunately, not the people’s love for it or political leadership’s willingness to take charge of the state affairs in trying circumstances but the international environment that deems democracy as a basic condition to block the way of anarchy.
At least Europe and North America, which are powerful enough to impose their will on a significant part of the world, are pursuing a democratic agenda very vigorously. On our part, the status-quo groups and sections just can’t resist this move. Here comes the appreciation, endorsing and admiring, by the political leadership of all hues, of the wisdom behind the strategy of political reconciliation as for as preserving and promoting the interest of the privileged sections of the society is concerned.
There is no workable solution in sight as far as the will of the political leadership to end the powerlessness and marginalization of the majority, is concerned. People’s fate hangs now in balance when climate change has started casting telling effects on the collective life of the people.
Quite understandably, the drought of late 1990s, earthquake of 2005 and the flash floods of 2008 are reminder of the fact that majority is at the risk of dislocation with little hope that government can prove helpful in neutralizing the ill-effects of natural disasters. If the scale of such disasters widens, it can endanger the existence of the state as well — just think about the vast scale migrations in search of water or people fleeing flash floods.
People have to awaken themselves out of the long slumber. The cotton belt is almost done with its soil due to undesired use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The irrigation system in the ‘Sutlej region’ has lost the most of its utility due to reduced water supplies in the Indus basin and, of course, the water politics of the central Punjab and Sindh. The dry regions, in their lust to grow wheat, have emptied their precious aquifers and got their ground water contaminated to the extent that it is not fit for even crops. The high energy prices have just made countryside just a prey to the greed of ‘financial’ interests.
Attending to environment is just an effective way to bring the people out of the vicious cycle of poverty. It means good governance, changing life styles and food habits. It essentially means reclaiming vast swath of forest lands brought under cultivation so far. The farmers and big landlords can be convinced to revert to organic farming by making environmental laws effective.
Local governments under political control and enjoying fiscal and administrative autonomy to address the issues of education and health can do wonders in the presence of free media. Such a measure is must to make people confident enough to decide their own fate. No doubt, the need of the hour is to decentralize power to the very point where it matters.
Mr. Asif Ali Zardari has done a commendable job by lightening the burden of federation and devolving power to the provinces. It is a job that had become due in 1970s when the constitution was framed. Now the situation has changed. Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta can’t address the problems of the central regions — it would be great if they can effectively manage their own affairs.
Besides restoring local government system with additional administrative and fiscal powers, regional trade can prove helpful not only for strengthening purchasing power of the people and bringing the desired investment but also the exchange of knowledge and the technology to address the problem of extreme poverty.
The religious militancy is a menace and needs to be fought with unparallel commitment, but its real source rests in the centralization of power. The big cities and metropolitans are inherently incapable to understand the development needs of the regions they control right now. Violence is being used as a means to sustain inequalities in wealth. Mullah exercise least influence in the countryside; these are big cities that have provided them a space in their affairs. Once the power is devolved to smaller cities, extremism, the last hurdle to democracy, will also witness a downfall.