More democracy

“Pakistan’s future viability, stability and security lie in empowering its people and building political institutions…the fundamental battle for the hearts and minds of a generation can be accomplished only under democracy” — (late) Benazir Bhutto.

It is said that no one is indispensable but many in Pakistan still feel that there was no one like Benazir Bhutto and she was indeed indispensable for our country. Shaheed BB, an iconic figure for millions in Pakistan and around the world, was assassinated seven years ago. Her loss is felt every time our security establishment tries to discredit our political class and/or when our politicians themselves make a mockery of the democratic system.

When our parliament acquiesced to public (and establishment) pressure after the Peshawar school massacre and sanctioned military courts, I was reminded of BB’s interview to the Herald more than a decade ago. She said that democracy is about evolution and it is also about fighting for what you believe is right and not giving up. Pakistani politicians did not even put up a fight. They gave in. They failed the democratic system, they failed the people who voted them in, and they failed those who struggled to restore democracy and those like Ms Bhutto who sacrificed their lives for democratic rule in Pakistan.

As if it was not enough that the Sharif-led PML-N government gave up the country’s foreign policy and defence policy following Imran Khan and Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri’s dharna (sit-in) politics, created a parallel judicial system run by the military following the Peshawar attack, this government also somehow managed to oversee Punjab’s worst petrol shortage crisis. Lest we forget, the Sharifs have ruled Punjab for the last seven years. Last week also saw 80 per cent of the country plunge into darkness for a few hours due to a power breakdown. The security situation is so precarious that parents are afraid to send their children to schools, colleges and universities as educational institutions are on high alert. According to reports, additional army units were deployed inside Lahore’s premier school/college, Aitchison, yesterday.

Not only do we have to live in constant fear for our lives but we also have to deal with acute governance failure. At times like these, one actually wonders how this country is functioning. This leads to undemocratic forces asking for the ouster of democracy. They say that almost seven decades have passed since our independence and yet we are struggling to evolve as a country. For them, the answer lies in either martial law or a technocratic setup. As a friend puts it, there is no democracy in military dictatorships and there is no delivery under (Pakistani) democracy. Well, democracy may not have delivered but neither have military dictatorships.

One of the first things the government should realise is that instead of a centralised system, we need devolution of power at the local level via local bodies elections. Unless our ruling elite is willing to devolve power, the people will not feel relevant. Once the people are involved in the democratic process, our country will finally evolve. Meanwhile, what we must understand and internalise is that we do not need less democracy; we need more of it.

(Originally published in Mid-Day)


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