In the past five years, time and again, the armed forces of Pakistan and the US administration have both said that they are committed to supporting democracy in Pakistan. And, according to them, the current regime and the political system in Pakistan does fulfil democratic norms. In order to support and encourage the current so-called democratic system, the US has provided $1 billion over and above the $1.5 billion that is to be given to Pakistan under the Kerry-Lugar Bill (of course, this is notwithstanding the current suspension of $800 million in military aid).
A rationale for releasing this aid is that the US president has to certify every year that all the attributes of democracy exist in Pakistan. One should not have any doubt about the good intentions of both the Pakistani establishment and the US administration for democracy in Pakistan, but allow me to differ very respectfully from the concept of democracy which the US has about Pakistan.
Democracy in Pakistan is not of the people, by the people or for the people. On the contrary, it has been dominated for the last 63 years by 35-40 feudal families, big landowners and industrialist families. Pakistan’s political parties are mostly dynastic in nature and only family members make it to parliament, or become ministers or attain the post of prime minister. And, in most cases, the situation of ordinary people in their constituencies does not change for the better.
Mr Altaf Hussain (founder and leader of the party that I am a member of) calls this a game of musical chairs, and argues that this should not be mistaken for democracy. This rotten and corrupt political system will again cultivate dictatorship in the country, so much so that people will get tired of it and welcome any change, even if it is unconstitutional. The US seems to be happy with what is clearly a shallow and unreformed democracy in Pakistan.
Can the honourable US President Barack Hussein Obama imagine cities being run without any elected local government in his democratic country? Can he imagine his democratic country having rulers who take billions from banks and don’t ever return the money, and yet claim to be loyal leaders of the people?
Can he ask the rulers of so-called democratic Pakistan whether they know anything about the problems faced by the general public regarding the delivery and provision of basic services and civic facilities? Or how so-called democratic rulers have allowed the holding of elections in some parts of the country where women, by agreement of all main political parties in that area, are forbidden from casting their votes? Can Mr Obama imagine a federal government that does not delegate its powers and authority to the states or local counties/districts in a democratic country?
As for the military, General Kayani’s efforts to restore democracy and support the current regime for the last three-plus years is well-known. However, the current military leadership is not going to last forever. The circumstances that Pakistan presently finds itself in could give rise to a situation where the military may have no choice but to intervene. And, assuming that the intervention takes place, what if the military general has a mindset and ambitions like General Zia? One can only imagine the impact that this would have on Pakistan and on the world.
To prevent this from happening, we need to listen to what Mr Altaf Hussain is saying, in particular his call for the abolition of feudalism through drastic land reforms in Pakistan and a system where ordinary Pakistanis can hope to be elected to parliament. Complete autonomy should be given to the provinces without any interference from the federal government, and each province should have full rights to its wealth and full financial and administrative powers. This system should also be put in place in Fata.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2011.