Now you see elections. Now you don’t. Listen to key stakeholders, the caretakers, chief election commissioner, chief justice, even the army chief and you come across the assurances that the elections will be held on time. Switch on your television and listen to televangelist-turned-political pundits and you come across 1,001 reasons why elections must be delayed. As a citizen my reaction? I couldn’t care less.
We have seen dictators ruling this country. We have seen politicians ruling this country. But we remain where we were. In suspended animation. While advocating this political system or that, we forget that all rulers come from the very same society. If there is something wrong with the society, how can you expect that flaw not to manifest itself in your leadership? You can convince yourself that this leader is better than that but when you look closely you find out the difference that you admire so much essentially remains only marginal at best. It is in the nature of man to mistake mirage for oasis, to drink sand instead of water and not to even know the difference.
Not convinced? Let us talk about the two decades of the country’s history that I have closely observed as a journalist. Can you name one big national accomplishment in the past 20 years? Exactly, 20. Nuclear detonation in May 1998 doesn’t count. Economic revival? No. Major industrialisation? No. Emergence of globally-competitive educational institutions? No. Space exploration? Nil. Number of commercialised patents? Next to nil. Any important architectural accomplishments? Where? Any achievements in the field of arts, literature and sciences? Construction of any mega dams? Any globally-acknowledged full-length feature film? Any coup in healthcare sector, social services or public-sector reforms. Nil, nil and nil. So I don’t know what we are enthusiastic about?
So broken is our imagination that matters of basic subsistence like survival, repair and potential revival are presented as great feats of good governance. So great is this crisis of thought and foresight that only weeks away from the elections no political party or alliance other than the MMA has been able to present a party programme or manifesto. Even at the best of the times manifestos were considered part of a ceremonial election ritual.
I was pleasantly surprised when the PTI unveiled its first 100 days programme. Amid many other promised things, it pledged to create 100 million jobs in the next five years if elected. The immediate reaction of pundits was that of disbelief. Some laughed out loud on public television. But for a person like me who has been agitating the need for calibrated and well-planned job creation for years it was a moment of great hope. I immediately decided to collect the relevant data from government sources to crunch some numbers and see how realistic the promise was. But when I started sifting through the PDF files and the graphs on the website of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics I couldn’t find the required numbers. That is how broken we are. We don’t even have the relevant numbers to start planning. Even the challenge of conducting a national census after two decades got the best of us. For the past five years I had made it a point in every television appearance to remind the authorities how badly we need the new census data. Had it not been for constant push by the Supreme Court and the army’s readiness to assist in the process, I am sure, we still would have been complaining about the absence of census data to no avail. Now that the census has successfully been conducted and preliminary results are before us, we refuse to accept them. That bad.
In the tug of war that has continued in the past 10 years, while we have managed to salvage procedural democracy, the erosion of democratic values has continued unabated. Consider this. For the past 17 years the country has fought a war against terrorists. Terrorists led by Mullah Fazlullah and his predecessors have killed around 83,000 citizens. Yet mention Fazlullah in any gathering of friends and you will only token condemnation and swift change of subject. Now try something different. Bring up the mention of Malala, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Asma Jahangir, Mukhtar Mai or for that matter any woman who has spoken out for women empowerment. Now sit back and enjoy as the never-ending and wholehearted tirade against them begins. That bad.
We didn’t vote for dictators. So, we had no expectations from them. They had their means to rise to power. We were not one of them. We opposed them, criticised them, tried to force them out, endured the consequences and one day they went away. But democrats rose to power with our votes. They were supposed to defend us, serve us, come up to our expectations. But strange as it sounds instead of expecting protection during the democrat tenure we were supposed to defend them instead. The last five years were spent defending the rule of Sharifs in the name of democracy. Five years before them it was defence of Asif Ali Zardari and his party. When will you find time to start defending your subjects, sirs?
Quality of governance in both authoritarian and democratic rules always remained a subject of make-believe. Believe what you want to. Glass half-full or glass half-empty. Because no one has the presence of mind or time or energy or interest to pour more water into the glass.
Please don’t misunderstand my submission here. I am not advocating for the return to dictatorship or controlled democracy. Far from it. My only concern here is that there must be a reason why none of the known forms of government seem to work in this country. That this country seems to be drifting in ungovernable waters. That this is the state of affairs after 10 years of ostensible democracy. That our leading democratic voices seem preoccupied with the talk about the sanctity of vote (by which they of course mean their right to remain in power) and not discussing the wellbeing of the voter. Why is it that every day starts with a new crisis and ends with a new conflict? Something serious is amiss and it is time to ask the right questions. If it is a battle of egos and sense of entitlement, not my rights why should I bother? In countries like Pakistan revolutions don’t come to depose a king and replace him with his subjects. In countries like us they only replace one king with another. So be it.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 14th, 2018.