This independence day, prepare for an epic battle as two mighty forces slam into each other on the political shores of the capital’s D-Chowk. The ground will tremble, the sky will shiver and there shall be mighty turbulence under the Heavens.
And then the day after?
This is where troubling uncertainty begins to gnaw at the exciting possibilities of creative destruction. No one knows what will happen after the deluge. No one can predict what the dawn of August 15 will usher in. The PTI’s million man march to Islamabad is gearing up like a gathering storm. The PML-N government is barricading its Fortress Sharif by what its geniuses think are brilliantly innovative counter-measures. Now the government says it will organise two-week long independence celebrations in the capital. And the rabbit-out-of-the-hat manoeuvre by the government Einsteins is the climactic event at the D-Chowk on August 14. So game, set, match to the Sharifs.
Not so fast, Mister.
At stake in this Clash of Titans is more than what meets the eye, even though much of it may be unintended. If the PTI march does actually happen and no compromise is worked out between now and then, there will be trouble. And trouble is not something that sounds really appetising for a Pakistani at this stage. Is Imran Khan then sabotaging democracy, or at the very least, endangering it? Is he being the spoilt kid, who after he is bowled, takes his three stumps and runs home? Or is he looking beyond the obvious threats to the system and dreaming of future-perfect scenarios.
Whatever his intentions and plans, Khan seems determined to unleash creative destruction on the system that is already groaning under the weight of its own hypocritical contradictions. This destruction can have numerous consequences, all of them being debated to death. But his ultimate objective, it seems, is to light a spark that illuminates the path to mid-term elections. Let’s assume for a minute that he is successful in this objective; that somehow Fortress Sharif is scaled on August 14 and its walls brought crashing down. Let’s assume for a minute that this happens without any violence and the army does not as much as lift a finger. Let’s assume also for a minute that all political parties agree to another round of elections; the election commission is re-staffed with a new chairman and members, and stringent anti-fraud measures are put in place to ensure free and fair elections. Suppose all this happens just as we have supposed. What then? Will the system be reformed? Will true democracy be ushered in? Will mutinies within this creaking system be culled like diseased animals?
Elections in themselves are not the holy grail of progress and prosperity. If this were so, Venezuela would not still be struggling with basic issues. The South American nation has been holding regular elections since 1958, but this has not transformed it into a developed country, as pointed out in the book Why Nations Fail. Here at home, we can boast of numerous elections since 1970. Has the system improved? Compared to no elections, yes flawed elections may be preferable, but compared to what elections should be? Well, that’s where the scorecard looks ugly.
And there is a fairly uncomplicated reason for this. The elections of 1970 transformed our landscape by dragging politics out of smoke-filled drawing rooms and handing it to the people on the streets. This was an improvement on the previous decades, but somehow the electoral system then got frozen in the 1970 mode. What a tragedy that four decades later, those elections remain the most credible that we have seen. In fact, the system prevalent now seems a cruel caricature of the 1970 elections. It is not as closed and restrictive as a dictatorship, but it still abhors merit and a level playing field.
The system is beholden to a few parties which are beholden to a few families. These families are beholden to their biradaris, tribes, clans or ethnic groups. These, in turn, are beholden to their petty parochial interests and agenda. These interests and agendas can only be promoted through the use of state power and state resources. This explains the hunger for power by every means possible. In this system your level of prosperity and well-being is directly proportional to your access to the power-wielders. Merit? Hah! Rights? Whatever!
We can have elections till they come out of our noses, but nothing will change unless this vicious web of biradari and clan entanglements is not severed from the power centre. Here’s an alien concept for our rulers: Democracy means pluralism. Pluralism means sharing of power at every level between as many stakeholders as possible. Pluralism means various institutions operating in their domains and keeping a check on one another. Pluralism means not having cartels like the sugar industry. Pluralism means ensuring that the elite do not capture the resources of the state to enrich themselves. Pluralism means empowering the weaker segments of society, and protecting them against hungry vultures. Pluralism means embracing merit and equal opportunity for all. This pluralism requires a vision beyond infrastructure projects.
Pluralism and true empowerment will never come through this suffocating system of ours. If Imran Khan wants to cleanse the system, he will have to do more than just ask for mid-term elections.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 13th, 2014.
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