Changing state of Pakistan: Dr Zaidi happy to see people still want democracy despite politicians’ failure to deliver

The economist and social scientist speaks at KU on Wednesday.

Our Correspondent August 20, 2014

KARACHI: Despite the government's failure in delivering to the masses, people still want democracy to flourish in the country, pointed out economist and social scientist, Dr Akbar Zaidi.

He was speaking at a lecture on 'The Changing Nature of the Pakistani State' at the Arts Auditorium of the University of Karachi on Wednesday. "It is commendable that democratic discourse has increased in Pakistan," said Dr Zaidi. "The political economy of the state has changed, which should also be appreciated."

In 2001, there was only one television channel and by 2007, there were far too many, Dr Zaidi pointed out, adding that this has had a significant impact on the country's current political situation. "If the media had not covered the Inquilab and Azadi marches, the protesters would have packed up and left," he said. The role of the media is strong only because of democracy, he added.

Dr Zaidi proudly talked about how democracy was flourishing in the country and how minimal the role of the armed forces appears to be. Undoubtedly, the army has remained a dominant institution from 1957 to 2007 but now there are multiple institutions, he said. After 2007, the judiciary has also emerged as an important actor, he added. Earlier, it was a mouth piece of the army but now, it also summons the army, such as in the cases of the missing people of Balochistan, he said.

Diminishing role of state 

Dr Zaidi did add that the state has failed to meet its basic responsibilities of providing free education, and facilities of health, water and electricity to its people.

People have many privatised options now. They can send their children to private schools because of the poor standard of state-owned schools. "Similarly, there are many more private hospitals now and we do not want to go to government hospitals anymore," he said.

We have accepted prolonged load-shedding as we can use generators and UPS. We use mineral water to prevent water-borne diseases as the government does not provide clean drinking water. Likewise, the affluent people are hiring private guards. Those who have money can afford everything while the NGOs and private sector have stepped in to help the needy, said Dr Zaidi.

"The only power a state has is the ability to stop violence and the state has lost it as well," said Dr Zaidi, adding that it has failed to provide security of life and property to the people.

After the passage of the 18th Amendment, the role of the central government is also coming to an end and the capital is becoming poor, he said. "If the state cannot do anything, then what is its role?"

Role of the media

The print media has always played its part in supporting democracy but the electronic media emerged as a powerful actor in the political economy of Pakistan, said Dr Zaidi. The media has emerged as an independent entity. Earlier, the army budget was never discussed but now it is, he pointed out. As an individual, we all want to know where our money is going, he said, lamenting that it is the parliament that has disappointed us the most.

Urbanisation and consumerism

Urbanisation is increasing and leading to the mushrooming of cities from little towns and now there is no concept of far-flung areas, said Dr Zaidi. Almost 73 per cent of the country's population has mobile phones. Household industries and small-scale industries have also emerged and everything has become privatised, he said. The middle-class has emerged as a vocal, strong and expanding class. The people want to decide their destiny themselves, he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st, 2014.


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