How not to run a democracy


PENSIEVE: How not to run a democracy —Farrukh Khan Pitafi

There is no point in alienating those who still think that democracy is our best chance. We need grace, vision and dedication from our leadership at this moment. The future of democracy in my humble view and the scope of progress has never been more jeopardised in the country

A big portion of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is under water. It is a tragedy of sorts. The national infrastructure is gone, the national spirit crushed and of course the country in hot economic waters. And frankly why should it not be? We are currently benefiting from a standby arrangement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The loan this government took was for the short term and while it was difficult to make the federal budget even when we were using its crutches, wait till the time you have to make fiscal policy and return this loan at the same time.
Inflation too is reaching unimagined proportions. If you have ventured to go out and buy vegetables and fruits in person for your table, you will definitely know how expensive things have already become. Wait till the time it dawns on us that most of our food reserves are gone. And yet in this state of confusion and price hike we do not even have an actual State Bank Governor.
Do we have a national policy to pull the country out of this abyss? I think not. I cannot doubt the intentions of Mian Nawaz Sharif when he went with a proposal to the prime minister. We know that he and his brother are putting in their best efforts to reach out to as many affected folks as possible. But something in that proposal frightens me. For starters, this proposal if accepted will be nothing short of a confession that the government has lost its credibility and the people are not ready to contribute to the official fund for the relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction in the flood-affected areas. And while it sounds like a self-indictment by the government, the resulting impression is hardly far from the truth. A combination of an unceasing regime of propaganda and devastating burden of historic baggage has played a crucial role in eroding the government’s credibility.
And then the nature of the proposal is such that we can take it as an admission that the political class as a whole too has lost the public’s trust. Why else would you like any fund collecting body to be headed by retired judges? I know Achakzai sahib’s name is also proposed but the emphasis remains on the names from the judiciary. That should amply tell us how things are in the Islamic Republic.
Granted, there is no harm in wishing for democracy but democracy should be dear to us because it represents the people. When a huge chunk of your population is displaced or stranded you are bound to ask tough questions. Please note that I am not one of those who celebrate the scapegoating of the government or the political class. And nor am I one who supports any kind of military or judicial adventure. However the kind of support the government expects from its sympathisers cannot pass as journalism but servitude. If there is no scope for constructive criticism there is no space present to exercise democracy. Elected or not a government is just a government. And our today’s government is getting so paranoid with the media that it has even given up the idea of convincingly putting forward its case. Now whoever opposes it has to be an enemy. And the rate at which it creates enemies, the government can claim its rightful place in the Guinness Book of World Records.
If anyone is still listening, the government is requested to stop doing this. There is no point in alienating those who still think that democracy is our best chance. Otherwise the rest of the country has started thinking that if this is the state of democracy, maybe it is not the best solution for the country. We need grace, vision and dedication from our leadership at this moment. If this is available this nation has endured one too many tragedies already. The future of democracy in my humble view and the scope of progress has never been more jeopardised in the country.
But if the government is ready to embrace constructive criticism and that too from the common citizens, not the political heavyweights like Mian Nawaz Sharif, then the first thing it needs to do is to end the reign of a thousand compromises and fix the responsibility for the humanitarian disaster still under process. This country has a Met department but its projections are often doubted and people have been laughing at its projections when presented in Khabarnamas since ages. Likewise, we have an early flood warning system, and even a disaster management authority. But what just happened? Indeed someone somewhere did fail to carry out his or her responsibilities. If that somebody is not brought to justice, there is no point in carrying this exercise any further.
I have a bone to pick with the chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). Soon after the plane crash in Islamabad he was asked on television about the black box of the plane and I distinctly recall him confessing that in Pakistan there was no way of identifying the black box of a plane. I surely would like to learn your definition of disaster and disaster preparedness Mr Chairman.
There is no doubt in my mind that today the Pakistan armed forces are doing a great job in the rescue and relief efforts but during the plane crash crisis, even they were looking sloppy and weak in responding. In short, we as a nation are sinking even after the flood. Our infrastructure, our institutions, our representatives, our economy, our defences, our collective identity as a country, all are at stake.
And my biggest concern is that the detractors of democracy in the country will never let us forget that all this happened under a democratic government. If there ever was such a thing as grace! If someone has erred and resultantly contributed to the disaster, he should be shown the door. And if the government or its head thinks that this cannot be done or somehow he does not have the capacity to deal with such challenges, he should admit it and leave.

The writer is an independent columnist and a talk show host. He can be reached at farukh@gmail.com

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