They fail us again!

This Article was published in
Pakistan Observer (August 23, 2010)
The Frontier Post (August 24, 2010)

By Sahibzada Hussain Mohi-ud-Din Qadri

As more than 20 million Pakistanis battle for survival amid the raging floods, the country’s politicians across political divide have left no stone unturned to prove that they have not learnt any lesson from their past mistakes and remain adamant on repeating and reinforcing the same mistakes. Since Pakistan lurches from one crisis to the other, the political elite ends up betraying manifest signs of incompetence, intellectual bankruptcy and accumulation of maximum benefits to the total neglect of their electorates. There is an increasing level of public disappointment with the conduct of its elected leaders. The recent floods afforded political brigade an opportunity to make mid-course correction and take charge in the rescue and relief operations by rising above their political differences. As the floods continued to engulf more and more areas, the leadership vacuum developed gradually. Once again our politicians failed to rise to the challenge and allowed the initiative to slip in the hands of other players.

A classic case of political considerations getting the better of effective management of the flood operations pertains to the shelving of otherwise sound proposal of setting up an independent ‘Flood Relief Commission’ composed of people having above board credibility. The situation becomes more exacerbated after the proposal was agreed to in principle by the country’s chief executive. One explanation of why behind the door pressure was brought to bear on the prime minister to do away with the idea is that perhaps the step might have held the government guilty of incompetence and financial impropriety. Instead of looking into the causes of why the people at home and international community abroad remain skeptical about the credentials of the government, the PPP’s top leadership’s resort to killing the idea smacks of bad politics and bad judgment.

Yet another example of politicians’ kowtowing to the Khakis and demonstration of subservient role in the power calculus relates to the grant of extension to the Army Chief for another three years. After taking initial steps in the right direction, the political leaders allowed the initiative of spearheading the country’s fight against terrorism and homegrown extremism to go into the hands of the security establishment, which has been the sole in-charge of anti-terrorism operations. Following the government’s taking over in 2008, the military waited for leadership by the political government on how to execute the war on terror. That leadership vacuum was then gradually filled in by the military itself because of the government’s and by extension politicians’ lack of vision and absence of effective counterterrorism strategy. By and by, the security establishment became the custodian and navigator of Pakistan’s policy vis-à-vis India, Afghanistan and the US. This explains why the top American and NATO leaders have made it a point to pay a visit to the General Headquarters for ‘serious business’, for they know as to who has the final say on the strategic matters. The 3-year extension to the Army Chief by the democratic government reaffirms the military’s preeminence in the power equation.

One more example of politicians’ stark failure to go by the book and run the business of the state smoothly was their inability to resolve the judicial crisis in accordance with their promises with the nation. The Army Chief’s no so covert role in impressing upon the PPP-led government the need of restoring the Chief Justice and other sacked judges of the Supreme Court thereby stalling the menacing Long March in 2009 speaks volumes about his distinguished position as the adjudicator in the national affairs. In other words this means that politicians are unable to settle rules of the game and need the ‘guidance and leadership of others’ manage the state affairs.

In the wake of ongoing target killing in Karachi, which has taken a heavy toll on the people, the government is not serious in the stemming the cruel wave of assassinations out of political considerations. The preference of political interests over national ones by the ruling elite is condemnable. Had government not condoned these actions out of political considerations, it could have deployed rangers and army and ordered it to shoot at sight. Such timely act would have saved numerous lives and valuable property from being destroyed. The message sent across is that people’s lives do not matter as long as the politicians’ interests are not at stake and they better be on their guard.

If democracy is to survive and be a sustainable process, the politicians need to mend their ways. As long as people remain disempowered and out of the power loop, the system would remain fragile. The political class needs to prove through action, not words that democracy is a better system, which is capable of bringing about real change in the lives of the people. Enough of rhetorical allegiance to democracy! It is about time that politicians seized the initiative and set about their task of ensuring good governance so that people at large develop ownership of the system.

(The writer is Australia-based PhD candidate)