WEB DESK: Last week, during an interview to a TV channel when the US Ambassador in Pakistan was asked whether the US will support those who want to derail democracy in Pakistan, he said “No, not at all” because the US vigorously supports Pakistan’s flourishing democracy.
According to him, the US now believes in Pakistan’s democracy “on solid basis for stability and prosperity.”
Can the ambassador of any country respond differently to the question put to the US Ambassador regarding the future prospects of Pakistan’s democracy? That being so, what was the real intention behind asking this question? Wasn’t it intended to ‘convince’ the viewers that the US will not back the early exit of the present ‘democratic’ government in Pakistan?
Doing so, what the interviewer exposed are the fears about the future of the in-power regime, although his intention was different – proving that the regime doesn’t deserve being overthrown – a desire which for its materialisation depends on how well the in-power regime administers the state and its governance style is accepted as ‘responsible’ by the masses.
How responsibility-conscious is the in-power regime is portrayed by the multifaceted chaos that now characterises Pakistan glaring examples of which are the admission that over 39 percent of the population has fallen below the poverty-line, exports have been sliding for the last three years, and in the regime’s 3-year rule, total public debt has increased by nearly Rs 4.8 trillion, or 23 percent.
Besides violating the Fiscal Responsibility & Debt Limitation Act, public debt reached its highest level in Pakistan’s 69-year history. Yet, besides funding the marginally beneficial over-priced Metro Bus services, Orange Railways, Motorways, and LNG import, cutting current expenditures wasn’t a priority, an example thereof being the expenses on Prime Minister’s 75 foreign visits.
Plugging the critical gaps in the physical infrastructure that could help build the debt repayment capacity by facilitating the export sector and import-substitution sectors, was ignored, and while drop in oil price reduced its import cost, its benefit to the economy – lower energy and transportation costs – was denied by including high indirect taxes in petroleum products’ prices.
Power shortages that have crippled the economy remain unaddressed; the worst part is that while several of the hugely over-priced new power generation plants are yet to be completed, let alone start delivering, flaws in the power distribution system, due to which line-losses kept escalating, weren’t remedied although they should have been the first priority.
This neglect continues despite every IFI recommending that remedying the flaws in power transmission and distribution systems must be the top priority because that’s imperative for the business and industry to regain their eroding competitiveness. Yet, each time the Prime Minister visits a province, all he promises are Metro Bus services, Orange Railways and Motorways.
As for basic civic services, there are almost daily media reports about hospitals even in big cities being unable to serve their patients because doctors and support staff are on strike claiming under-payment or non-payment of salaries, diagnostic technology being dysfunctional because it hasn’t been repaired let alone replaced, and non-availability of life-saving drugs.
Hundreds of primary schools in small towns and villages are closed because their “ghost” staff never terns up. Many schools have been turned into warehouses by the local landlords, or are collapsing. Sewerage, sanitation and garbage collection services exist only on paper. Even Karachi – until 1940s the cleanest city in Asia – is now among the continent’s filthiest cities.
Last week, a TV channel telecast the state of a locality in Lahore which has been the constituency of Punjab’s Chief Minister for the last eight years. In this locality, civic services are non-existent, and after the current spell of rain, streets have become huge ponds, broken power-supply cables have fallen into these ponds posing a lethal threat, and a primary school there is about to collapse.
As for legislation, the Protection of Economic Reforms Act – legacy of the 1992 PML-N regime – legalising capital flight (as exposed by the Panama Leaks) is intact and names of individuals like Ayyan Ali can’t be placed on the ECL. Besides while Pakistan carries the killing burden of $68.8 billion of external debt, Pakistanis continue to own assets worth over $200 billion abroad.
In the context of respect for law, just two shocking events – the Model Town Tragedy whose investigation report has been hushed-up and the attempt to prevent Asad Kharal’s arrest by pitching the Sindh Police against Sindh Rangers in Larkana – portray the examples our politicians set. Should in-power parliamentarians manifest their ‘supremacy’ via such law-defying conduct?
Courtesy this ‘supremacy’ and the integrity and sense of responsibility in crime investigative agencies (especially NAB) and the lower judiciary, organised waste and pocketing of state funds (that politicians and bureaucrats indulge for self-benefit without fear of accountability) goes on, because investigative agencies and lower judiciary are largely manned by cronies of the politicians.
While in this set-up these misdeeds could go unpunished, the Panama Leaks have wiped out chances of success of this strategy that relies on the belief that the masses can be fooled indefinitely. To avoid eventual accountability, the make-believe regime changes are politicians’ futile efforts because they imply admission of governance failure that is manifested by the chaos gripping Pakistan.
This record of all-round corruption and mis-governance can make Pakistan a “flourishing democracy” if mis-governance becomes the accepted hallmark of democracy. In reality, in Pakistan and other developing and under-developed countries with similar profiles of state governance, masses can no longer be deceived by labelling their political dispensations as “flourishing democracies”.
The timing and hurried passage of the Prevention of Electronics Crime Bill-2016 (wherein definition of cyber-crime repeatedly includes ‘hate speech’) suggests that, as the PTI and PAT prepare to launch their anti-PML-N campaigns and realising that its misdeeds can no longer be covered-up, the government intends to limit the constitutional right of freedom of expression.
In reality, such choices and mis-governance fuel hatred for democracy – reality that the self-styled ‘democrats’ deny to their own peril because democracy – least bad system of state governance – has been turned into the most defective, self-serving, and partisan governance system. Three cheers for our future-blind yet vociferous democrats!
Any new regime in Sindh or in Islamabad comprising of the same parliamentarian lot can’t improve governance because, like puppets, new cabinet ministers will abide by the dictate of their unchanged party leadership that, over the decades, has established beyond doubt that its priority is self-benefit, not meeting the crying needs of the country and its economy. Does this overall scenario make Pakistan a “flourishing democracy”? Isn’t a system change imperative before it becomes too late for clearing the mess?
Source: Business Recorder