Crisis of Conviction

Conviction, consensus, leadership: How democracy should work

By Farrukh Khan Pitafi (Cross-Post, written Oct 13, 2009)

Recently an article by Farahnaz Isphahani titled “Democracy does deliver” (dated September 29, 2009) appeared in a section of the press. Having read some of Ms Isphahani’s previous security papers I can appreciate her mastery over words. However if I was expecting something ethereal from this piece I was sorely disappointed. What she lauds as a diplomatic win and which she considers a proof of democracy’s deliverance unfortunately is nothing more than the assurance of further foreign aid and not any historic empowerment of this nation. If my memory serves me right aid was given during the time of the recent dictator too. Similarly events like the FoDP also used to take place including Musharraf’s groundbreaking address to the American Jewish Community. Hence I hardly see it as sign of democracy delivering.

If democracy indeed delivers we should have seen a government more sensitive to the wishes of its own people rather than to the foreign accolades. As a student of international politics, she knows well that words and overtures hardly matter. What matters is a government’s capacity to govern its country and hence its popularity at home. Otherwise Musharraf too wasn’t unpopular in the international circles. He lost popularity here and was shown the door. Leaders in the third world aka new world are similarly short changed every other day.

If aid were enough for our development we should have been among the considerably developed countries of the world by now. But we clearly aren’t. The president’s recent statement in the UK that Pakistan needs more trade not aid, then, is most welcome. Yet even trade without domestic production is not enough. However that seems practically impossible given the crippling power outages in the country and the government’s credibility and transparency gap. We all know that the party returned to power with the huge baggage of troubled reputation. Even if that tarnished image was a frame up, one would have hoped that this time it would have learnt some lessons, but now that too unfortunately seems akin to being foolishly simplistic. Just like the capital in economy, political capital is a precious commodity. And at the heart of this capital lies trust. If a government fails to win the trust of its citizens, the torrents of criticism reduce it to the depths of insecurity. You cut deals after deals with the devil to stay in power and yet power at this cost becomes nothing but a mere anathema. It is not a quite a hidden secret that the past two terms of the PPP were cut short by the allegations of corruption. While Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto had to go in exile, her husband and our current president had to endure a huge spell of imprisonment. So this time the party and its government could have played a more cautious role. A stitch in time saves nine, they say. And a little more attention to details, transparency and sensitivity to the public perception could have done the trick. But no sir, just like in the past, the party has alienated almost every segment of the society through its antics and semantics, within a short span of time. There must be some special recipe for such an unmitigated disaster and yet when the government cannot hide how poorly it has performed in the public opinion, it picks the gun and shoots the messenger. No doubt then that just like Joseph McCarthy its media managers spend more time in dubbing every critic, unpatriotic. This brand of McCarthyism has compromised considerable precious time which could otherwise have been used to solve a few more problems of the country.

The first mistake of this government was not to disclose the terms of its return to power. If there were any preconditions it should have desisted from signing documents like the Bhurban Declaration. Yet since it did neither it has managed to alienate almost all of its pre and post poll allies. It can most certainly be argued that PML-N never actually considered a ‘natural ally’ (no matter whatever this phrase means), yet you cannot deny that the PPP leadership repeatedly offered the N-league golden and indeed tempting opportunities to capitalize on the public sentiments.

The second mistake was to start acting insecure. The dismissal of the Punjab government, the president’s refusal to even engage the critics of his decision to retain his party position and even the rumours of a competition between the president and the prime minister have most certainly not helped it. This insecurity had another adverse effect. An insecure government cannot be transparent at the same time. In the environment of insecurity the rumours originating mostly from the disgruntled ambitious few are adding to the perception that there is widespread corruption going on. A touch of more forthcoming facts and at least a few good examples of transparent transactions were enough to debunk such vilifying campaign but even that seems hard to come.

Another huge problem is the apparent lack of moral courage in the government. When your sole purpose is survival in the power corridors realpolitik takes the front seat and the original priorities are relegated to the backyard. For instance let us take the example of the US ambassador to Pakistan. We all know that she is a relic of the past as she was sent by the Bush administration to a Pakistan ruled by Musharraf. During and immediately after the elections her role was viewed by many Pakistanis as offensive. She is generally believed to have meddled in several national issues of critical import. And the US mission under her leadership has failed to quash the rumours/news of the US growing military presence in our country and a widespread feeling of siege and invasion is gripping our nation. It flows naturally then that Pakistan should have asked for her replacement especially because neither Musharraf nor Bush is in power any more. And her presence damages the US image in this country but the government for the reason known best to it has not shown even this much moral courage. The purpose of any mission, after all, is to strengthen bilateral ties not weaken them.

And finally there is this widespread perception of ineptitude hanging about. There is hardly any point in bragging about foreign aid or money in other forms coming to the country if the people do not find themselves to be the immediate beneficiary. And since the burden of inflation and poverty appears growing only too onerous these days it is plain that the government is in no condition to celebrate. On the contrary when the money comes to the government and yet the people find no solutions the rumours and fears of corruption are bound only to increase. Perhaps even at this stage if the government realises what it is lacking it can pull itself from the brink of precipice.

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