“Democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy.” Benito Mussolini
Perhaps, no one defined better what Democracy actually means than Atifete Jahjaga: “Democracy must be built through open societies that share information. When there is information, there is enlightenment. When there is debate, there are solutions. When there is no sharing of power, no rule of law, no accountability, there is abuse, corruption, subjugation and indignation.”
In the absence of open societies sharing information, lack of enlightenment and debate democracy transforms into Demo(n)cracy, where a few wolves in the garb of sheep rule over an even bigger flock of real sheep. From a purely theoretical standpoint democracy is an excellent form of government that is ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’. The crucial link in the equation is the ‘people’. Unless there are educated and well-informed people in a free society, the aims of a true democracy can never be fully achieved. The pre-requisite is therefore education, to create a conducive environment for the evolution and development of democracy and democratic institutions.
Pakistan gained Independence on August 14, 1947; but one is compelled to ask, ‘Independence for Who; or Independence from What?’ From the manner in which the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has been governed over the last 70 odd years, it would appear that the proverbial Gora (White) Sahib has been replaced by an indigenous version of the same, if not a worse, Sahib. In the garb of being true sons of the soil, the multiple set of rulers over the years have created a mal-functional, corrupt, abusive and inequality ridden over-populated state that has helped them self-perpetuate themselves and their cronies. In the process the population at large continues living without access to basic facilities such as justice, education, healthcare, sanitation, and water. The great tragedy is that this ill-informed population is easily swayed by the sweet-talking ‘leaders’ and are willing to cast their votes in favour of the digressers repeatedly for a plate of Biryani (Rice) or a measly thousand rupees. On the other hand, the so-called enlightened few apart from commenting on social media site are not really ready to stick their necks out, come election time. Of course, the stakes are much higher when the elected are called upon to elect from within their own ranks, as was recently evident in the Senate elections. When the standards for electing democratic leaders are so low, how can there be an expectation of a true functional democracy.
It has been said that the worst form of democracy is better than the best form of dictatorship. Unfortunately, in Pakistan there is a very fine line between democracy and dictatorship in the style of governance, apart from the fact that the dictator has the Armed Forces supporting him. Today, we have a ‘functional’ democracy, where the ‘leaders’ are acting on their personal whims and fancies rather than for the betterment and well-being of the people. There is an institutional crisis and a power vacuum, created out of distrust and personal agendas taking precedence over national interest. The country continues to suffer in the wake of bickering over non-issues, while the pressing socio-economic issues continue to be blatantly ignored. The people are resilient and keep adapting to survive within this environment, and as per a recent poll, Pakistanis are the happiest among its neighbouring countries – that is something to cheer about – being able to laugh in the face of such adversities.
The country is sitting on a ticking time bomb, as its population has touched the 220 Million mark and continues to grow unabated. With limited resources, a looming and real water crisis, low levels and low quality of education, and lack of healthcare facilities the rapidly rising population continues to strain the capacity to deliver. Yet, there are about 1500-2000 motorbikes, and another 15,000 cars being registered in the city of Lahore alone every month. Businesses are making money, and the middle class is gaining strength. The Rupee continues to lose value and the debt burden continues to rise. The Circular Debt alone is almost at the Rs.1 Trillion mark. The state owned enterprises continue to bleed and the Balance of Payments grows ever larger. Yet, these are all these seemingly difficult issues are manageable, if the resolve and desire is there. The problem is within the governance structures and the lack of accountability, which allows individuals to flout the rule of law. The ex-Finance Minister continued to shift the financial goal-posts and juggle with the numbers to present a false picture of the actual declining state of the economy, which now faces serious macro-economic vulnerabilities. The ex-Prime Minister after having been declared a non-Sadiq and a non-Ameen, continues to challenge the writ of the Supreme Court and has been trying to instigate the people against the State to somehow regain his lost seat, rather than defending his credibility and reputation.
Petty people engage in petty acts, and for them power or the semblance of power is the end all. Personal enlightenment and rising above self to contribute towards nation building are alien concepts that they can neither visualize nor understand. For them democracy is not a way to serve and build a nation, it is a means towards their personal ends, where the state institutions are expected to bow before their every whim and fancy. Where the funds of the state are the proverbial Shahi Khazana to be doled out amongst the cronies. Where the objective is to keep a relatively docile population ignorant and dependent. There is a need for establishing the boundaries for each institution and for the people within those institutions to have the ability to work objectively for the betterment of the country and its people. For this there has to be a strong judicial system that is able to institute and enforce the laws of the State. Within such a system, unless the people of the country realize the power of their vote to break out of the vicious circle of oppression, democracy will continue to function as demo(n)cracy. For, “Verily, Allah will not change the condition of a people as long as they do not change their state themselves” (Quran 13:11).
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