The Perils of Democracy


After three years of life in the cold, the heat generated by politicians in the National Assembly was to be expected, this surpassed our apprehensions. Even with the compulsion of a graduation degree, unadulterated democracy does not seem suited to most countries of the third world. Every individual is entitled to express one’s views without inhibition, that being the essence of democracy the loudest advocates thereof tend to drown out others from using the same prerogative. The term “parliamentary language” is certainly not synonymous with what is mostly used in the August House. While unbridled rhetoric remains the hallmark of our freedom of expression, one can only hope that time will bring discretion into the tone and tenor of the elected representatives, who by their present conduct and demeanor seem to represent anything but the aspirations and anybody but the people of their electorate.

Every muslim must grieve at the death of a human being, offering of “Fateha” for the soul is a deceased being’s due, apropos our Prophet (PBUH) who when asked why he respectfully stood as Jew’s funeral went past replied that the dead person was also God’s creation. However the symbol of an “official” Fateha for late Aimal Kansi’s soul in the National Assembly was something Pakistan did not need. While “Fateha” for Aimal Kansi’s death is certainly obligatory, the fact remains that Aimal Kansi had cold-bloodedly murdered two innocent beings whose only “crime” was that they were employees of the organization which was the object of Kansi’s resentment and anger. All intelligence agencies in the world tend to ditch “sources of information” when they have no further use for them but can one condone the pre-meditated slaughter of unconnected innocent beings? If he had knocked off the actual CIA case officer (or anyone from CIA who dealt him his frustration) as vengeance, that would still not be condonable, the Koran specifically bars the taking of an innocent human being’s life. “Fateha” for Aimal Kansi’s soul in the National Assembly virtually acclaimed him as a “hero” incarnate. Aimal Kansi was a murderer, pure and simple! Our Parliamentarians managed to send a very wrong signal not only to the whole world but to the mass world of youth in our own country that it is alright to take law into your own hands! The mass show of grief in Quetta was unavoidable because of the peculiar circumstances the case was handled, but we must correct the perception of our younger generation as responsible citizens, we owe this much to the future of our nation. If we are to countenance such murderers, we might as well start condoning “suicide bombings” in which scores of innocent continue to be killed as a “legitimate” act of war. Taking the lives of the innocent is not only a sacrilege in Islam, it is an abomination.

Congratulations are in order for Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali for being the first Baloch to be elected as PM of Pakistan. A class hockey player who excelled in the half-line, he will need all his dribbling skills to weave his way through the maze of Pakistan’s Freudian politics. To become PM in a disparate coalition such as the Grand National Alliance (GNA) is no mean achievement, yet it is only the first step in crossing a virtual minefield of internecine permutations and combinations of alliances and enmities. Having been Chief Minister of Balochistan twice as well as Federal Minister, Jamali does not lack administrative and/or political experience but he will have to have a very thick skin to cope with the muck that will be thrown at him for reasons other than the best interests of the nation. “Jabal” to his close friends, Jamali will find that being elected was the easy part, retaining his cool and the PM’s job in the conspiracy-ridden corridors of political power in Pakistan is going to be a far difficult proposition. An experienced Parliamentarian, his Baloch self-respect will be tested against the patience he has markedly inculcated in himself over the years. First offered the PM’s job in 1985 by late Gen Ziaul Haq, he has survived to see the late dictator’s democratically elected son vote for him for the PM’s job, maybe that was the vote that put him over the top for the 272 needed. As a schoolmate, Jamali was an upright soul without rough or devious edges, well-disposed towards everyone, this will stand him in good stead. Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali is a good man, modeled somewhat on the Mohammad Khan Junejo-pattern. Under-estimated at one time, Junejo is increasingly remembered as an excellent PM, similarly Jamali has the potential of rising above himself, very much as he has done in life till now. God alone knows, this country needs a good leader.

Pakistan has been very lucky with President Pervez Musharraf. Even though our politicians are compulsively behaving otherwise, in their heart of hearts they know this to be true. He could have perhaps shortened his last speech to the nation as Chief Executive, he is most effective when short and sweetly tough. One must look objectively at his rendition of facts and figures, recognizing that what he stated was the truth. Pakistan was in the dumps politically and economically on Oct 12, 1999, worse we were on the ropes in the moral sense. Extremely nice as a person, Mian Nawaz Sharif did not come to power with the deliberate intention of doing wrong, but his flawed governance seriously failed the heightened aspirations of the masses, in the process he beggared Pakistan. That is not to say he had not inherited a major economic crisis from the predecessor PPP regime. Today there is virtually no sleaze at the top or even near the top, that is some achievement in a third world country. While we maintain that NAB should have had a more broad expanse in its targetting of the guilty, the accountability process has become very much a credible fact of life in Pakistan. As a military ruler, the President has been positively benign in gross contrast to all his military predecessors, leaning backwards in trying not to be vindictive. Each military ruler was welcomed by the masses on coming to power but had over-stayed his welcome by the time of his departure. The three-day NA experience to date has proven that without checks and balances this democracy has all the tendency of dissolving into anarchy. To those of our Parliamentarians who took the occasion to stray from the agenda to carry out scurrilous attacks on the President’s persona, one has one word of cautionary advice. Someone in uniform far down the picking order could at this very moment be studiously noting down “lessons learnt” from the three years of Musharraf’s “soft” military rule. One lesson is unfortunately that our people only respect raw power, one shudders at the consequences for democracy’s future if our politicians keep feeling their oats without rhyme or reason.

The majority of Parliamentarians in the NA and PAs being excellent human beings, they should get along with trying to solve the problems of those who elected them, prime being economic amelioration of poverty and misery thereof, followed closely by a lack or paucity of socio-economic infra-structure and utilities thereof. Great hopes rest in the resuscitation of democracy, the way to loosen the straitjacket further is to do it piece by piece, not try wholesale changes lest there is a backlash. If confrontation persists, all of us will be losers.

One must appeal to the government benches to exercise patience in dealing with the Opposition, despite all the rhetoric they have still been mature enough to take part in the process to (1) take the oath (2) elect the Speaker and Deputy Speaker and (3) elect the PM, thus reviving democracy and not allowing it to be stillborn. And as for the LFO, did even one speaker ask the ladies on reserved seats (courtesy a la LFO) to vacate the NA Hall? Despite the excesses of the Opposition, the government must understand that after three years they need to let out steam. Once over the chest beating, both the government and Opposition should get on with the business of democracy which primarily is good governance. Ladies and gentlemen of our Assemblies, the masses have given you their vote, make this mandate count for something, make a difference!

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).