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The day before

Election day in any country begins with universal hope and ends split between unbounded happiness and deep frustration. If the joy of the victors can be tempered with maturity and magnanimity, with sensitivity to the deep disappointment of the defeated, democracy would be the victor. On the other hand, the unwillingness of the vanquished to accept defeat with grace is a sure recipe for disaster. The recent US Presidential Election was epitomized by nastiness of the nth degree with a proliferation of negative ads, the allegations and counter-allegations about which became an election issue by itself. With Vice-President Bush in a clear lead, the polls had hardly closed on mainland USA when Governor Dukakis rang up to concede in what President-Elect George Bush said was “a very warm, personal message”. So ended the election, so began the healing process. This scenario is hardly possible in Pakistan, so while we can hope for miracles at dawn, we must plan for the worst. The people’s verdict needs to be respected whoever comes to power.
While one can forecast the normal reactions on the day after, the very fact that the elections are taking place on the morrow is reason enough to express cautious optimism. Among the people an atmosphere of expectation is generally pervasive in anticipation of casting their vote freely – the elections being as fair as can be. The end result of the waving of flags, swirling of banners, the resounding of cheers and repeated exhortations over countless loudspeakers will all come to a head by late Wednesday evening. By the morning of Thursday, the 17th of November, 1988, many pretenders to political thrones would have bitten the dust and a fresh crop of Parliamentarians would have emerged to oversee the destiny of the nation. The hopes of the people would have translated into effective ballots for their favourite parties and/or candidates. The people will have reason to hope confidently that shortly thereafter the fortunate candidates so selected by the people, the fresh blood so to say, will reciprocate with ability, maturity, purpose, dedication and above all honesty and integrity in discharging their duties towards the electorate.

Almost all the aspirations of the people are economic, all roads leading to this particular Rome. The country is in a deep economic crisis because of overburdening debt and lacklustre short-sighted policies. That the economy is artificially buoyant is no thanks to the policies being annunciated by the economic genius parked for the last decade on or around the financial and commercial controls of the nation. Dr. Mahbubul Haq recently trotted out statistics designed to show a resurgent economy glowing with health, THE NATION’S subsequent cartoon of a living skeleton was graveyard humour but vicariously appropriate, graphically it showed the bankruptcy of the good doctor’s policies in tinkering with the economy. When able technocrats resort to intellectual dishonesty for ostensible political gain the sight is pathetic because whatever one’s political future, a country needs its primary leaders to have a conscience and be able to bear responsibility without recourse to outright subterfuges just to garner a few votes. This type of sleight of hand does great disservice to the people of the country inasfar as it tends to create false hope based on craven claims. God’s unremitting bounty in the form of persistent good crops (allowing even the shrugging off of the worst floods in three decades), the constant though dwindling flow of expatriate funds and the effervescent availability of drug money proliferating freely and extensively, have combined to create the parallel economy on which the country now floats along, oblivious to devastation impending in the twin spectres of rampant inflation and growing unemployment. This is no way to run a government for 100 million people, too heavy a price for a country to pay for the dubious honour of having errant genius at work, particularly one that is jealous of other whiz-kids around him and, therefore, functions as a team of one. It has required all of President Ishaq’s ability and experience (with a lot of help from Messrs AGN Kazi and VA Jafarey) to steady the rocking economic boat on the one hand and restore the sharply eroding confidence of the business community on the other.

Is it any wonder that the thought of change, any change, evokes optimism among the masses, a thread of hope that democracy in the real sense would usher in a era of accountability across a broad spectrum of the government? In the final analysis, democracy’s real measure will be in the quantum of accountability instituted, not that it remains mere rhetoric, no more than a pipe-dream. Accountability is a factor that must be constant for any political government, varying standards for different people muddies the whole process, calling motives into question.

In short order the people of Pakistan have an absolute right to hope that any change will be for the better, the frying pan-into-the-fire syndrome needing to be reversed before hoping for a better economic future. All the parties have to answer to the electorate for their promises, passions once aroused can hardly be quelled, particularly when the economic portions of the manifestoes are decidedly similar, all parties having almost the same viewpoint about trade and industry, the difference being more in style and approach rather than in substance. The catch is that commerce relies heavily on style as well as substance, the perception of public confidence being measured against the gyrations of the local currency against an international basket, more particularly the US Dollar, reflecting dominantly in an upturn or downturn.

Whoever comes to power will have to travel a long miserable economic road to attain eventual prosperity. Having their work cut out for them, their topmost priority must be to curb inflation, finding innovative means to control money supply without retarding growth. Simultaneously imaginative means to channelise black money into resourceful investment in industry and the services have to be found, so that more jobs are created. Gainful employment (or an opportunity for honest, meaningful livelihood) is a great mass-psychology booster. Abdul Citizen needs not much more. There are many routes one can follow, the elected leaders of our destiny, old or young, new or experienced, will all have to mainly improvise and innovate to create jobs and more jobs. Their aim must be to give everyone an honest wage capable of affording the basic necessities of life such as food, shelter, clothing, education and medicine along with the modern amenities of potable water, electricity, gas and transportation. Those who think this an impossible dream should not even stand for election, optimism being the only real recipe for economic emancipation.

To arrest the creeping slide into an abyss of anarchy in the streets, the migration to the urban areas from the rural populace must be reversed forthwith. This can only be done by enhancing our rural potential particularly in the mechanisation of agriculture and development of agri-based industries. Most external developmental funds should be directed towards the rural areas. The elected government perforce will have to address its maximum effort in the villages and this policy needs not only to be annunciated but implemented in letter and spirit. Innovative means have to be found to force-feed the agriculture economy in order to enhance its contribution to the national total.

Our educational system is in a horrendous mess. Whereas by now we should be having free education upto high school, education of any quality is available only for the affluent and that too barely and at exorbitant rates. Beyond matriculation, education is so negligible that it is almost non-existent. Barring a few fortunate institutions, student unions are mostly militant professional outfits with the learning process about drugs and Kalashnikov culture being more on the daily curriculum than more conservative disciplines known to education. In order to multiply education among the masses there has to be a National Service for Education staffed by college graduates as well as a Community Education Service composed of elders. Education has to be the bedrock on which economic prosperity has to be built. We must build an effective education system, as soon as possible, complete with non-militant student unions and without the yoke of high tuition (and other) fees. It is also time to expose the scam of collecting funds for “school buildings etc” by private educational institutions run by uneducated illiterates and rank upstarts who have turned private education from a sophisticated business to an industry for outright extortion. In the same manner, entrepreneurial efforts in health and medicine are required but within reach of the economic means of the major portion of the populace, designed to pander to more than only an affluent but insignificant minority.

While any elected government must strive for peace, in the present geopolitical environment it would be foolish not to prepare for war. For a third world country beset by economic crisis the diversion of badly needed funds is not a welcome premise, but in this case it is simply unavoidable. Our “undeclared war” in Afghanistan is now reaching a satisfactory conclusion, the people of that country, armed and supported by vast amount of western military and, with Pakistan as a safe conduit, have successfully routed a predatory Super-power and are in the process of sending their remaining soldiers home. To our many arm-chair strategists (and other motivated interests) who talk about the advisability of getting involved in Afghanistan in the first place, one can counter-question as to what choices Pakistan had in the spilling of refugees endlessly onto its territory and to watching the Afghan people being slaughtered the same way the Muslims of the southern Russian Republics were almost half a century ago. Our historically open north western borders does not give us any multiple choices, making it an option of ONE only, that it had a satisfactory solution was well worth the compulsory gamble. The problem that we are faced with is on our eastern borders from an hegemonistic India looking desperately to solve its own domestic problems by external means. Repeatedly in these columns one has warned about the dangerous portents emanating from India vis-a-vis Pax India-na in the Indian Ocean Region. Sri Lanka, Maldives, what and who next? One can close one’s eyes and behave like an ostrich but we cannot evade war with India. It is there, it will come at a time and place of their choosing, to release the pressure on Soviet Kabul it may come sooner than one can anticipate. The elections have come about because of the steadfastness of purpose of the Pakistan Army, the elected representatives now have to act with maturity to ensure their steadfastness in support of the Armed Forces as they prepare for an ultimate war of survival. Soft as our economy already is it does not need war, yet may have to sustain it, these are the hard choices one makes for freedom, there being no options. Gorbachev’s Delhi Yatra bodes an ill-wind for Pakistan, who must thank God and the stars for George Bush’s victory in the US Presidential Elections, such has been the US support for Pakistan in the last decade, albeit in pursuance of its own global policy. President-Elect Bush would be happy to note that almost all the political parties of Pakistan, the IJI, PPP, PAI, etc were all probably rooting for him, such has been the tone of the laudatory messages sent on his victory, the spectrum encompassing President Ishaq, Benazir, Nawaz Sharif, etc. The Republican victory and continuity of Reagan’s policies is probably all that stands between us and an Indian adventure (exhorted morally and materially by the Russians). Whatever the immediate future, the Pakistan Army will have its work cut out for itself doing its primary and only mission, defending the integrity and sovereignty of the country. For the first time in the history of Pakistan the military leadership is as capable as the manpower it commands. The Pakistan army will not fail us.

Thoughts for the day before can spill onto the day after and can go on and on about what one expects from one’s elected representatives. Suffice to say that one expects them to do their duty towards the country and the people. If the elected  representatives can support those measures that allow them to live with one’s conscience the people would have done right by themselves in voting them into power, they would have really pulled it off. Democracy requires that the will of the people remains supreme and the greatest gift that the disappointed aspirants in the election process can give to Pakistan is to take defeat with grace and support fully and wholeheartedly those who will emerge by the electoral process. They may then get another opportunity in the near future, their protests will drive Pakistan to a state of crisis where the country may not get another chance for democracy.

The day after the elections the biggest winner will be Pakistan, that is the beauty of a fair election.

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