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Five Decades as a Republic

Pakistan chose not to become a republic till March 23, 1956. Five decades on (and 35 years almost to the day the “First Republic” came asunder), we must take stock of where we are today, and where the “Second Republic” will be in the future. One may take lessons from the past, it is no use lamenting the many mistakes made, they are the stuff of history and fortunately, despite our best efforts we are still in existence. Predictions range from dire pessimism to the optimistic “feel good” churned out by the establishment’s propaganda machine, it would be in the scheme of things to hold that the truth is somewhere in-between, but would that be true? Most developing nations without access to windfall oil revenues (or some cash resource along that kind) face problems of varying magnitude and are coping with them. There have been some gains and some losses. Simplistically stated, the gains are mainly in the economic field, the losses mainly political. Defying the laws of nature, we are geo-politically stronger than ever before, due (with some individual credit to Pervez Musharraf’s decision-making) to favourable circumstances than our own abilities and performance thereof.

Democracy is representative of the will of the majority, our major problems stem from experimenting with various models of imperfect democracies. Is every adult vote cast freely in the manner democracy requires it to be meaningful? Does the majority really rule? Or are we hostage to a powerful minority? While doing away with the “first past the post” system and opting for a second round to get an absolute majority, we must also go for “proportional representation’. All elected posts must be contested through direct elections e.g. elections to the Senate, post of President and PM, etc. It is the right of the masses to choose whom they want as their leaders, not a handful of electors who can be influenced, bought, manipulated, coerced, etc. The Senate elections are a standing reminder that in its present form democracy is a hypocrisy. The Senate must be credible in any Federal Republic like Pakistan, all posts being truly representative of the people.

Blessed with a pro-active superior judiciary presently, will this fluke of nature survive change of incumbency? To ensure the rule of law prevails, the Honourable judges are themselves setting about putting their house in order, setting in motion method and means to rid themselves of the corrupt and incompetent from among their midst. Problems at the grassroots level take place mainly because of a lack of experience as well as acute shortage, why not induct civil servants and Armed Forces officers with spotless careers and with a reputation for maturity and good judgment to opt for the judiciary in the last quarter of their service or even during early period of retirement? Preference should be given to those who could not be promoted because of a lack of vacancies despite their good performance. As magistrates (their appointment level depending upon rank and length of service) they can serve in the area of their preference after retirement.

Education has to get a priority. The Musharraf regime is correctly concentrating on Higher Education but in churning out more PhDs we must not compromise on quality. Teaching jobs across the board must become lucrative careers on the corporate pattern, enhanced salaries, perks and privileges will attract better quality of teachers.

The law enforcement agencies (LEA) desperately need meaningful and practical reforms. Tapped in 2000 by Lt Gen (Retd) Moinuddin Haider, then Federal Interior Minister, to be part of “Police Reforms Commission”, we endured a few frustrating meetings badly polarized due to a battle for turf between senior bureaucrats members and police representatives (all honourable, competent officials), we made no progress whatsoever, With the help of Liaquat Merchant, Senior Advocate, Jamil Yousuf (then Head of CPLC) we produced a comprehensive document addressing most issues. The Commission went over it sentence by sentence without any major dissent or comment. After a few more meetings, Jameel Yousuf and myself were never called again, that document never saw the light of day. The inability of enforcing the rule of law is more acute in the rural areas where the most powerful local landowner/s enforce their personal rule. Despite the government’s best efforts, Police Stations remain “no go” areas  for law-abiding citizens, particularly women. The conflicting demands of local politicians is their areas has corrupted the situation, further complicated by increasing acts of terrorism in the country.

We must implement land reforms which are already in the statute books or society will continue to remain governed by an elite handful who play a game of musical chairs in the government. The political parties are populated mostly by feudals and a growing number of industrialists, only the MQM and MMA are really truly representative of the people in that sense. India carried out land reforms fairly early in its existence, across a broad spectrum of society this is now reflected as relatively an even dispensation of wealth, justice, etc. Given India’s population, myriad number of races and religious, sects and other divisions thereof, the social situation would have been horrendous if land reforms had not been implemented

While we have unenviable record in the matter of corruption, only a few steps behind Bangladesh, the Musharraf regime certainly deserves credit for bringing to task a good number of politicians and bureaucrats for past misdemeanors. While accountability has been selective, some accountability is better than none at all. We must do away with “plea bargaining”. One cannot bargain with crooks, it subverts the concept of justice. To assuage public perception a greater modicum of public self-accountability in the Armed Forces is required. The lasting legacy of the Musharraf regime will be the accountability process, the regime’s place in history will be assured when accountability is applied equally across the whole spectrum of society.

Foreign policy must follow a concerted direction based on a well-thought out “National Security Strategy”. For over 50 years our foreign policy has been a passage to nowhere, a rudder-less ship adrift in a choppy ocean, with a few nations intent on enforcing their “doctrines” through the modern version of “gunboat diplomacy”. Pakistan has just had a stiff dose thrust down our collective throats of the two-centuries old-George Washington admonition to Americans in his farewell address as the  first  US President, to quote “never make inveterate friends or inveterate foes”, unquote. Sometimes we are the cornerstone of US policy, sometimes we are treated worse than their enemies. Five decades as an “independent republic”, are we really independent? Following a course suited to the best interests of the nation? Independent sovereignty as a nation is possible because of our geographical location in the region. Unfortunately most of our policies are crafted by those whose inclinations are suspect, how many of our senior foreign service cadre have settled abroad? Foreign policy must be an amalgam of mass wish and pragmatism, unless off course the mass wish is suicidal by virtue of ignorance. Nothing is more important than the comfort and welfare of the masses, even if we have sometimes to bite the bullet, as Pervez Musharraf did, to his everlasting credit, after 9/11. After having lost more than 600 combat deaths and several thousand wounded in the “war against terrorism” we found the bullet we bit was no chocolate-cookie.

Pragmatism must govern our policies, including the rush to “unfettered” democracy. As long as the masses can retain their self-respect and pride, they will be willing to compromise their freedoms. If one were to compare political emancipation to economic amelioration, the mass of the people would prefer food on the table for the family and their security than the freedoms one enjoys in a pure, unadulterated democracy. The minimum common requirement for Pakistanis is freedom from want while retaining our sovereignty and self-respect.

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