Monday, February 15, 2010, Safar 30, 1431 A.H   ISSN 1563-9479
 Group Chairman: Mir Javed Rahman Founded by: Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman Editor-in-Chief: Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman 
    News on Sunday
    Health Body & Mind
    Investor's J.
    Viewers' Forum
    Today's Cartoon
    Business & Finance Review
    MAG Fashion
   Opinion Archive
   Fashion Archive
   Magazine Archive
   Style Archive

   Currency Rates
   KSE Index
   Bullion Rates
   Prize Bonds

Opinion Archive
The News International Pakistan

 The new president and the future of democracy
By Ayesha Ijaz Khan
In November last year, as I tried to rally support for our pro-judiciary demonstration outside the Pakistani High Commission in London, one of my friends, who runs a threading salon and is least interested in politics, cynically asked me, "What are you trying to do? Make Asif Zardari president?"

She asked the question in ignorance (as BB was alive then) and I dismissed it hastily, concluding promptly that she had no clue about the basic tenets of parliamentary democracy and henceforth I would have to approach friends who were more inclined towards activism. But her off-the-cuff, seemingly preposterous question turned into reality less than a year later. Such has been the unfortunate story of Pakistan thus far.

Even if one is able to look beyond the corruption charges, lack of experience in governance, and reports of mental shortcomings (which I am particularly inclined to dismiss, simply because I rarely give credence to what is reported on Pakistan in the Western press), Asif Zardari's recent backtracking on solemn promises made to the nation raises red flags about his integrity and does not augur well for democracy in Pakistan.

There has been a barrage of opinions on this topic in the pages of this newspaper, all of which I have read carefully. With Mosharraf Zaidi and Raza Rumi presenting views generously deferential to the current dispensation, I must say that I found the analyses of Asif Ezdi and Shireen Mazari on this subject far more incisive, and their arguments exceedingly compelling. More recently, Asad Umar wrote an excellent piece pointing out the need for citizens to engage in the democratic process in order to reap the full benefits of the system, which he identifies as far more relevant than any one person.

I agree wholeheartedly with this line of reasoning, but would like to remind him that personalities, although not central, are nevertheless not irrelevant either, as they too help shape the system. If we have now a president who is head of the party, head of state and de facto head of government and is not inclined to give up any of the three then where are the checks and balances essential for a well functioning democracy?

The same politicians who acted as the media-shy Shaukat Aziz's mouthpieces are now actively criticising his policies and persona and making all the right noises in the hope that they may be taken into the PPP fold. It is true that in no democratic country are politicians the most principled lot, but by the same token, they need not reduce themselves to court jesters either. I find equally perplexing the reaction on the part of not just politicians but others (I shall refrain from calling them "elites" as that seems to have become a loaded word, of late). Let's call them the tamashbeen crowd, who brazenly praise Mr. Zardari's prowess at sabotaging the most inspiring pan-ethnic consensus-based ideological civilian movement galvanised for the purpose of democratic reform and enhanced access to justice in Pakistan's recent history.

These tamashbeen are perhaps too well-connected to bother about the ramifications of an ill-functioning justice system, but they sure are concerned with how many points the dollar has devalued, as that would make holidays abroad more prohibitive.

I hear that even amongst this crowd taravih prayers are at an all-time high during Ramzan. But when will we learn that prayer is a means to an end and not an end in itself. A Muslim's prayer is supplication to Allah to guide us to the right path. How can we pray fervently and then simply laugh off the fact that those who stood for principle and sacrificed have been sidelined and those who compromised for the sake of self-interest rewarded? How can we sleep at night knowing that we have done nothing to change the vicious and ruthless system that works only for the select few and against the teeming millions who have so little? Is simply giving charity in Ramzan enough if we don't make an effort to change the system that allows a few of us to become benefactors and the overwhelming majority of others at our mercy, indebted over so little?

As a committed supporter of the lawyers' movement, which I like so many others saw as the only vehicle for substantial eventual change in Pakistan, I cannot, of course, appreciate the judges who have after a year and a half of sacrifice and courage capitulated. But I will say this: if those who do wrong are consistently rewarded, then the number of people (lawyers, judges or otherwise) who take a principled stand at the cost of personal gain will dwindle in our community to a point of non-existence. If nothing else, perhaps the concern for our future generations should lead those who were double-minded about the lawyers' struggle to realise that if things continue in the direction that they have been going in Pakistan, we will have no basis to teach our children right from wrong. We will have no examples to show them why following our inner conscience is a good idea.

When I met Pakistani youth in Britain, students studying at various universities, I was a bit taken aback by the lack of national pride I saw in these youngsters. I saw, instead, a deep-seated resignation that corruption is inevitable and standing up for principle worthless. I noticed this sentiment across the board, as common in the five-time namazi as in the student less concerned about religion. It follows from the fact that a lot of what shapes us as human beings is atmospheric. If we live in an environment where wrongs are accepted, rewarded or at least laughed off, then there is no incentive to do right.

And thus I must remember the period between July and September last year, the glory days of Pakistan's recent past, when Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was reinstated. And though he may have faltered in the past, the nation saw for once that not acting in self-interest pays off. And equally importantly, he seemed to have learned from his experience, with a whole host of suo moto cases opened up in the public interest, high ranking officials being called in for questioning, the sense of righteousness had become contagious, with other high courts also passing judgments in favour of those who could only ordinarily dream of justice. The next time the chief justice was deposed, he was not alone, but sixty other judges stood up for what was right. There was a long way to go but at least Pakistan was headed in the right direction.

But now once again the tables have turned. This time, the civilian and not the military, government stabbed the people in the back. But as they say, nothing is for naught. And though our struggle may have faced a setback, it will resurrect--not just in the shape of lawyers, but all others who must be equal partners to change Pakistan's direction and to orient it again in the way of the straight path. Given the recent series of callous and cold-blooded attacks in Pakistan's northern areas, the struggle must not only focus on a change of direction in domestic policy but also foreign policy.

Terrorism is certainly a problem for Pakistan but we have to fight it on our own terms. America's recent actions have left us no option but to conclude that it is not interested in combating terrorism but only in destabilizing Pakistan. That is a risk we cannot afford to take as a nation. We must use our military strength to deflect those murderous drones the next time they head for our territory.

Otherwise, our youth will not only see us as a corrupt nation but as a nation of lackeys. The saddest thing, therefore, about the current civilian setup is that instead of bolstering pride in Pakistan based on taking steps to reassemble a judiciary taken apart by a dictator or protecting the innocent tribals who have been killed only because they happen to be in an ill-fated geographical area, there is a shameless extension of the old dictatorial policies.

The writer is a London-based lawyer and can be reached via her website

Back     |    Send this story to Friend    |     Print Version
The News Home  |  Jang Group Online  |  Jang Multimedia  |  Jang Searchable  |  Ad Tariff / Enquiry |  Editor Internet  |  Webmaster