Cry, My Beloved Country!

By Dr. Haider Mehdi

Public disillusionment with Pakistan’s nascent democracy has rarely run higher than it is at the moment.  The PMLN ruling leadership has been unable, in the last 14 months (just as its predecessor, the Zardari PPP, was unable in its 5 year-long term) to act even in areas where there has been widespread agreement that measures were absolutely necessary to save this nation from being drawn into a destructive socio-economic political abyss.  It appears that the PMLN leadership is being justifiably condemned as ineffectual, incompetent, and mismanaging national affairs by failing to appreciate the top national priorities and the real short- and long-term pressing challenges and how to address and resolve them.  The Sharif political regime (more of a plutocracy than a democracy) has failed Pakistan in the similar manner in which the Zardari PPP regime (more of an oligarchy than a parliamentary democracy) failed this nation.  The so-called democratic era (2008-present) seems to be one of the most dismal periods in this nation’s history.

The fact of the matter is that Pakistan’s present-day democracy is virtually without democratic substance.  The political “Superheroes” of a “Muk-Muka” democracy (the PMLN-PPP leadership) are in ideological agreement that the doctrine of vested interest politics and its relentless exercise is the only option that is suitable for a democratic Pakistan.  In other words, what is good for them (PMLN-PPP plans) is good for the nation – nothing else can work or can be allowed to work.  You, as an ordinary citizen, already know that – so do I.  It is not knowledge of their intentions that we lack. What has been missing so far today is the courage to draw substantive conclusions from what we know – and to act.

And what do we know certainly to be the truth of the matter in August 14, 2014, Pakistan? Here at the confluence of Pakistan’s so-called democratic history of “Muk-Muka” dispensations, of widespread poverty and blatant use of political-economic power by the vested interest ruling elite, the lives of common folks in this country are worth NOTHING. Hence, the inevitable conclusion is that for all the figurative ways in which the present-day Pakistani democracy is being hailed as a sacred cow, when it comes to matters of substance, it has no substance whatsoever. It amounts to nothing more than a meaningless exercise of sentimental and symbolic democratic rhetoric.

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Ironically, on top of this ground reality, the incumbent PMLN regime continues to ask some polemic and naive questions: Why are we being blamed?  Where have we gone wrong? What have we done inappropriately to deserve such negative criticism and harsh treatment at the hands of prejudicial politicians and the misled public?

Let us start from the beginning.  In the first place, the PMLN leadership is accused of rigging and stealing the public mandate in last year’s general election.  Hence, it is an unlawful government.  Even if this accusation is set aside until proven as such, there are other serious violations of normal democratic norms and the lack of application of democratic objectives as practiced all over the democratic world.  My observation is that in blind and relentless pursuance of their vested interest political and economic politics, the PMLN leadership has completely ignored a “people-centric” approach to governance during the last 14 months – even before that in their entire political history, they have remained consistently unsympathetic and irrelevant to the concept of general public welfare as the fundamental objective of the democratic polity.  The fundamental problem is that the Sharifs, unable to shake off the shackles of their traditional mindset of defining democracy in the extremely narrow sense as the exercise of political power for economic vested interests, have been unable to appreciate the contours of the changing nature of public consciousness in this country and, consequently, have failed to understand what real public issues are and how to resolve them.  The PMLN leadership’s central flaw is that they have misunderstood what democracy is all about.

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Let me illustrate my point by an example: Take for instance the former Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, whose public popularity has made it possible for his election as the first directly elected President in Turkey.  Erdogan has been controversial and accused of being authoritarian, overbearing and combustible in his political behavior, but his public image and popularity is because of the unprecedented socio-cultural and economic boost that he has managed to give the Turkish nation in a relatively short period of a decade long era under his leadership.  Erdogan’s “11-year tenure as Prime Minister has marked an exceptionally successful period in Turkish history, with a GDP growing from $200 billion to $800 billion.  Turkey is one of the rare countries with income inequality on the decline.  Access to healthcare is universal, and social policies that once used to benefit only the middle class have been re-collaborated to address the legitimate needs of the poor and disenfranchised.  Half a million units of public social housing have been completed.  Infrastructure has leapfrogged. The number of people who took a domestic flight went from 9 million annually to 76 million. As a result, the average Turk today leads a far better life than he or she did a decade ago,” wrote Ali Hakim Al Tinay of the European School of Politics in Istanbul recently.

This is a prime example of how a democratic leadership establishes its credit-worthiness and democratic legitimacy.  I dare ask the PMLN and PPP leaderships: Where is your credit-worthiness? Where is your democratic legitimacy worthy of honoring your leadership as democratic, nationalist, “people-centric” and for that matter simply trustworthy?

I’m not being judgmental, but both the Sharifs and Zardaris have allegedly amassed huge wealth as a consequence of the political power they have misused for their personal vested self-interest and economic benefits.  The issue here is that of the conflict of interest principle that is a fundamental parameter of a democratic polity.  The result is that the public at large is resentful and feels like a nation under the occupation of a vested interest “Superheroes” of “Muk-Muka” democracy camouflaged under the guise of a democratic dispensation.  And why shouldn’t the common folks feel that way? The socio-economic inequalities in the society at the present time are unprecedented in Pakistan history, poverty has increased, social services are absent, life and property is under threat, the socio-cultural set-up is collapsing and the nation is losing its self-esteem, self-respect and sanity, while the so-called democratic leadership is getting more powerful, richer, authoritative, and resentful that its self-proclaimed democratic credentials are being questioned and challenged at the street level.


But this had to happen.  The relationship between the traditional Pakistani status quo-oriented ruling elite, namely the PMLN-PPP leadership, and the political actors demanding fundamental change in the political structure have recently swung to the extreme ends of a pendulum.  It is not something that has happened suddenly – Pakistani society has finally reached the level of political consciousness and awareness where the need for an exclusive doctrine of “people-centric” democratic culture and structure has become an inevitable need for this nation’s continued existence.  There is no other alternative available to sustain this country as a unified nation.  We have reached an impasse.  Status quo politics is an old disease and that disease is in the process of being cured.

I would conclude that the Sharifs-Zardaris and their kind are politically irrelevant to this nation now. This is the judgment of history – not any less than that.

You may disagree with me – but lay down your cards as I have. Do not bluff anymore. The game is already over.

Cry, my beloved country, but you are experiencing the pangs of re-birth!