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Democracy in the West and Pakistan

Imtiaz Gul | Nov 01, 2016

Lust for political power, permit, patronage and privileges stand out as the hallmark of a democracy (or the absence of it). This is in sharp contrast to most functional democracies, where political power fundamentally means passion, prestige, preservation of the rule of law and humility. There, most leading political leaders and generals alike go back to their modest two or three room apartments, often driving themselves, once their term finishes. Here, an army of police and para-military lead and tail our politicians — even if out of office, living in mansions to match the prowess of Arab sheikhs.

There, retiring presidents and prime ministers create think tanks, educational foundations and social issue advocacy centres for the collective good and welfare. Here, our leading lights end up beefing up their personal accounts and doubling (I am being modest) their private businesses. There, it is considered a conflict of interest. Here, it is considered privilege and smartness to use the official office for raising personal finances and business stakes.

There, ministers and members of parliament resign if caught overspending public money or unauthorised spending. Here, our prime ministers and their deputies dole out public money to cronies, journalists and PR firms — directly or through Pakistani diplomatic missions.

Here, a Nawaz League associate thinks that roughly Rs100,000, that a three or four members of a family earn at his factory, is more than they need. Contrast this situation with the same amount going into a family dinner for the same gentleman at a 5-star hotel in Pakistan itself.

There, the fear of accountability and the certainty of punishment deters heads of governments and their ministers from any unauthorized expense. Here, our ruling elites dig into public kitty to shower favours on friends, media henchmen, and bureaucrats. Bhuttos, Zardaris, Sharifs, and Generals alike have been doing this; feting cronies and media czars in Washington, London, Berlin and elsewhere. All at state expense.

In Germany, former president Christian Wulff stepped down from his position in February 2012 immediately after prosecutors said they had asked the German parliament to lift his immunity. He didn’t wait for the prosecutors to prove the charge. Their statesman, Willy Brandt, left politics once accused of having favourd a lady. Here, accusations don’t work. Business interests trump morality and principles such as conflict of interest just because they are mutually beneficial.

Here, our ruling elites insist on being proven guilty in the court. But they depute government servants to service their sons and daughters in total contravention of rules. Their privileged indeed because they are elected, peoples’ representatives. They do so because they know even the Supreme Court and NAB could take years to settle the issue — often through the despicable practice of plea bargain. The NAB itself is accused of serious malpractices — from Karachi to Peshawar — relating to the discretionary powers of the Chairman of NAB (to adjudicate cases involving Plea Bargains or Voluntary Returns of Corruption Monies).

There, people like David Cameron resign because their nation decides a referendum against his wishes. Here, they shelter behind “peoples’ mandate” when faced with issues of moral integrity. Any questions asked and they begin howling over “imminent threats to democracy.”  Since the year 2000, over 100 heads of governments or ministers resigned in Europe, USA and Americas, most of them over allegations of corruption, abuse of power or failing their oath. Here, we insist on accountability through courts (because they don’t function as efficiently as they should) or “election is the best accountability (because the electoral system that is flawed, prone to manipulation and replete with lacunas that allows the forces of status quo to win over and over again.) This is manifest in their unwillingness to reform the system and hold the urgently needed census.

In neighbouring India, a poor man Modi rises to the rank of prime minister. Or even Atal Behari Vajpayee or a technocrat like Manmohan Sing — both from extremely humble backgrounds catapult into power. There, they drive locally manufactured vehicles and go to their own medical facilities. Here, our fragile ruling elites don’t find any facility worth their treatment and hence create smoke-screens to get preferential treatment in London or elsewhere. Here, can anybody — other than Sharifs, Zardaris, Gillanis, Chaudhrys or Generals — even dream of occupying the highest office? There, the commitment to fight terrorism knows no distinction between good or bad, enemy or ally. It’s a straight fight.

Here even known terrorists/extremists draw stipends from governments — apparently against forces of terror — but inherently sympathetic to radical groups who might jeopardise their electoral interests.

Imtiaz Gul is the founder and Executive Director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), an Islamabad-based think tank. This piece was first published in The Express Tribune. It has been reprinted with permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.