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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Pakistani Parliament: Democratic Institution or Colonial Tool?

Author retraces the roots of democratic institutions from American war of independence and how it affected the British colonial mentality in India. He, then, asks if Parliaments in Pakistan have served the people? Why not? Informative, Provocative!

“Watching state interests” this term is extensively used by individuals who control levers of statehood. While people at the helm enjoy the powers and privilege showered on them by the state, the common man continues to suffer. The colonial set up that we inherited needs to be re-engineered as it has failed to serve the masses, whose interests are being trampled instead of being watched.

Theoretically, the elected representatives of the people are required to protect the rights of the electorate. In the checkered history of Pakistan only two elected houses (1946, 1970) tried to deliver, the rest badly failed. The pseudo, fabricated democracy that we have been enduring since 1977 has been disastrous for the nation. The level of legislation and debate in the current legislature is not up to the mark either.

In democracy the state is required to work in the best interests of the people, it has to serve not rule

Today the state of Pakistan is non-functional and highly in debt (Rs.30,000 Billion). It spends and consumes but delivers almost nothing. The interests of the state insiders and outsiders are divergent. On August 14, 1947 the country inherited a colonial set-up which needed a major overhaul to serve a democratic dispensation. The founding fathers had a vision to transform the inherited state apparatus. Expenses were controlled, till 1958 the nation remained debt-free. Everyone lived within their means.

Free land, frontiersmen & Gun control?

In the 18th century when the British Imperial forces were defeated by the American states Militias, they decided to redefine the state. Under the colonial set-up land belonged to the king. The crown decided the distribution of all resources. In the post colonial democratic set up of United States of America (USA) the ownership of land was transferred to the people. Law of Homestead was enacted under which every citizen could claim one square mile of unattached government land. As long as the claimant lived there he could not be dislodged.

In search of greener pastures people travelled on covered wagons from East to the West coast. On the way they claimed Homestead on free land which was then used as a collateral to get development loans. Within a few years vast areas were developed by the people themselves. In search of new frontiers these adventurous individuals kept going till they reached the Pacific Ocean. They were called ‘Frontiersmen’. Till today individual freedom is revered and protected by law, state cannot usurp the rights of the people which are enshrined in the constitution.

The right to bear arms was another important facilitation for the people. Despite occasional incidents of shooting by disgruntled elements, there are no laws for ‘Gun control’. The pro-democracy ‘Gun lobby’ is very protective of their rights to have firearms. While Chairman Mao Tse Tung believed that, ‘Revolution comes through the barrel of the gun’, the American belief is that, ‘Freedom is protected by the gun’. In other words gun plays an important role both for the success of the revolution and preservation of freedom.

Interests of the people have to be supreme state has to be made subservient to public well being in the absence of which the country has no future

Differences between a colonial and democratic state have to be understood. In democracy the state is required to work in the best interests of the people, it has to serve not rule. The first transition to democracy ended in 1958 when the republic came under the boots. After the breakup of Quaid’s Pakistan the second attempt was again short lived (1971 – 1977). General Zia took control of the country after toppling the civilian government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB). On the promise of holding elections his misrule continued till August 1988. The era of pseudo democracy then started with ‘Ruffin Leadership’ that has continued in one form or the other to inflict harm on the citizens.

With a popular civilian leader at the helm hope has been rekindled but the ‘Evil State’ is too entrenched, it continues to watch its own interests while the nation languishes in misery. One visit to any government office highlights the plight of the people while the officers enjoy unaccountable power and privileges; they enter through separate gates, have reserved parking and attached toilets. The public is made to suffer and treated as beneficiaries and beggars not customers, to be facilitated and served as respectable citizens.

Read more: Political tangles

Like the incumbent President Dr. Arif Alvi, Farooq Leghari was a well read individual. In the mid nineties he formed several committees for the development of technology. In one of the meeting at the Presidency in mid nineties a proposal was raised for the de-regulation of the telecom sector.

Two federal secretaries (Defence, Science and Technology) sitting next to the Head of State vehemently opposed it as in their opinion it was against state interests due to security concerns. Legari Sahib wanted to know the reason. The entire air space is reserved for the Armed Forces use was their reply. I and some experience of transmission frequencies worldwide. Internationally, frequencies are defined for defence use whereas the rest of the air space is made available for public use.

With the state, public interests have also to be watched, it has to be a win win situation. It was because of that meeting in the Presidency and pursuit by the President that the country today has the fastest growing telecom sector in the world, totally deregulated. PTCL can no longer exploit the public for new telephone connections as they have several other options.

Read more: The Godfathers of Pakistan: Sharif-Zardari empires

Till the seventies people of Pakistan did not have the right to travel, state had total monopoly on issuance of passports. No one could apply for the document unless a Class-I Gazetted officer attested the application. It was the elected government of ZAB that conceded this right to the people. For verification purposes, manual Identity Cards were issued to the citizens enabling them to get passports.

It was in the seventies that Pakistanis left in hoards in pursuit of better future. Today, the country depends on their remittances for survival. Interests of the people have to be supreme state has to be made subservient to public well being in the absence of which the country has no future. The debt-ridden, evil, colonial anti-people state has to be dismembered for the real Islamic Republic of Pakistan to emerge.

Dr. Farid A. Malik is Ex-Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation. The article was first published in Daily Times and has been republished here with the author’s permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.