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The reluctant democrat

reluctant
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Faisal Zaman |

“It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.”

It takes a handful of people to hijack a plane, a couple of robbers to loot a bank. One man can take hostages up to 50, 100 or even more people. A suicide bomber can cause multiple causalities while a lone shooter can unleash mayhem at will. In modern times a trained hacker can single-handedly breach a well-guarded IT system and get access to gigabytes of sensitive personal data, valuable business information and trade secrets.

Is it then possible for a group of people to hijack a nation state, taking its entire population hostage, looting its resources and still managing to retain political autonomy?

In theory, yes this can be done. In practice, we are living in one.The two common features that stand out in any successful heist is infiltration i.e. entering a system unnoticed and assuming control. Once this is accomplished, next part of the operation kicks in – collecting the booty and leaving. The infiltrator will extend his stay in the control is strong and more rewarding.

When a large portion of our population craves for two meals a day they will not question whether a democratic leader, a military dictator or a hardline religious fanatic feeds them. Hunger and poverty create their own masters.

Entering a system is not difficult if properly planned and executed. All one needs to do is to blend in with the surroundings, exude an unassuming likable character, carefully concealing the real intent under the pretentious garb of grace and humility. It is advisable to avoid attracting unnecessary attention at this stage. Once inside the system, the Trojan will attempt to assume control.

Fear is the most effective means to assume control. It has been established through studies that fear paralyzes all other emotions, creating a sense of helplessness, forcing a subject to follow commands without resistance. Historically, fear has demonstrated the ability to bring down individuals and nations. It is the most potent yet invisible weapon and in the hands of an intelligent and ruthless rogue, it can play havoc.

Read more: No judicialization but only democratization of democracy

In developed societies, there is a continuous fight between the invaders who want to penetrate the system and the insiders who are assigned the task to protect it. These insiders build legal barriers so that invasion is detected and defeated at the earliest stage. If intrusion succeeds then there are institutions that fight back. Ultimately the judicial system, the ultimate guardian, steps in and punishes the trespasser and establishes its lawful writ. There is a unified will and intent to stop and where required, undo the wrong.

In the third world, there is no such will or intent. The protective shield to check an intrusion is extremely porous. The society is torn apart by linguistic, ethnic, religious, political and nationalistic preferences. Here, normally, the insiders are the welcoming partners. There is a weak and compromised institutional structure incapable of holding off an attack to the entire system. The bureaucracy followed by judiciary often side with the mighty transgressor and gleefully grants clean chits to the crooks. Ultimately, there is complete subjugation at all levels.

The centers of religious harmony have also fallen prey to this menace. Our Parliament too is a wanton gathering of the immoral mortals.

The plan to take over a political system has multiple phases. Once inside, the invader will build a foundation that sustains an authoritarian rule by strengthening the pillars that support dictatorial tendencies. Oppression through state machinery will be encouraged. A culture that seeks absolute submission will be promoted followed by cultivation of a sense of despair in the masses. Finally, accountability will be sent packing. Those who toe this line will profit from their complicity. Those against it will face worst form of retribution.

Sadly, Pakistan enjoys all the above dreaded attributes to allow any adventurer to be successful, every time. In the last seventy years, we have had successive martial laws, a so-called presidential system, numerous dictatorships and democracy in the name of revenge. It is also true that perhaps the most disillusioning of all the systems we have tried is this distorted brand of democracy that has caused the most suffering.

Look at the figures below.

For every 1000 babies born in Pakistan, 66 die before their first birthday (https://data.unicef.org/country/pak/). The under-five mortality rate for every 1000 live births is 79 (source https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.DYN.MORT). That is 6.6% of the total infant population and 7.9% of the under-five population respectively that are destined to die due to lack of proper care. To an insensitive mind, this figure may not be high.

In modern times a trained hacker can single-handedly breach a well-guarded IT system and get access to gigabytes of sensitive personal data, valuable business information and trade secrets.

But alarmingly under five mortality rate in Afghanistan is 77 per 1000 live births. Other countries on the list that should make us quiver with shame are Ethiopia 58, India 43, Iraq 31, Bangladesh 34, Egypt 23 and Iran 15. Now that is a statistical comparison that craves our attention but of course none will be given.

“So we are not alone”, an optimist from the government ranks boasted when confronted with the above mortality numbers for infant deaths before the first birthday. Others entrusted to control such morbid happenings were more proactive. They proposed that a newborn must go straight to his second birthday, skipping the first one as well as his death!

Read more: Elitocracy: The Pakistani democratic system

Here is an outpour of some more disturbing numbers. 29.5% of our population lives below poverty line (https://www.adb.org/countries/pakistan/poverty). Multidimensional poverty figures stand at 40%. That is more than one third of the total population. A whopping 59 Million of our people are extremely poor not being able to eat two meals a day. In Dollar terms people who earn less than the US $1.90 (approx. Rs. 200) are stated to inhabit these depths of poverty, a black hole of unimaginable misery devouring generation after generation, where even our imagination fears to venture.

In Human Development Index (http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/2016_human_development_report.pdf), Pakistan is ranked at No 147 out of 188 countries, trailing Libya, Panama, grappling with civil unrest Egypt, war-torn Syria and Iraq with our very own umbilical brother Bangladesh.

To add insult to injury we have 22.6 Million out-of-school children (https://www.dawn.com/news/1319300).

In Corruption Perception Index (https://www.transparency.org/news/feature/corruption_perceptions_index_2016), Pakistan stands at 116/176 securing a miserable 32/100. About 84% of our countrymen do not have access to safe drinking water (PCRWR). There is acute shortage of doctors and paramedical staff. 46% people use unimproved sanitation facilities with 13% of our populace practicing open defecation.

In where-to-be-born-index (formerly Quality of life index) Pakistan is ranked 93rd/111. This index shows that “which country will provide the best opportunities for a healthy, safe and prosperous life in the years ahead”.

Winston Churchill once said that the best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter. And he was right. The above credentials show that a considerably large chunk of our population is a congregation of poverty stricken uneducated lot without basic necessities of life striving to get enough food just to see their tomorrows. And what do we expect from this part of our population? Well, not much. We just want them to vote according to their conscience and elect the best representatives so that democracy could flourish!

Pakistan enjoys all the above dreaded attributes to allow any adventurer to be successful, every time. In the last seventy years, we have had successive martial laws, a so-called presidential system, numerous dictatorships and democracy in the name of revenge.

This is where the conflict lies. Democracy is the “freedom” to make a choice. A choice for achieving common welfare through collective participation and contribution where principles of equality, justice and fairness are applied and there is rule of law. Democracy is not about holding elections every five years. It is all about accountability – holding the powerful answerable. Do we have this freedom?

Tragically, we are incapacitated to make a choice. There are millions of us who have spent their lives and have seen lives of their predecessors go by without tasting freedom. The figure of 59 million above represents an extremely suppressed class surviving on the margins of existence. These are the “Ultra Suppressed”. The condition of the middle and lower middle class is equally depressing.

Read more: Jinnah’s 11th August Speech and our democratic values!

These two segments constitute the majority of our population. The upper middle class is living in an illusion of freedom and is often disconnected from the ground realities. Whereas true and unrestricted freedom with all its glitz and glamour is reserved for the rich and the mighty. Though the elite, population wise, is a mere handful they control the entire system.

The stronghold of a few hands on the resources of our country means that those longing for food and security, a compromised majority, will ultimately revert to the powerful minority. However, the rules of the game dictate that hunger should be reduced marginally but not removed totally. Make them come back again and again, is the plan. Poverty empowers the rich and that is how it must remain. This is called “the status quo”.

A misery yearns for an immediate end but luxury strives for perpetuity. In these two diametrically opposed concepts we will find Pakistanis struggling and reveling, at the same time. On one scale of the balance, we have hungry mouths and deprived masses disowned by a decadent incapacitated institutional structure, trapped in the labyrinth of fear. While on the other scale we have tons and tons of unexplained wealth, naked instances of illegitimate enrichment, nauseating extravagance, unparalleled freedom, fun, and frivolity. Both these worlds exist in the same cosmos but one is relishing at the expense of the other.

When you allow this impoverished populace to make a choice, guess what they will choose. They will certainly opt for anyone who offers them an escape. They will surely trade morality for food and security. Here loyalty and eternal allegiance are offered in exchange for freedom. People willingly enter the slave chambers to avoid death by hunger.

Others entrusted to control such morbid happenings were more proactive. They proposed that a newborn must go straight to his second birthday, skipping the first one as well as his death.

In an equation where poverty makes the rich richer, we will always end up with the same result, the rich making the poor poorer. This is why things will never change in Pakistan no matter how many elections are held or dictatorships imposed. We the people have become the real problem for Pakistan. And there are some who believe this portion of the masses will realize its constitutional duty and conform to democratic norms!

What are the chances that a genuine democracy will ever exist in Pakistan? Well, the probability of man setting foot on Mars and back is better than true democracy landing in Pakistan.

There is another dimension to our story. Abject poverty and uncapped affluence have one common consequence. Both challenge and erode a subject’s morality. This cycle of continuous oppression and unchecked prosperity that we witness has produced a series of morally corrupt generations. If we look at ourselves we will notice moral deprivation is endemic at all strata of the population. We have corrupted our offices and homes. We have not even spared schools and colleges.

Read more: Will Nawaz learn a democratic lesson from Zardari?

The centers of religious harmony have also fallen prey to this menace. Our Parliament too is a wanton gathering of the immoral mortals. Almost all institutions have become graveyards of morality. For such a nation, no matter what the system, the outcome will be the same.

The solution lies in restoring the balance. That can be done by alleviating the despicable plight of the millions through slow but steady electoral process, which will take many years, without any guarantee of success. But what if that tiny percentage of the population, who is in control, is forced to loosen its grip on power? Just think for a moment, lose those spectacles of fear and visualize.

A misery yearns for an immediate end but luxury strives for perpetuity. In these two diametrically opposed concepts we will find Pakistanis struggling and reveling, at the same time.

Before concluding, allow me to add a word of caution. When a large portion of our population craves for two meals a day they will not question whether a democratic leader, a military dictator or a hardline religious fanatic feeds them. Hunger and poverty create their own masters. At present our freedoms are enslaved, our will is broken, our purpose lost. We need someone, a reformer, who could teach us to dream again, who could show us the way, untie us, educate us, make us wise and worthy. One who could revive and rekindle our moral spirit. Awaken our sense of being. We need Iqbal and Faiz of yesteryear. And our media men, only those among them who still retain their independence, can play a pivotal role in this nation rebuilding.

More and more air time should be allotted to social scientists, psychologists, intellectuals, thinkers, educationists so that they could clear the smog of ignorance and unveil a road map for an enlightened future. Let us not forget if subjugation can be achieved by a limited elite, liberation too can be unlocked by a few good men.

Faisal Zaman is a fourth generation lawyer with more than 20 years of professional experience. He has also worked with the apex regulator of the corporate world and has acquired intrinsic knowledge about core corporate issues as well the working of a federal institution. His legal practice involves transactional, contractual, mediation, advisory and research assignments within one or multiple jurisdictions.

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