Rulers of Pakistan are still busy in power game in Islamabad, but the terrorists have almost succeeded in establishing their government in parts of tribal areas situated on Pak-Afghan border. It is ironic to note that rulers in Islamabad have still been claiming that they have the control of tribal areas and other parts of the country, but the ground reality is totally different from their claims. I have just returned to Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province from Bajaur Agency, tribal areas. Terrorists have established their government there. I witnessed with my own eyes Taliban and terrorists have been patrolling the areas. The security forces have almost abandoned their duties. On Friday the terrorists killed and injured scores of people in front of my eyes. I saw the personnel of law-enforcing agencies running for their life.
According to report from Swat, Major General Nasser Janjua who leads the operation in Swat has no hesitation in saying who was responsible for the takeover of the Valley by warlord Fazlullah. He named Al Qaeda and went on record as saying that “foreigners” belonging to Al Qaeda were operating in the area. He pointed at Uzbeks, Chechens and Afghans, but did not name the country when he said that some foreign country was collaborating with Al Qaeda to destabilise Pakistan. We can add that the purpose behind this intervention is to create conditions in Pakistan to facilitate its break-up so that a mini-state belonging to Al Qaeda can be established.
A political writer discussed the situation in Pakistan. According to him, that the people of Pakistan are not ready for democracy is like saying that they are not ready to become rich either. Those that are rich believe that the poor would not know what to do with the money if they had it. And therefore they should remain poor until such time they can figure out how to be rich. Similarly, the power elite believes that those who have no power should wait until they learn how to use power before they can be safely given power. There is some truth in this idea about not making the poor rich as there is in the political empowerment of ordinary people since both will create problems for the ruling elite that also happens to be the rich. After all, what would the poor know about the proper uses of the latest S Class Mercedes? Or, for that matter about mansions that have more bathrooms than the number of people living in them. More importantly the poor would have no idea how to evade taxes and transfer their money to offshore accounts. Worse they would be entirely unable to treat their servants, as servants should be, spoiling all servitude for the real rich. After all, the rich always complain about getting good help. Therefore it is obvious that if the poor became rich, they would seriously inconvenience the previously rich. In a country like Pakistan where the economic pie is rather small, political power allows some to get a larger share of this pie than others. As such, those that participate in the political musical chairs would like to keep most of the spoils for themselves. One of the interesting things that has happened over the last thirty or forty years is that people in positions of power have intermarried to the point where they have essentially become one group that controls almost all the levers of power and patronage within Pakistan. Senior bureaucrats, established politicians, senior judiciary, wealthy industrialists, high-ranking officers of the armed forces and remnants of the landed aristocracy are now all interrelated. Included in this mix there are also the offspring of those that were once called the religious divines. And, there is little if any upward mobility evident in those that are not a part of this power-elite. This power-elite has absolutely no interest in expanding their numbers and admitting others that come from the lower echelons of society. True participatory democracy would force the induction of other players into this group and that would, to say the least, be undesirable. The last time something like this happened was after the 1970 elections. Since then there has been no reconfiguration of the ruling class in any meaningful fashion. Or perhaps to be forthright, such reconfiguration is actively discouraged. Under these circumstances, it is clear that any serious attempt at truly democratising Pakistan is just not going to happen, at least not any time soon. Sadly, people of Pakistan understand this well enough and that is clearly the reason why they are not willing to come out to protest for or against any particular group in the present political set up. This of course does not mean that there is no populist sentiment within the political elite. Unfortunately once any politician enters that level of power that brings with it the ability for personal enrichment, any populist principles are lost in the avalanche of financial benefit. The non-political players in the power-elite, however, have no qualms about accumulating wealth at the expense of the ordinary people. Here I would like to state that I am not in favour of forced redistribution of wealth. Moreover, many countries in the world tried that route and found that such systems did not work. But the opposite of redistribution is not aggregation at only the highest level. During the years of Ronald Reagan as president of the US, what came to be called Reaganomics or supply-side economics, became a part of the conservative pro-rich agenda. What this meant was that if the rich paid less tax, they would have more money to spend and so even the poor would benefit. This concept was also derisively called trickle-down economics. Participatory democracy and the distribution of wealth are indeed interrelated to some degree. Even in the wealthy countries of the west, the rich are indeed very rich but the poor are not very poor as in our part of this world. When the power-elite realises that it needs the support of the ordinary citizens to stay in power, it does try to make things better for them. In many developing countries that lack major natural resources, the improvement of the state of the poor is even today an ongoing battle. Those countries that have managed to create enough wealth to bring up the standard of living for all of their people are marked by one particular trait. All of them have the rule of law and some form of accountability that stems from the rule of law. Without that, all else is insufficient. Pakistan obviously has no rule of law. The recent assault on the senior judiciary was clearly an attempt by the ruling elite to undo the very concept of the supremacy of the rule of law. Today, we have a system in place that will ensure that the same faces that have ruled Pakistan in the past will return in some variation or the other. And, the people realise that things are not going to change for them in any meaningful way.
While our newspapers are full of shrill criticism of “American threats” and “interference”, there is palpable intervention going on inside Pakistan. According to some reports Russia too is playing its role “to get even” with Pakistan for what was done to Russian troops in the Afghan jihad. General Janjua is of the opinion that the foreigners belonging to Al Qaeda will probably make a comeback in Swat. So the army is planning to extend its operation to Dir, Bajaur and Waziristan. But as the drama of confrontation with Al Qaeda unfolds, the country is faced with another confrontation within pro-democracy forces that are divided over whether to contest or boycott the forthcoming elections.
So, the big question on January 8 is not going to be who wins but rather how many of the people actually come out and vote. My expectation is that the percentage of voters that actually do come out and vote will probably be about the same that came out to vote in the famous referendum of a few years ago.
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