It would not be an exaggeration to assert that after 1971 when the shenanigans of a military junta headed by a morally bankrupt and strategically clueless general led to the dismemberment of Pakistan, the country is currently passing through, perhaps, the most critical moments of its history. The nation is beset with serious crises both internally and externally. It is true that the roots of many of the problems confronting the nation can be traced to Pervez Musharraf’s dictatorial rule lasting about nine years. For instance, the power crisis is the direct result of the Musharraf government’s neglect of the power sector. Not only that, Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz by refusing to raise the electricity rates in line with the increase in its production costs and its tolerance of defaulters of electricity bills over a fairly long period passed on the burden of a huge circular debt to the Zardari-Gilani government making its task of alleviating the looming power crisis that much more difficult. The probability of the emergence of gas shortage by the year 2009 had been forecast by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources as far back as 2000. Despite this forecast, the Musharraf government failed to take any concrete steps worth mentioning to either increase the domestic production of gas, or implement the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, which could have provided the badly needed gas to the industry and the domestic consumers in the country. A major reason for the inability of the Musharraf government to implement the gas pipeline project was the US pressure and his readiness to oblige the Americans at the cost of national interests. Musharraf also through sheer neglect failed to build any large dam worth the name to make an efficient use of our water resources.
The process of the decline of PIA, Pakistan Railways and Pakistan Steel Mills started during Musharraf’s rule. In fact, it would be correct to say that his dictatorial rule was largely responsible for cronyism, gradual breakdown of State institutions and growing imbalance in favour of the army, as against the elected government in the body politic of the country. This could not be otherwise in a government where the rule of law and respect for the Constitution took the backseat for accommodating the whims of a military dictator. The military operations ordered by him in Balochistan shook the foundation of the federation.
Despite Musharraf’s tall claims, his government consistently neglected the education sector. Throughout his rule, the allocation of resources to education never exceeded 2 percent, as against the international norm of 4 percent of GDP. The situation in the health sector was, perhaps, even worse. In foreign affairs, he made Pakistan subservient to the US diktat. Besides the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, his total surrender to the US demands concerning Afghanistan and failed attempt to drag the country towards the recognition of Israel are just a few examples of his readiness to act as Washington’s lackey. The nation has been paying for Musharraf’s flawed political, economic and external policies since his departure.
Thus, the PPP-led coalition was faced with a colossal task when it assumed power in March 2008. Besides the problems mentioned above, the country’s Constitution had been mutilated beyond recognition by Musharraf in line with the typical thinking of our military rulers whose first priority is to perpetuate their rule, instead of providing political stability based on the strength of state institutions. Still it was the natural expectation of the people that an elected government representing the aspirations of the people would take prompt steps to improve their lot, in addition to strengthening political stability and rectifying the civil-military imbalance in favour of the former.
Unfortunately, barring the 18th Amendment and the National Finance Commission Award, the Zardari-Gilani government has little to show to its credit in the past four years. In every sector of economic life, conditions have deteriorated rapidly. Overall, the economy is in a state of stagnation because of the slow growth of GDP. The power and gas crises have assumed alarming proportions causing not only suffering to the domestic consumer, but also enormous damage to agriculture, industry and the overall productivity of the economy. The condition of Pakistan Railways, PIA and PSM is deplorable to put it mildly.
Instead of promoting the rule of law and meritocracy – the two essential ingredients of good governance – the present PPP-led government has fostered cronyism and the VIP culture. The former has resulted in the appointment of incompetent and corrupt people at the senior positions of the various government organisations and entities. Their appointment has lowered the overall efficiency of the institutions concerned, some of which have reached the point of total breakdown. In this regard, Pakistan Railways and PIA readily come to one’s mind. The appointment of an unqualified person with tainted background as the Head of OGDC to which the Supreme Court took exception is still fresh in everybody’s mind. There are innumerable other examples of the appointment of totally unqualified people to senior positions in various government organisations with predictable, disastrous results just because they happened to be the cronies of the PPP leaders. Perhaps, this party considers it its birth right to loot and plunder the country and destroy various State enterprises just because it has been elected to power. While the success in elections gives it the right to rule the country, this power must be exercised with responsibility. Unfortunately, it is precisely this sense of responsibility which is lacking in the governance style of PPP.
The VIP culture reflects itself basically in two forms. It can be in the shape of the enjoyment of special perks and privileges. Everyday we come across examples of the powerful and well-connected people in various sectors of life getting special privileges, which are denied to the common man. Another and, perhaps, a more serious form of the VIP culture is the absence of the rule of law. It is ironical that a party which had emerged as the voice of the masses has now become an instrument for the promotion of the VIP culture in which the powerful and the rich can defy the law with impunity and claim for themselves privileges at the cost of the welfare of the common man. We read daily stories in the newspapers about powerful people flouting the orders of the courts and ridiculing them. They would not be able to do so without the tacit approval or blessing of the government. There are innumerable stories of the powerful people and their sons and other relatives openly flouting the laws of the country and getting away with cases of blatant corruption.
In a democratic setup, all citizens must be equal before the law irrespective of their status or wealth. Similarly, the services that the government and its various organisations provide to the people must be available to them without any discrimination based on the position or status of a person in the society. The present PPP-led government, unfortunately, has failed to come to grips with the evil of VIP culture from which our society suffers. Let us hope that in the remaining few months of this government, it realises the serious adverse repercussions of the VIP culture on the welfare and harmony of the society. Its failure to do so, combined with its inability to deliver good governance, will confront it with the wrath of the people at the next elections.
The writer is a retired ambassador.