Jalees Hazir It has been reported that the Constitutional Reforms committee of the Parliament has managed to overcome differences on abolition of the concurrent list and its members are now working out the modus operandi of transferring departments in federal purview to the provinces. At one level, it is good to hear that the fractious political elite of the country has been able to reach agreement on an important political matter. At the same time, without taking anything away from the virtues of decentralisation of power, it is also important to take a closer look at this recent 'achievement of the committee and the corrupted context of national politics within which the committee operates. Any attempt to take a critical view of the well-entrenched political elite is construed these days as a conspiracy against democracy. We are expected to tolerate their incompetence and insincerity, their lack of vision and non-adherence to democratic values in order not to rock the system. The red rag of the so-called establishment is waved in front of our eyes to caution us that by calling a spade a spade we are playing into the hands of non-democratic forces. Such blackmailing in the name of democracy is extremely counter-productive. In fact, it is crucial to show a clear mirror to our political parties and their representatives in the Parliament in order to pave the way for better politics in the country. Take the case of constitutional reforms, for instance. The all or nothing approach adopted by the government is difficult to understand from a democratic standpoint. Building consensus is all very fine, but clubbing together of issues on which a broad-based consensus already exists, like parliamentary supremacy, with divisive issues like the renaming of NWFP, beats all logic. So the charge of critics that this is being done to stall the stripping of powers enjoyed by the president under the Seventeenth Amendment sticks. There seems to be no other explanation for the way the government has handled the issue of constitutional reforms. Besides, building consensus cannot be used as an excuse for not taking clear positions. The government has failed to take the initiative and lead the consensus in a direction based upon its political ideals. For instance, on parliamentary supremacy, the ruling PPP has a very clear stance repeatedly avowed in its manifestos and in the CoD signed with PML-N. Rather than making an effort to nudge others in that direction, important PPP members are themselves creating confusion over the issue and talking about balance of power between the presidency and the Parliament. Instead of building consensus they are actively eroding the consensus that already exists on the issue. The ruling party might be the most obvious culprit when it comes to playing insincere and deceptive games in the name of democracy, but certainly it is not the only one. In fact, the parties barely floating in the dirty mainstream of Pakistans politics are very similar in more ways than one. They share not only the irrelevance of their top-down structure to todays Pakistan but also their dubious future goals. They entice the electorate with repetition of well-learnt rhetoric about public interest, but it is obvious that they neither have the will nor the desire to change anything about the exploitative system that feeds their power and privileges. Popular demands are little more than bandwagons that they ride to get mileage. Take the case of provincial autonomy, a long-standing popular demand. On the face of it, the political parties in the Parliament need to be congratulated that they have finally reached agreement on the issue. But scratch the surface a bit, and you find a preoccupation with safeguarding existing political monopolies rather than any vision of bringing the government closer to the people. This is also reflected in the desire to reverse devolution under the last government instead of building upon it. In any case, the question of decentralisation cannot be addressed adequately without redefining the federating units. The existing federating units were carved out under the British Raj and successive governments have continued with them except for the disastrous experiment of One Unit under Ayub. The four provinces constitute a burdensome colonial legacy that needs to be substituted according to the realities and aspirations of an independent country. They do not make administrative sense and are unwieldy. The boundaries have been demarcated with no sensitivity to natural features. And they are controlled by provincial elites that are another face of the same political elite you see at the centre. Unfortunately, acquisition of power and its abuse for personal gains seems to have become the end all of politics, and the fact that there is no debate about rationalising the federating units in order to move towards a real decentralisation of power underlines it clearly. The reality that moving the centre of power from Islamabad to Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta would not solve the problems for a large majority of Pakistanis is conveniently ignored. After all, if the power were to be really decentralised it would erode the monopoly of the existing political elite and make them more accountable to their constituents. And no political party seems to be ready for that. The question is: Do the mainstream political parties have the capacity to democratise themselves, articulate the interests of their constituents and come up with programmes that truly empower and benefit the people of this country? Or, more importantly, do they even want to move in that direction? Going by how they continue to conduct themselves regardless of the mounting problems faced by the less privileged Pakistanis, it seems such noble goals seem to be furthest from their hearts and minds. A large number of people are beginning to feel that the answer lies in a new national political party that builds upon the emerging positive realities of the country rather than feeding on the exploitative structures so heartlessly perfected by our so-called political parties and their representatives for whom democracy begins and ends on election days. The writer is a freelance columnist.