Democracy is known for its revenge. In the year 2008, it struck in two places to take its revenge. It struck in America to crush the race "barrier" and installing in the White House the first-ever non-white President in US history. Democracy also struck in Pakistan with elections in February 2008 after two years of stormy civil and judicial strife ousting a dictator and the ignominy of his eight-year rule. The revenge it took in Pakistan was different from the one it took in America. In Pakistan, it installed a foreign-brokered NRO-based regime that had neither the will nor the ability to lead the country from those eight years of dictatorship into genuine democracy.

After five years of an NRO-based civilian rule, neither democracy took roots in our country nor did the people experience any socio-economic upturn. Instead, they found themselves stuck at the crossroads of another critical juncture suffering the worst ever governance crisis of their history. The country has drifted deeper into an abysmal political chaos and economic uncertainty. The common man’s life could not be more miserable with uncontrolled food and energy shortages, unabated violence and countrywide lawlessness.

Our economy is in shambles with no trust or credibility among world's lenders and investors. Meanwhile, the looters, plunderers, profiteers, murderers and killers could not have a safer haven anywhere else in the world. No other country is familiar with the practice of forgiving as a matter of rule the elite loan-defaulters, fake degree holders and the known highly placed plunderers of the national exchequer. In our benighted land, the culture of "power and privilege" and urge for greed is thriving on patronage, graft, bribery, extortion, nepotism, cronyism, influence-peddling, fraud and embezzlement.

Whether we accept or not, we are today high on the global radar screen for all the wrong reasons. Regrettably, terrorism and extremism are our sole identity now. No doubt, we have been the victim of this twin menace ever since our geopolitics made Pakistan the pivotal frontline of the two protracted Afghan wars. There is a cumulative historic perspective to this crisis, but, in essence, it is the legacy of two long spells of military rule in our country, 11 years of General Ziaul Haq and nine years of General Pervez Musharraf. And both were the blue-eyed boys of the West.

Last five years, however, could not be a drearier picture of governmental helplessness in the face of terrorism-led violence. Thanks to our incompetent and externally vulnerable rulership, we have been kept engaged on multiple external as well as domestic fronts. Now that the whole world is looking at the post-2014 scenario for peace in Afghanistan, our political leadership remains without any strategic vision to bring peace to our own country. Their strategic skills and scheming ingenuities were all devoted to devising self-serving intrigues and power-driven deals in collusion with foreign powers. The notorious Memogate was a classic example of their self-centred ‘strategic vision.’

Last year, we witnessed another scandal in what was no less than a double barrel attack on the country’s judiciary and media, the two pillars of the state which for our people were the last hope to save the country from the looters and plunderers sitting in privileged positions and elected houses whose only agenda is to further reinforce their own political power. It was a conspiracy to smear the image of the two pillars of the state and undermine their role in strengthening the rule of law in the country. The insidious attempt may not have succeeded in its ultimate objective, but it did create ripples in the public faith in the credibility of the two saviours of the country’s future.

Now if we look at the sequence of events since after the "prodigal" sons of our politics returned to the political centre-stage through the last elections, it is a dismal scenario. Our corrupt rulers seem to be masters in circumventing democratic and constitutional norms. As one links the loose ends in the recent caretaker selection drama, the last three constitutional amendments seem to have been ingeniously designed with the sole purpose of influencing the forthcoming election outcome. With no one trusting the outgoing regime, a unique but highly questionable process was devised for selecting the interim Prime Minister and provincial Chief Ministers to supervise the elections.

This whole process was deceitfully engineered to ensure their political power and incumbency of the high public offices remained intact. Nowhere in the world are governments appointed by an arbitrarily appointed group of five individuals most of whom are known to carry partisan affiliations. There couldn’t even be a bigger farce of democracy. This is the worst form of kleptocracy in which the government exists only to aggrandize the personal wealth and political power of the privileged few.

A petition has already been moved in the Supreme Court challenging the authority given under 20th Amendment to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to nominate the federal and provincial caretaker setups in the event of Assemblies failing to do so. This authority under Article 9(3) of Article 224-A of the constitution is repugnant to the constitution itself because the National Assembly has neither the jurisdiction to abdicate or delegate its authority to the ECP. The petition also makes serious allegations of ‘partiality’ against the ECP.

Initial handling of the scrutiny, the most important element of ensuring implementation of Articles 62 and 63, has been far from satisfactory. It exposed serious planning and decision-making deficiencies in the Commission. With adequately briefed and trained returning officers, the scrutiny process could have made more meaningful and all the hullabaloo and comic scenes could have been avoided. The need for non-selective enforcement of the constitutional eligibility criteria is indispensable. Instead of testing the candidate’s general knowledge, the real scrutiny should have focused on the known and proven cases of constitutional ineligibility.

Apparently, the vacillating ECP did take one good decision. On a suggestion received from the civil society, it announced the addition of a blank box marked ‘None of the Above’ on the ballot paper giving voters a democratic free choice to reject the entire slate of candidates in his or her constituency. This democratic provision known as NOTA would, indeed, have been a big revolutionary step in freeing the country by ballot of the same old tried and tested corrupt politicians and their rotten ‘status quo’. Regrettably, the ECP did not have the courage to stand by its decision and promptly withdrew it when some ill-advised media persons attacked it.

As for our caretakers, they know their only mandate is to oversee the holding of a free, fair and transparent election. They are not there to take major decisions or even to reverse previous government’s policies and projects. At this stage, they shouldn’t even be talking of personal hang-ups like Basant or other cultural festivals. These matters would be best left to the new elected governments. The caretakers should be focusing on providing interim relief to the people suffering worst hardship in terms of security, law and order, price control, regular supply of food and fuel and curtailing of loadshedding hours. They shouldn’t also be seen moving around in official motorcades fulfilling their social chores or attending ribbon-cutting functions and wedding ceremonies.

In this chaos and confusion, we also find a recycled dictator abruptly floated back in our turbulent political waters. Everyone knows who launched him and with what purpose. If anything, the judiciary should take notice of the increasing interference from outside in Pakistan’s domestic affairs. Having ruled NRO as an illegality, the Supreme Court must issue a ruling against any fresh similar attempts involving foreign powers, including our neighbourly kingdoms, sheikhdoms and sultanates playing as their Trojan horses. One of these ‘brotherly’ states is also a permanent sanctuary for our high-profile fugitive absconders. Already, two of them, a former Federal Minister and an Ogra Chief, in defiance of judicial orders, are enjoying its regal hospitality.

 The writer is a former   foreign secretary.    Email: shamshad2001@hotmail.com