The day our Prime Minister was lambasting NAB for harassing public officials and rich men without proof, and threatening to clip its wings if it did not mend its ways, a 55-year old woman died in the pursuit of her National Identity Card on the doorstep of NADRA in Gujranwala. According to her son-in-law who was accompanying her, she was roughed up by a guard there. It was reported that people who had paid on the side to jump the queue were being ushered in.
Isn’t it a bit odd that in a country where thousands of innocents languish in prisons for years on charges fabricated by their powerful enemies or because they cannot afford a decent lawyer, where children in Thar are dying because of misappropriation of funds, our Prime Minister is so deeply concerned about some public officials and rich men being investigated for corruption, and how it hurts their fragile honour? Is this where the heart of our democracy lies?
Our other leading light of democracy, PPP’s big boss Asif Zardari who is in a sort of self-exile since June last year, chimed in from abroad to second the Prime Minister. It is not only NAB which is hounding the poor rich men and powerful public officials, he noted, but also the FIA. Their parties that dominate the parliament are now active to amend the law in order to clip the wings of NAB, without waiting to see if the Bureau will behave itself as ordered.
Isn’t it more than a bit disturbing that in a country where nurses and doctors, clerks and teachers, white and blue collared workers are beaten, tear-gassed and dragged on the roads for demanding their due, the heart of our democracy beats for a handful of rich men and public officials being made accountable for shady deals and misappropriation of public funds amounting to billions of rupees? Why is their honor dearer to our leaders of democracy than the well-being of citizens being physically brutalised on our streets? Isn’t democracy about public welfare?
What good are all the figures about our shining economy if they do not translate into a better life for Pakistani citizens? What good is our record-breaking foreign exchange reserve if we let our children die of malnutrition? How can we celebrate a so-called economic miracle that springs from a mountain of debt? Are extravagant infrastructure development projects a substitute for a sound policy of social development? Is there no room for social justice in democracy?
It is obviously too much to expect from our leaders of democracy to confront corporate imperialism that is not only impoverishing our rich land and its hard-working people but also makes democracy meaningless. Members of our political elite, after all, are the cogs in that cruel mega-bucks machine and also its beneficiaries. But don’t they all agree that terrorism is the biggest threat to democracy? Didn’t they all get together to draw up the National Action Plan to counter it? So why is it so low on their priority list? Why can’t they find the money to make NACTA functional or the will to implement other points of the plan?
Democracy has been reduced to a jugglery of numbers and hollow rhetoric that leaders throw at the public. It’s all about economy and development we are told. What they don’t tell us is the fact that it is all about a deviously fabricated economy and development tailored to suit the interests of a few rich men; that the laws and regulations they frame in our name are designed to benefit them and their tycoon cronies here and abroad; that the only crumbs they care to throw are eaten up by corrupt networks of patronage they lord over.
So while hard-working citizens, and the poor who need some support from their government, get burdened by more and more taxes, those at the top of the heap get tax breaks and exemptions. PIA is declared an Essential Service to arm-twist its protesting employees but dispensable enough to sell it off for peanuts in a deal behind closed doors. Isn’t democracy meaningless without transparency? Isn’t it a farce without accountability?
We are told we will get our chance to make them accountable in 2018. Until then, we must give the leading lights of democracy a carte blanche to do as they please. After all, they have been given the mandate by the electorate, half of which never voted. The electoral system that gives them power over us is broken, but they don’t want to fix it. The representativeness of our parliamentary system is a joke. How they run the system is a bigger joke. But the show must go on and all of us must applaud its every gory scene.
If it is some consolation, Pakistan is not the only country where democracy has been turned completely on its head, its soul appropriated by manipulated macroeconomic indicators within a fraudulent neoliberal framework, its spirit chained in a system that works for entrenched elites alone. Even in the bastions of democracy, countries out to impose it on the world, with military might where necessary, it is all about money and the moneyed. The assumption is that eventually it will trickle down and benefit all. It never does.
The public is taught lessons in austerity and living within their means while banks considered too big to fail get trillion-dollar bailouts. There is ample money to throw around on wars of aggression in the garb of humanitarian interventions and other frivolous pretexts but no money for public welfare. Consider this: These are countries where democracy is stable and in place for many long years. It would be foolish to think that our democracy will mature into something different without addressing the fallacies of the neoliberal framework within which it works and fixing the system so that it works for the public rather than a few rich men.
Have you ever wondered why corruption is considered to be an acceptable part of democracy the world over? And why do they hang people in China for it?

The writer is a freelance columnist.­

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