The Supreme Court finally set the record straight last week. I guess the honorable judges got tired of being mindlessly blamed for everything that’s wrong with our system of justice. The question is: Will our leaders of opinion take note?

What was observed by Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja and Justice Asif Saeed Khosa during court hearings last Thursday should have been obvious to our ‘expert’ media commentators from day one. However, the discourse on judiciary in the media has been misleading to put it mildly. Worse still, those ‘informing’ the public continued their single-minded judiciary-bashing even while discussing the serious issue of military courts recently.

The blanket tirades against judiciary have only served to obscure the culprit principally responsible for the woes of our justice system; our oh-so-dear elected government. After all, the judges cannot be blamed for the poor investigation and weak prosecution in cases. It is up to the executive to improve upon these aspects. Similarly, it is the executive that has the power to increase the number of judges to tackle the piling backlog of pending cases. Instead of accepting the responsibility for its glaring failures on these counts, the government has chosen to do what it does best; pass the buck.

While defending his decision to establish military courts, the prime minister was reported as saying that “the independence of judiciary is essential but equally important is the performance of the judiciary”. In the next breath he mentioned the pendency of cases and the breakdown of law and order, conveniently forgetting to accept his government’s role in bringing things to such a sorry state. He did not bother to mention that the repeated requests from the judiciary to increase the number of judges had been turned down by the government because of a ‘paucity of resources’.

What is one to make of a government that spends billions of rupees on a hare-brained metro-bus project that was not really needed but cannot spare much smaller sums for strengthening the justice system or setting up the crucial National Counter-Terrorism Authority? And what are we supposed to do when the fall-out of our elected government’s botched up priorities threatens the very order it presides over? Chant politically correct mantras to the useless idol of our parliamentary democracy?

It’s frustrating to see media celebrities, pundits and so-called experts bowing to worship the farcical idol, as if taking a critical look at the structural flaws of our so-called democratic dispensation amounts to some sort of blasphemy: This when the failure of our democracy project stares us squarely in the face. Quoting selective articles of the Constitution and mouthing spoon-fed rhetoric about the supremacy of the parliament, they defend the elected government’s right to pulverize our state and society, making hay while the world comes crashing down around us.

They lecture us about continuity and how everything will fall into place one fine day although there are no indications that it ever will under the present system. If anything, governance is on a slippery downward slide. In place of a sense of urgency on part of the elected government, there is a refusal to accept responsibility. Instead of the resolve to do something about the alarming situation by mending its oligarchic ways, we see our ‘democratic’ government going round the same grooves that have brought us to this state.

The concept of democracy is great. The only problem is that our democracy project has nothing to do with it. Whether it is the political leaders and the cults of patronage they run packaged as political parties or the coteries that run our governments, whether it is the transplanted parliamentary form of government or the colonial federating units, they are designed to concentrate political power in a few hands. The fate suffered by local governments, the tier that is closest to the people, demonstrates the abhorrence with which our entrenched political elite views self-rule.

The only aspect of our democracy project that could lend it a modicum of legitimacy, general elections, has been exposed as the fraud that they are. It is not only the various forms of rigging and irregularities that are a regular feature of our elections, but also the whole scheme of the exercise. The first-past-the-post system is a mockery of representative rule. Besides, what sort of democracy would make it impossible for more than 95 percent of the population to contest elections because they can’t afford it?

One could go on and on, but here’s my point: The serious problems ailing our democracy won’t go away unless we have the courage to rethink the foundation of our democracy project. To move towards a democratic polity, we need to restructure our federating units and democratic institutions with a view to bring power closer to the people. Instead of doing a cut-and-paste job, borrowing from hither and thither, we need to build a democracy according to our unique social and geographical realities.

Do the existing political leaders have what it takes to do that? Will it take a sincere general to fix the mess or will a new political party bring it about? Frankly speaking, I don’t know. What I know for sure is the inability of the present system to deliver democratic governance.

Take the establishment of military courts, for instance. What are the champions of democracy and its continuity essentially saying? That though our government has failed to punish the terrorists, and despite there being no sign that it has pulled up its socks to remove the inadequacies in the system, we should just go around the democracy bush, hoping it will happen one fine day, even as it gets from bad to worse.

The first step towards solving a problem is to understand it correctly. The media pundits would do well to stop pampering our democracy brat and targeting anyone trying to fill the dangerous vacuums it creates. They could start by correcting their knee-jerk anti-judiciary and anti-military biases and open their eyes to the inadequacies of our ‘democratic’ government. After all, it is not blasphemy to see beyond the idol of our parliamentary democracy.