The dogma of the status quo apologist has the military as the root of all problems. Having such an attitude is good for op-eds and tweets, but it doesn’t do much good for solving our issues or helping out beleaguered civilians. Slashing the defence budget wont help if there is no civilian capacity or priorities.

Decisions have to be made. We have a huge population that is young, aspirational, urban and more demanding of its elders in society, government and authority.

History has shown that majority (though not all) of the states that were able to provide their citizens basic services and conducive environments for growth were democratic. However in all cases, the journey wasn’t smooth or linear, nor was it uniform, with each country developing and evolving unique to their own conditions.

In Pakistan, unfortunately, one finds the debate perpetually stuck on civil-military relations. The “Civ-Mil” debate is nice, but irrelevant. Our political narrative is shifting. The rise of the PTI is testament to that. This rise maybe credited by status quo apologists to the military, but what goes missing is the demand side of the equation. Usually apologists swat away the demand side by dismissing them as urban and middle class, as if that’s something meaningful and justifies dismissing their demands for governance. Its almost as if the apologists are smugly asserting that the rural half of Pakistan isn’t interested in getting better governance.

Hence the time has come for moving beyond the civ-mil debate for both sides.

The military doesn’t have to step in, nor does a Chief Justice like Iftikhar Chaudhry need to take center stage. The people’s representatives are there and have to perform. What we need is a vigorous debate that leads to a reformed social contract, with a framework that enables service delivery by democratic forces. It should comprise the following, but by no means only, elements.

1. Creating new provinces on administrative lines, bringing the government and its services to the grass roots. Finishing the narrative of the big bad Punjabi for good and creating political competition where different provincial governments and leaderships compete to showcase their achievements.

2. Reversing extremism and crushing terrorism. We have come out with a National Action Plan, but progress is slow and in danger of getting reversed.

3. Water Reservoirs and affordable energy. Micheal Kugelman has recently written about the nature of Pakistan’s water stress. It is alarming and will be devastating if the status quo is maintained. Making smaller provinces has the added benefit of making Kalabagh dam non-controversial. The multiplier effect for the economy will be tremendous and financing these projects will be no hassle.

4. Access to a justice system that works. Everyone has to be made equal before the law with institutions of investigation and prosecution being improved and depoliticised.

5. An independent and autonomous election commission with no compromises on implementing its fiat. The Judicial Commission has a golden opportunity in addressing this.

6. Looking at ways of making the parliament more representative and responsive by having proportional representation. In too many seats, the winner has the plurality of the vote rather than the majority meaning the majority actually isn’t represented. This increases competition and keeps authoritarian governments at bay.

7. Direct election of the executive from the center to all the provinces with the executive having the right of making a cabinet of those who do justice to the post. After creation of smaller provinces and an adoption of proportional representation, the worries of those who were apprehensive of Punjabi dominance should get assuaged.

As is the case with most things on paper, the question arises, who will bell the cat? There are no easy answers.

The best way this gets done is if this assembly considers itself akin to a constituent assembly giving birth to a new and improved social contract.

These reforms should be legislated within timelines, and once instituted, fresh polls called.

Similarly, the best way for the khakis to stay out permanently is for the people to stop looking towards them as an alternative or saviour. All the courts and constitutional amendments cant prevent a military intervention if a polity loses the faith of its citizenry. The point of government, any government in this day and age, is to serve its people by improving and securing the lives of its people. If that very basic criteria can’t be met repeatedly in a system, then that system needs reform.

If the institutions want genuine reform and a stable and sustainable civilian setup that can deliver the goods, then they should employ their substantial political capital in assisting, cajoling, pressurising and nudging the parliament in the direction of reform.

A status quo apologist would say how dare they cross their limits? Someone wanting a democracy that works for Pakistanis would welcome this.

In a democracy as in a state, institutions matter. Political parties should matter more than party heads and dynasties. Parliaments should matter more than APCs. Committees should matter more than evening talk shows. It is time for the political class to stop being smeared for the few. It’s time for them to mobilize and force these reforms through in parliament and outside. If in a democracy, unaccountable, autocratic kleptocrats are going to rule, then who can stop the most powerful from ruling?