I promised that I would get to the present. This is where we are at today. If we look carefully, we will get that odd feeling of dj vu that we all get sometimes in our lives. "We've been here before," we will think. "I know these people. I've seen them somewhere. Where was it? When was it?" We will then realise that we have pushed ourselves back to 1988, the beginning of an earlier "advent of democracy" era with much the same faces and much the same prescriptions - piles being cured by quacks. And we are in for another rollicking ride on the same roller coaster that will soon crash in the same place and we will be back in the same military hospital to be tended to by the same doctors with the same prescriptions and the same medicines - piles being cured with bayonets. In our obsession to get back to the past while searching for our roots in order to understand our genesis, we have reached the stage when there is no captain of the proud Ship Pakistan, only a gaggle of pirates, all wanting to steer it in different directions, all wanting to head towards dangerous rocks where it will founder yet again, but none with enough backing to take control of the vessel. Thus Ship Pakistan is going this way and that, rudderless with a rudder. If you think that this is a bit of an exaggeration, tell me: who is the ultimate decision-maker? At whose desk does the buck eventually stop? Who is the conductor of the orchestra? Everyone is beating their own drums, blowing their own trumpets, and creating such a cacophony that soon our eardrums will burst. The idiotic will, as usual, put their recording number 3 on play and utter: "Parliament is the ultimate decision maker." That's balderdash. Legislation should certainly be done by committee, but not decision-making. For example, if the earthquake of 2004 had happened today, who would take vital on-the-spot decisions? If there is a problem that requires a difficult, and therefore unpopular, decision, whom should we expect the decision from? Or, if there is a decision to be made which is popular (though not necessarily correct) but it doesn't suit some of the power-holders, who will decide? Go to the president? But he has been shorn of most of his powers. In any case, he is not the chief executive and head of government, the prime minister is. Ultimately, all policy is given the nod by the prime minister, policy that parliament is free to debate and even strike down if it can, or have amended. The prime minister can take any and every advice he likes, but at the end of the day it is he who decides. hat in a parliamentary system the cabinet shares joint responsibility and the prime minister is first amongst equals is a myth that responsible nations don't test, like all men equal before the law. Had that been true, Nixon wouldn't have been pardoned and neither would we have had a National Reconciliation Ordinance that indemnifies rulers from corruption and "whitens" their loot, nor a pardon for a former prime minister underwritten by a brotherly potentate. Present him with a tough decision and today's prime minister will go to his party's co-chairman (the chairman not being old enough to be in the loop). His co-chairman will have to refer it to his coalition partner's leader (its party president not being in the loop either) and the leaders of the other coalition partners as well. They will then try and forge an animal by committee. If the committee finally does manage to produce something, you can be sure that it won't be a camel, a most useful animal, but a mutation - an aberration. (Sure other countries have coalition governments too, but their prime ministers are not puppets of their party leaders being blackmailed by the leaders of their coalition partners). In the meanwhile, they will try their utmost to divert people's attention to relative irrelevance's to keep it from getting focused on the real issues - a crashing economy, scarce and undrinkable water, inflation, skyrocketing food prices and food scarcity, expensive and scarce electricity and gas, high fuel prices, near total insecurity, lack of education and medical care, no justice at the lowest grassroots level whoever the Supreme Court's judges might be at the highest level and total human degradation...I won't even mention other pressing social, economic and human needs. While all this goes on, only the extremists gain, for their needs are very few, until one day they will clamber aboard Ship Pakistan and overwhelm it, exactly what is anathema to America (which has played the biggest role in bringing us to this sorry pass) and our la de da class created by the mind of Lord Macaulay - "Where, oh where will I find a restaurant that will make me feel like I'm in Paris?" Those who assert that everything will be fine once the president goes and the chief justice and his fellow deposed judges are restored and the present judges are deposed have got to be more stupid than simpletons. Actually, they're neither stupid nor simpletons, they're just selfish hypocrites who did anything and everything anti-people and anti-democracy to prop up real civilian and military usurpers when they were in office. Many of them are the retired civil and military bureaucrat type (same species in different garbs), angry with the president for not giving them a place under the sun; a place to which they have got used and thus think is their birthright. The deposed chief justice is nothing more than a weapon to them with which they can "get" the president. What's really special about the deposed judges of the honourable Supreme Court is that following in the footsteps of "their lordships" before them, they too legitimised the 1999 army takeover, gave it legal cover and took oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order of the time. What miracles do they think this present gaggle of politicians in authority - all previously tried, tested and found wanting - will perform without the president that they cannot with him? They had ample opportunity from 1988 to 1999, but their only achievement then was to murder the economy in the process and nearly have Pakistan declared a failed state. Then one ran away before Musharraf's time because of fright of the other democrat's vengeance; the vengeful democrat fooled Musharraf through some foreign leaders into pardoning him in return for certain promises that he didn't keep and which were not enforced, and ran away too. Years later, all again did deals through foreign leaders, took more pardons and returned - to resume from where they had left off? Would innocent people ever agree to a pardon? "Pardon for what?" they would naturally ask. During that "democracy decade" too they were blaming the president and the army for their failures if they were in government or begging the president to dissolve the National Assembly and the army to launch a coup if they were in opposition. Now because a retired general and former army chief is president and they have made such a song and dance about democracy. Because inept government is now causing us to slide backwards, it is, as always, blaming the presidency. They don't dare blame the army, at least not just as yet, but the time is not far off when they will start bellyaching again about the ISI as well. That is why I have been saying that this time, whatever happens, we must let this process come to its logical conclusion and not get derailed because this is the only way our learning process will move forward. Our best way to learn may only be the hard way, though I wouldn't bet on it. We learned nothing from the debacle of East Pakistan and many of those who participated in the criminality and war crimes of that era have become the great sages and democracy lovers of today. But even the worm turns some day. If we do learn the hard way we will finally come to the realisation that alternating between the government being fronted now by the army, now by the politicians, is part of the same political process, not two separate processes. They are the two faces of the same establishment that it alternatively presents to keep the pro-ruling class anti-people status quo intact - when the people get fed up of the politicians the army face moves up front before they can revolt and damage the status quo; when people get fed up of the army and there is talk of unrest, a balloting exercise is held and the politicians are brought back up front. It's a political yoyo in which there is a lot of coming and going but no forward movement - when the politicians return it is the same old faces with the same old broken promises; when the army returns, it is the same old promises unfulfilled. Neither face is allowed to come to its logical conclusion that would enable the country to move on, even if they suffer grievously in the process. We're used to that. The only face that matters is the face of the people, which is kept firmly in pardah. E-mail: hgauhar@nation.com.pk