In Quetta, heading a three-member bench hearing cases regarding human rights violations and the worrisome law and order situation in Balochistan last week, the Chief Justice urged the government to implement the Constitution before the army imposes another martial law. Many champions of democracy took an exception to the Chief Justice's unambiguous remark, reading things in it that he did not say and insinuating that it was an invitation to the army to intervene. It seems that the government is in no mood to listen to this sane advice and it is determined to continue on its unconstitutional course. Later in the week, the Speaker of the National Assembly decided that she did not need to send the reference for Yousuf Raza Gilani's disqualification to the Election Commission of Pakistan despite his conviction for contempt of court. The convicted Prime Minister whose skin she'd saved, for the moment at least, declared her decision as a victory for democracy. Meanwhile, for more and more people each day, the patience for Zardari's version of democracy is fast wearing out.

The reason for this increasing lack of faith in the present democratic dispensation, and in the virtues of democracy by extension, is the total abdication of responsibility by the government and its insistence on treating power as a privilege to be abused for petty partisan and personal gains by everyone associated with it, from the President and Prime Minister to ministers and legislators to office bearers and workers of the parties in power. The daylight orgy of loot and plunder, the nepotistic and illegal appointments to important public offices that have brought ruin to state institutions, the undemocratic and corrupt manipulation of the political process, the complete failure to formulate policies in the interest of the people, the breakdown of public services and the government's lack of interest in working towards their restoration, the disregard for the Constitution and the courts, unleashed and protected by the Zardari-led dispensation, have all brought a bad name to democracy and this dismal performance has obviously eroded the legitimacy of our so-called democratic government.

The politically correct one-eyed champions of democracy have an excuse for every shortcoming of the government, and a scapegoat to carry the burden for each one of its crimes and failures. The favourite scapegoats for these friends, who would like to give a carte blanche to the Zardari-led government to do as it pleases until the next elections, are the judiciary, the army and the media. They go into such fine detail to argue how these other pillars of the state are not living up to their constitutional obligations and professional duties and whenever there is a discussion regarding the alarming state of affairs in the country, they are quick to shift the blame on one of them. It is interesting how they don't consider these high standards of democratic and constitutional behaviour as applicable to the political governments, whether in the centre or in the provinces. Try to measure the politicians and the governments they form with the same yardstick, and they lament about the interruptions in the political process and how time will correct all the deviations from the democratic norm in their case.

There are serious problems with this approach towards democracy that seems to boil down to keeping the army in the barracks, and lately, to frustrating the constitutional intervention of the independent judiciary as well. Some of them go even further and would like the media to mute its criticism of the government and to desist from expressing their anger against its unconstitutional, undemocratic and anti-people actions and policies. These bleeding heart half-baked democrats feel that the crimes of the government should be brushed under the carpet to guarantee the survival of the oh-so-fragile democratic dispensation and the guns should be directed towards the army and the judiciary, who are blamed for creating hurdles in the way of all the good things the government would like to do. When some high and mighty member of the government or public official is summoned by the court, they see it as a waste of their precious time and a distraction from fulfilling their routine responsibilities. It doesn't occur to them that the reason they are summoned is because they are not using their precious time to fulfil these routine responsibilities. When concern is expressed about the deteriorating situation in Balochistan, they blame it all on the security agencies.

It is difficult to understand the logic of these one-eyed friends. How could covering up or turning a blind eye towards the crimes of the government save democracy? There is no justification for the abdication of constitutional and democratic responsibility by political governments. If the security agencies are making a mess of Balochistan, who is supposed to stop them? If the policy of security agencies to counter the challenge of Baloch nationalists through force is counterproductive, who is supposed to create a competing policy based on political rapprochement? Where are the public representatives and what is their solution to the crisis? Can we blame the army for filling in the void left by the political leadership and sorting out matters in a manner that they know best? Why is the political leadership reluctant to assert its constitutional authority, take charge of the situation and deal with it within a political framework? Where is the army of ministers in the Balochistan Cabinet hibernating as their province burns? Why has the Balochistan Chief Minister spent six days in his province in the last six months? Given the explosive situation in Balochistan, why has the Prime Minister not summoned him and the Balochistan Governor under Article 148 despite repeated reminders by the apex court?

Surely, we cannot hope to move towards democratic governance by suppressing these questions for the sake of shielding public representatives. In fact, we do democracy a favour every time we question abuse of power by those in charge and demand that they fulfil their constitutional responsibility. It is the utter lawlessness perpetrated by political governments and the abdication of their constitutional responsibility that erodes their popular support and brings the army out of the barracks. And clearly, that is what the Chief Justice was telling the government.

n    The writer is a freelance columnist.

    Email: hazirjalees@hotmail.com