The problem is that, to their respective mirrors on the wall, everyone is the fairest of them all. Whether it is self-obsessed power-mongers assembled under the emblem of democracy and thriving on the misery of hard-working citizens or an unaccountable military top brass riding the shoulders of dedicated and disciplined soldiers, self-important media celebrities spreading mischief and anarchy on the airwaves or ambitious media moguls pulling their strings for vested interests, the self-righteous crowd of rent-a-cause NGO-wallahs playing heavily paid messiahs to the troubled humanity or the equally self-righteous sponsored maulanas in various colored turbans herding hordes of helpless children to a violent hate-filled future in the name of God, their mirrors never show them their pimples and scars. Beyond this rigged competition in narcissism, lie the people of our land and their future. But who has time for them?

Above the heads of citizens, and oblivious to the transforming global realities, the tugs-of-war between power-players seem to continue like an orchestra of frogs trapped in a well. As if the simmering civil-military tussle was not enough, sections of the media have embarked on a verbal battle with the ISI. Not so long ago, the so-called executive-judiciary confrontation topped the media charts for some three years. Whispers about the security establishment’s ire against the judiciary have been making the rounds for some time now as well. It is easy to declare that all must share the blame for bringing things to such a head, pronounce a sermon on the need for the pillars of the state to look inwards and put their respective houses in order and hope for better sense to prevail. But things are not so simple and we need to look beneath the surface to understand our dilemma.

While the security establishment and the judiciary have been the prime targets of the media and portrayed as hurdles in the flowering of democracy, something which is supposed to be a panacea for all ills, in my opinion the problem basically lies with our political leadership and institutions deemed to be more closely associated with democracy. The inability of elected representatives to come up with a political response to the multiplying challenges we face today has been compounded by loud debates on the free media that serve to obfuscate issues rather than put them in their proper perspective. This is not to suggest that the security establishment and the judiciary are perfect institutions. However, any meaningful reforms within these institutions can only come about through a political initiative. Besides, there would be less pressure on them if our democratic institutions started doing their job.

There should be more to countering terrorism than clearing areas with the help of the military or appeasing the terrorists through a farcical dialogue. It is the job of our elected leaders to end the funding of nurseries of terrorism, to curb and punish the dissemination of hate and violence, to reform madrassas and articulate a vision of religion that is not hostage to professional clerics and sponsored maulanas. It is also their job to develop areas freed from terrorists and reach out to the people there. Had our political leadership tightened the laws against terrorism, prosecuted those apprehended properly and punished those convicted, we might not be blaming the judiciary for freeing terrorists and the military for the missing persons. But our champions of democracy seem to be clueless about their role and responsibilities.

Take, for instance, the ‘peace dialogue’ with terrorists that is supposed to take all stakeholders along. The terrorists are being cajoled as if they were an alienated lover or an errant child. Their associates, the maulanas in our midst, whose status as TTP’s negotiating team is still unclear, are lavished with love and respect. The government and its official team, who are supposed to represent the state of Pakistan, and the security establishment, that is expected to counter the terrorists on the ground, are all included in the discussion. Missing from the process, however, are the people of FATA, more than half of whom have been displaced from their homes because of terrorism and official counter-terrorism initiatives. Those still living in the tribal areas live amidst fear and uncertainty. Are they not the most important stake-holders in this case? Have they even been consulted on the matter?

The problem of terrorism confronts the entire nation but haven’t the people belonging to the tribal areas been its biggest victims? Aren’t we deciding about their ravaged and abandoned homes and fields, their women and children living in makeshift camps for years? After years of war and the torture of living under the buzzing threat of drones, don’t they deserve a say in what peace means? Don’t they deserve to return to their homes and resume their interrupted lives? Or are they worthless subjects to be bargained away for some notion of national interest divorced from public welfare and some donor-funded strategy to achieve it?

In the crucial region of Gilgit-Baltistan, people have been denied full citizenship rights by governments more sensitive to bureaucratic wizardry than the pulse of the people and their aspirations. Reaching out to the oppressed people of Balochistan boils down to doling out hundreds of millions in development funds to their tormentors disguised as their representatives, funds that never translate into development. Local governments are denied to the people and the important task of rationalizing the federating units is allowed to fester and divide people along ethnic lines. Instead of planning the economy to ease the difficulties of the poor, it is outsourced to anti-poor imperialists in the IMF. Issues that demand a political resolution, like Musharaf’s trial, are allowed to drag in courts instead of putting them to rest through a truth and reconciliation commission of sorts. Verdicts that could lead to a reform of the ISI are left untouched.

The various challenges facing us today require a political response: whether it is the reform of state institutions or countering terrorists, resisting corporate imperialism or providing relief to the poor, giving rights to the citizens or providing them good governance, ending the energy crisis or curbing crime. I believe the turf wars will end once our champions of democracy start focusing on their core tasks instead of spending all their energy on monopolizing state power and abusing it for petty personal ends.

n    The writer is a freelance columnist.