Javid Husain The political climate of the country is rife these days with the talk of the change of the government. It is difficult to see any TV channel without the anchorpersons and the commentators engaged in a heated debate about the likelihood of such a change and its pros and cons. The usual pattern is for the PPP representatives to denounce the calls for a change with the opposition parties insisting that the change of government would be inevitable, if the present PPP-led federal government persists in its corrupt practices, mismanagement of the economy and gross inefficiency in running the affairs of the state. The shameful stories of corruption on the part of the high and mighty in the present government are disgusting, especially in the context of the grinding poverty from which the common man in Pakistan is suffering and the widespread devastation caused by the recent floods. One can only hang ones head in shame at the reported statement by a PPP Federal Minister that all should have equal right to corruption. It is little comfort that this Minister has been forced to resign. The real tragedy is that the political morality in the country has slumped to such a depth that a Federal Minister had the audacity to make such an outrageous statement. Predictably, the economy of the country is in dire straits because of the lethal combination of rampant corruption in official circles and incompetence of the economic managers of the present government. The lopsided priorities of the government, which accord a low priority to economic development and the welfare of the common man, while maintaining an unsustainably high level of military expenditure, reflect the disconnect between the ruling elite, whether military or civilian, and the general public. It is shameful that our national expenditure on education in the last financial year was only 2.0 percent of the GNP as against the international norm of 4.0 percent. The latest example of the neglect of education was the recent decision (later withdrawn) to cut the funds earmarked for the government universities. The national expenditure on health was as low as 0.5 percent of the GNP during 2009-10. So much for the claims of the present PPP-led federal government for its concern for the public welfare As for incompetence, the frequent cases of the Prime Minister issuing notifications in violation of the principles of merit, justice and fairness one day and withdrawing them a few days later under judicial or political pressure are pathetic, as is the governments inability to cope with the energy crisis. On top of everything, the government appears to be on a collision course with the Supreme Court, despite the Prime Ministers protestations to the contrary. These incidents are the sign of a government which has lost control over the affairs of the state, and is floundering in corruption and incompetence. Obviously, the situation in the country cannot continue like this for too long in view of the deep frustration felt by the general public. Ideally, the present government even at this late stage should reform itself, provide good governance, rid itself of corrupt practices, complete its regular term of five years and then present itself for judgment by the electorate. However, the prospect of the present federal government reforming itself seems unlikely considering the track record of those at the helm of affairs. If this pessimistic assessment is true and the conditions in the country continue to deteriorate, a change will have to take place within a year or so because the public simply will not tolerate any more the corruption and incompetence of the present government. It is imperative, however, that the change, if it becomes necessary, comes through constitutional means, preferably elections in the second half of the next year to give the present government sufficient time to reform itself and produce results. The new government would have the advantage of making a start with a fresh mandate from the people. There are some in the country, who would welcome the rule of a strong man (a euphemism for a military dictator) to substitute the present democratic set up in the hope that he would provide good governance and alleviate the poverty and misery which have become the lot of the common man in Pakistan. This is, of course, wishful thinking considering the sad experience that Pakistan has had with military dictators in the past, including Ayub, Yahya, Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf. All of them ended up by destabilising the country because of the damage they caused to the institutions of the state. In all of these cases, the country on the whole was worse off because of their rule. The rule of Ayub and Yahya was responsible for derailing the democratic process in the country and the dismemberment of Pakistan. Ziaul Haq, besides undermining the constitution, sowed the seeds of extremism and intolerance which now pose a serious threat to the internal peace and harmony of the country and its security. Musharrafs case is particularly telling not only because of the disastrous Kargil operation, but also because of the havoc that he played with the various institutions of the state, especially the judiciary for prolonging his rule. Musharraf was directly responsible for selling the sovereignty of the country to the US in the aftermath of 9/11. He repeatedly violated the constitution and wrecked the edifice of the rule of law in the country. The life and liberty of the citizens were not safe under his rule, as shown by the large number of Pakistanis who mysteriously disappeared. Even the claims of economic prog-ress under his rule are questionable, as shown by the energy crisis that he left for his successors. The stability and progress of the country in the long run require a democratic system of checks and balances which builds up the institutions of the state, strengthens the rule of law, and provides good governance by getting rid of corruption, correcting our lopsided priorities and bringing about the transition from the current security paradigm to a development and welfare paradigm in our style of government. This transition would require a rapid and significant increase in our allocation of resources for development and welfare of the common man. Ideally, such a system should be headed by a competent leader of impeccable integrity. So, we need both the right man and the right system to overcome the problems confronting the nation. However, if one has to choose between the two, I would go for the right type of system because such a system will sooner or later throw up the right type of leader and, meanwhile, check the wrongdoings of an incompetent leader. On the other hand, the rule of a dictator at the expense of the health and integrity of the institutions of the state and the rule of law will sound the death knell for the long-term stability and progress of the country. The writer is a retired ambassador. Email: javid.husain@gmail.com