More than two millennia after his death, Socrates remains as relevant as ever. The Greeks have already been getting nostalgic of their old wise man who doled out self-help tips, while railing against the hypocrisies of society and the state - and whose lessons live on more than 2,400 years after his death. They despise their present political leaders and their subservience to Brussels bureaucrats. The situation in Pakistan earlier this month looked no different. The Athenian scene was enacted in our capital with lot of ferment and frenzy. Dr Muhammad Tahirul Qadri was no Socrates. But, like Socrates 2,400 years ago, he did storm the citadel of political ‘power and greed’ in Pakistan.

Whatever his personal motives or political ambitions, like Socrates, Qadri challenged the rotten system in which the same feudalised and elitist oligarchy consisting of different men at different times under different political flags had kept the nation hostage with or without military collusion since independence. By rebuking the ruling hierarchy and their hypocritical corrupt practices in the name of democracy, he showed them their true face in the mirror. ‘State, not politics’ was his slogan. The people of Pakistan, like the Athenian public, stood totally disillusioned with the prevailing ‘democracy’ in their state.

For the first time, they were hearing someone speaking their mind and calling for long-awaited change. They joined him in throngs because they knew the change they wanted will never come through elections under the present rotten system. Dr Qadri managed to mobilise a huge crowd for his long march. It was immaterial how many thousands they were. He did control the street power presenting an unprecedented spectacle of discipline. Contrary to general perception of Muslims being a ‘rowdy and aggressive’ people, the peaceful and disciplined sit-in at Islamabad’s D-Chowk was a different experience altogether.

But this was not meant to be a ‘discipline and peace’ rally. It was a wilfully mobilised and grandiloquently charged political dharna that its participants genuinely believed would demolish the system of corrupt politics in their country. They had gone there to convert Islamabad’s D-Chowk into Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Qadri’s demand for electoral reforms under a new caretaker set up before the coming elections was loud and clear. He cited the constitution’s Article 254 for deferring the next elections. The world of politics stood rattled. How dared he challenge the domain to which nobody, not even the successive military dictators, could ever bring change?

Qadri surely was a political outcast, not because he was a dual national or because in recent years for security reasons he had been living overseas, but only because ancestrally he was neither the ‘child of fortune’, nor ‘born into power’ as has been the requisite for being part of the privileged ‘club’ of Pakistani politics. To be part of this feudalised elitist exclusive ‘fraternity’, one must be the very antithesis of the criteria laid down in Articles 62 and 63 that Qadri had demanded to be implemented in letter and in spirit. No wonder, heartbeats and pulse rates zoomed up with Qadri’s last 90 minute ultimatum. The ruling hierarchy got the message. A group of notorious ‘wheelers and dealers” was soon there to deal with the challenge. Qadri’s crime was no different from that of Socrates. Curtains in his bulletproof ‘container’ were drawn. The jury sat there briefly before giving its unanimous verdict. Qadri shall be ‘admitted’ into the ignominious ‘fraternity’ that he had vowed to topple. He accepted to be his own executioner. Unlike the real Greek tragedy, all in the ‘container’ were seen happy, gleefully embracing each other. The hostage crowd returned home with change nowhere in sight. There couldn’t be a more comic end to our ‘Greek tragedy.’

Meanwhile, the media is galore with unending speculations and interpretations. Despite all the claims to the contrary, nothing has changed in Pakistan’s corrupt politics. Those who expect the coming elections to bring any change will be disappointed. The same political wizards remain in saddle. The same wizardries characterise our political scene. The status quo of ‘loot and plunder’ that Dr Tahirul Qadri threatened to topple has only been reinforced. Hopes are still being pinned on the coming elections. Democracy is not all about elections. If that was really so, countries with regularly elected dictators would have been rated the world’s most democratic states.

Democracy is also not about wealth or family lineage. Democracy is about the people, who are the final arbiters of their destiny. They choose their leaders in the hope of rule of law, justice and good governance. In our case, we have seen a number of political leaders ‘cycled’ through elections under political as well as military regimes. Invariably, very few of them went beyond maintaining their own political power and privilege, and securing their self-serving interests or those of their elite fraternity. As “elected” leaders, they never inspired hope to convert Pakistan into a self-reliant, democratic state enabling its citizens to live their lives and raise their children in dignity, free from fear, want, hunger, disease, corruption, violence and injustice.

Since independence, the people of Pakistan have had no role in determining the course of their history or the direction of their country’s political, economic and social policies. As a newly-independent nation, we just could not cope with the challenges of freedom inherent in our geopolitical and structural fault lines. Language became our first bête noire. We lost half the country, and are still possessed by the same ghosts in the name of culture, ethnicity and history. We still have not been able to evolve a political system that responds to the needs of an ethnically and linguistically diverse population. There is no constitutional remedy to the genuine concerns on unequal size of provinces and lopsided sharing of political and economic power.

The problem is that the overbearing feudal, tribal and elitist power structure in Pakistan is too deeply entrenched to let any systemic change take place. It does not suit them. They make amendments in the constitution for self-serving reasons only. Our present provincial set up has long been the cause of political instability with an ever-looming threat to the country’s very survival. We must remember that Pakistan of 1947 could not survive even for 25 years. Despite the 1973 Constitution, the remaining Pakistan continues to face threats of further disintegration mainly due to unaddressed concerns of different regions.

Lately, there have been demands for more ethnic-linguistic provincial units in the country. If this trend were to continue, we will be left with a loosely wired skeleton of a federation with self-serving disgruntled and corrupt politicians playing havoc with this country. In any lopsided unequal setup, no method of governance will work. It is a system designed for paralysis, which we are already experiencing. To avert the vicious cycle of national tragedies, a serious and purposeful “national effort” is necessary for a holistic review of our governmental system before it is too late.

The foremost is the need for rationalisation of our federal system by recasting our ethnic-based provincial architecture to be able to redress our regional disparities. We must remove the inherent flaws in our body politic by replacing the present four ethnic-based provinces with as many administratively-determined provinces as necessary, free of ethnic and parochial labels but still constitutionally keeping their ‘ethnic and historical identities’ intact. Reason, not self-serving emotion, should be our yardstick.

Also needed is a political system that suits our nation’s “genius”. Temperamentally, we are a ‘presidential’ nation. It is time we abandon the system that we have never been able to practice, and opt for an adult franchise-based ‘presidential system’ suitably designed and tailored to Pakistan’s needs. We must also adopt the ‘proportional’ electoral system to ensure representation of political parties proportionate to the percentage of popular vote they receive. It will provide greater access to non-feudal, non-elitist, educated middle class people in the elected assemblies.

The writer is a former foreign secretary Email: shamshad2001@hotmail.com