THE WAY IT WAS: The third opinion —Mian Ijaz Ul Hassan

Gen Musharraf would have made a better and very popular president had he executed the two-point agenda and let himself be judged by the people. With less constitutional power he would have been stronger and exercised greater moral authority over parliament and the nation. But I suppose he thought one in hand was better than two in the bush

There is a saying that people can’t stop eating rice on account of an odd piece of grit in the mouth. The late Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan always insisted that in order to correct the failures of democracy you needed more democracy. It is a year since he left us. God bless his soul. He had a point, which is worth considering because democratic institutions are under siege on charge of having failed to function well in the past. There is no dispute as to the need to improve the functioning of our democracy by adopting some remedial measures. The contention is about the methods being proposed to undertake the task.. Everyone is aware that science has progressed through the centuries by repeatedly correcting itself through science and not by ritual or magic. Similarly, in order to improve, democracy must also rely on itself.

One way of dealing with what ails our democracy is to first diagnose the root cause of the disease. The other method is to ignore the cause and deal with the effects — changing the dressing regularly. The latter is the easy way to a permanent settlement: Naa rahay ga bance, naa bajay gee bansaree. There is yet another method. It seeks remedy in ignoring the problem. This reminds me of a tale. A ship develops a leak in a storm and the captain, instead of having the leak plugged, focuses on pacifying the passengers; telling them that they have nothing to fear as long as he remains in uniform. Bound to him by promise of booty, the crew members polish his medals. Fearing the consequences of his abandoning the ship, some passengers clean his boots and press his uniform over and over again. The god of storms and the god of the seas are greatly angered. The leaks get worse. Water that had been trickling in from the bottom starts gushing. Soon the ship starts sinking. “Captain, my captain! What is happening?” everyone shouts with one voice. “Nothing really! We are descending to the ocean floor. I have a hunch there is better fishing to be found there,” replies the captain, immaculately attired in his well-pressed uniform.

There have been innumerable problems with our conduct of democracy. Before proceeding any further, one must clarify, our clergy and the establishment — they may choose to say what they like — are not included in the discussion because the clergy does not believe in democracy and the establishment is the very cause of infection. There are indeed faults in democracy but they can be put right not by less but by more democracy. In other words it can repair and improve itself only by greater participation of people. The critics of democracy would like the people to believe that Pakistani citizens are incapable of governing themselves. Actually it is in these critics’ interest and those they represent that citizens should remain submissive. Should the people trust those who denigrate wisdom of people and constantly dodge and connive to deprive them of their rights? The ballot box and not anyone’s thumb is the time-tested measure of the pulse of a people. Caesar’s thumb was never up for democracy. When they have their thumb on a people’s throat, the Casears rarely think of taking the pulse.

It is true that when Gen Musharraf took over power there was a political crisis in the country. Politicians were at loggerheads; judges were at war, courts under siege and within the army there were intrigues for the office of the Chief. Under such circumstances most people, regardless of their political affiliations, were happy at this intervention hoping that it would be sweet and brief. Musharraf promised to take transparent account of every corrupt politician and hold fair and free elections. Most citizens and political workers seemed to support this agenda. People were angry at the working of the Ehtesab Bureau that was presided over by a thug harassing and implicating the opposition leaders in false cases and arm-twisting and blackmailing individuals to submission. People were also convinced that the incumbents would rig the elections. Citizens were happy that whosoever had stolen money from the national exchequer would at last be held accountable.

The political workers were additionally happy that the process would help weed out the ugly elements that had given a bad name to their parties and blocked honest and loyal political workers’ way in their parties. The debate as to who was perceived as corrupt by party members would have strengthened the parties. There are only two ways of dealing with a corrupt person (a) enable citizens to judge him (b) let the courts judge him on evidence against him. The corrupt politicians who couldn’t be taken to court would have at least been ostracised from the political process as party organizations shunned them. The debate on corruption among the citizens and in the parties stopped suddenly when people saw that accountability was being used as a political tool to pressure politicians.

There is unfortunately also a third — more useful way — for dealing with corruption. The method has been greatly refined in recent years to deal with miscreants for whom Pakistan doesn’t come quite first. By adopting the third method every undesirable person can be condemned to the Bastille or marginalised by rigging polls. It is tragic that instead of trusting honesty and wisdom of the people, the third option has been relied upon. To this day those in power go rhetorical at the mere mention of corruption, but keep the back door open to welcome the corrupt. I am convinced that Gen Musharraf would have made a better and very popular president had he executed the two-point agenda and let himself be judged by the people. With less constitutional power he would have been stronger and exercised greater moral authority over parliament and the nation. But I suppose he thought one in hand was better than two in the bush.

They say one should also look at the other side of the picture. The other day my elder son, Ahmed, telephoned from abroad and asked, “Abbu! What is happening in the country? Now the Sindh Assembly has also passed a resolution in support of Musharraf holding on to his Uniform”. What could I tell him? I could perhaps have said, “Son! The Assemblies are passing these resolutions because the majority of the members have benefited from the Uniform”. I didn’t, because everyone knows this. I was, however, greatly disheartened and felt ashamed that it was the ‘educated’ legislators who were beneficiaries of the democratic process (elections) and democratic institutions (the National Assembly, the Senate, the Provincial Assemblies and local government) that were the very people weakening and sabotaging those very institutions for their immediate material interests. What they are doing amounts to, as they say, drilling holes in their eating bowls, or to put it another way biting the very hands that cast votes for them.

There is also another saying: Laton kay bhoot baton say nahin mantay. If politicians feared their voters, would they have passed these resolutions? It is quite unlikely. I fear if democracy is to be strengthened and every citizen made accountable, political and social activism has to be brought to life. What is needed for a better Pakistan is not terrorism but terror of the people, armed with their democratic rights. If the fear of law and Constitution is not instilled in the hearts of politicians they will continue to act against the collective will of the people. They will continue to serve Caesars for personal gains.

Prof Ijaz Ul Hassan is a painter, author and political activist