A crisis of the system - Roedad Khan - Thursday, July 15, 2010

Source : www.thenews.com.pk

Just when you thought our situation couldn't get worse, the Punjab Assembly managed to get it down another notch. All the MPAs, without exception, from one end of the political spectrum to the other, ganged up against the media and unanimously passed a resolution condemning it for exposing fake degree holders! President Zardari and his government are already at war with the Supreme Court and seem determined to defang it. Now, in a rare display of unity, all the political parties closed ranks and were gunning for the media. This is not surprising because no corrupt or authoritarian ruler, elected or un-elected, can afford an independent judiciary or an independent media. No wonder, both are under attack in the democratic Pakistan today.

Freedom of the press is one of the bulwarks of modern civilisation. Newspapers are the cement of democracy. Their freedom from government control, direct or indirect, is essential for a democratic society. Of all the sentries posted by the constitution of a free country to stand guard over its freedoms, the most vigilant is the media. If it is removed, or hoodwinked, or thrown in fetters, arbitrary power and slavery take over. It is then too late to think of preventing or avoiding the impending ruin.

The duty of a journalist "is to obtain the earliest and the most correct intelligence of the events of the times, and instantly, by disclosing them, to make them the common property of the nation. The press lives by disclosures. It is bound to tell the truth as it finds it, without fear of consequences – to lend no convenient shelter to high-level corruption or acts of injustice and oppression, but to consign them at once to the judgment of the world".

The press is, par excellence, the democratic weapon of freedom. News allows people to judge for themselves whether the people they voted into office merit their trust. Honest news is essential to ensuring that people know what their soldiers are doing in Waziristan as much as what their politicians are doing in their boudoirs. News, independently gathered and impartially conveyed, is an indispensable commodity in a society where the people rule themselves. Without the free circulation of news, there could be no free press and without a free press, there can be no free democracy. As Rebecca West put it, people need news for the same reason they need eyes – to see where they are going.

The state of the federation would stun someone who went to sleep in 1948 and awakened in the present. On August 14, 1947, we thought we had found freedom, but it has turned out to be another kind of slavery. The independence of Pakistan is a myth. Pakistan is no longer a free country. Today it is not just a "rentier state", not just a client state. It is a slave state with a puppet government set up by Washington.

It is torture to live in an unrepublican republic. Today Pakistan, a camouflaged, thinly disguised civilian dictatorship, is a land of opportunities, heaven for a handful few and hell for countless millions of poor people. It is a paradise for gangsters, swindlers, smugglers, tax evaders, fake degree-holders and so on and so forth – all the dregs of humanity.

All the pillars of state, with the exception of the Supreme Court and the media, are dysfunctional. The president, the symbol of the unity of the federation, is totally indifferent to public welfare and is interested only in protecting himself and his ill-gotten wealth. Parliament, the so-called embodiment of the will of the people, is fake like a Potemkin village. It is deaf and blind to the anguished cries rising from the slums of Pakistan – Misery! Give us bread! Give us drinking water! Give us light! Give us the right to live! Its "stunning" performance fascinates only a few enlightened souls; whereas nine out of ten Pakistanis are totally indifferent and unaware of its existence. Quite a few members of this august body are fake degree holders. They concealed the truth, misrepresented their qualifications and managed to enter parliament through shameless, blatant lies and deceitful means. Instead of masquerading as chosen representatives of the people, they should all be tried and sent to prison.

We have a disjointed, dysfunctional, lopsided, hybrid, artificial, corrupt political system – a non-sovereign rubber stamp parliament, a weak and ineffective prime minister, the epitome of self-satisfied mediocrity, who changes his public statements as often as he changes his designer suites. Not surprisingly, Pakistan is rudderless and sliding into darkness. It is like a nightmare in which you foresee all the horrible things which are going to happen and can't stretch out your hand to prevent them. Such is the feeling conjured up by the corrupt rulers of Pakistan as it enters a period of great uncertainty and sinks deeper and deeper into the quagmire.

There are periods in history which are characterised by a loss of sense of values. The times we live in are preeminently such an age. If you want to see a free nation stifled by inept, corrupt rulers, through its own apathy and folly, visit Pakistan. The great French thinker, Montesquieu, said in the 18th century: "The tyranny of a Prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy". An irresponsible inept, corrupt, government is the inevitable consequence of an indifferent electorate. Politics will never be cleaner in this country, unless and until citizens are willing to give of themselves to the land to which they owe everything". Today apathy is the real enemy. Silence is its accomplice. "The thing necessary," Edmund Burke once said, "for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing".

"Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter," Jefferson wrote in 1787. If a referendum on this question were held in Pakistan today, millions of Pakistanis would, I am sure, opt for a free, independent media.

Both the government and the opposition have declared war on the media. This is an alarm call of the most compelling time and is ominous. The fear of conspiracy against the independent judiciary and independent media hangs heavy in the air. Our history can show no precedent for so foul a plot as that which the corrupt politicians of Pakistan have hatched against the two pillars of state.

It is time to turn the page. The time to hesitate is through. This is a moment of great hope for Pakistan. Don't let it turn into a national nightmare. In this transcendent struggle of the Supreme Court and the media against fake democracy, neutrality is not an option. You're either with the people or against them. There is no half-way house. Every citizen must ask himself now: if our core institutions are to survive, if Pakistan is to survive, whether we can afford to let our corrupt rulers remain in power and destroy all our core institutions.

How will this crisis pan out? Either this is a cyclical crisis in the system and it will soon resolve itself, or else it is a crisis of the system and we will soon witness the passage of one epoch to another. Whether the distortions, conflicts and resentments that exist in our society today are peacefully resolved or explode in revolution will be largely determined by two factors: the existence of dynamic democratic institutions able to redress grievances through legislation and the ability of intellectuals to transform a local fire into a nation-wide conflagration and fan the flames of social discontent and transmute specific grievances into a wholesale rejection of the existing order.

One thing is certain. For anything to change in this country, everything has to change.

Email: roedad@comsats.net.pk, www.roedadkhan.com

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