VIEW: Democracy and addressing public issues —Nizamuddin Nizamani - Friday, April 01, 2011

Source :\04\01\story_1-4-2011_pg3_3

Inflation, price hike, electricity load shedding and the extreme energy crisis all seem to be worsening day by day but, unfortunately, the media is too busy with cricket and a debate over the legitimacy of the release of Raymond Davis, utterly ignoring issues faced by the poor masses

As part of the volatile political scenario in Pakistan of late, we have witnessed a growing number of protests by the masses, especially by specific organisations, demanding the implementation of different promises and pledges committed by the coalition government in Islamabad in general and Sindh in particular.

The protesters have been demanding an increase in minimum wages, as announced by the federal government, e.g. for the lady health workers (LHV), implementation of agreed negotiations for the Sindh Professors and Lecturers’ Association (SPLA) and an increase in wages for the lower staff of the education department. These protests have, unfortunately, been responded to with violence, baton charging, tear gas and mass arrests. The provincial governments in Sindh and Punjab are crushing every agitation and registering cases against the peaceful protesters under the Terrorism Act. They might be afraid of the revolutions being led by the people in the Arab world. Hunger strikes in front of the press clubs in big cities are the order of the day. Bankers associations and the families of missing persons dominate the screen. However, all that hue and cry seems to be falling on deaf ears.

The SPLA demands a time scale at par with other provinces as negotiated and agreed to by the Chief Secretary of Sindh, Mr Ghulam Ali Pasha, and Ms Sharmila Farooqi, who was then the advisor to the chief minister of Sindh, on November 11, 2010. However, the government reportedly backed out. The SPLA was compelled to press for the demand peacefully but the government crushed their protests with water guns, injured senior male and female professors, arrested 36 professors and vengefully transferred 412 professors to far-flung areas. The lower staff in the education department met with a similar fate. The teaching community blames the minister for education who they cite as being stubborn and involved in malpractices. The teachers’ demands seem to be parked at the Secretariat due to the wrangling between the secretary and minister for education.

Lady health workers demanding minimum wages were brutally treated and baton charged, and 180 of them were arrested. Surprisingly, one coach full of lady health workers and their innocent children was hijacked by police on March 25 and directly taken to Sukkur Central Jail instead of some women’s police station.

On the other hand, the law and order situation has become abysmal in the interior as well as urban centres. The writ of the state seems to be nowhere. Only during March, 190 people fell victim to the latest wave of target killings in Karachi. In Balochistan, target-killing victims are common people, the central command of Baloch nationalist parties and young students, specifically from the Balochistan National Party, which is the Mengal group. The people’s government has shocked people by adopting the violent and oppressive tactics they themselves suffered during dictatorial regimes.

Inflation, price hike, electricity load shedding and the extreme energy crisis all seem to be worsening day by day but, unfortunately, the media is too busy with cricket and a debate over the legitimacy of the release of Raymond Davis, utterly ignoring issues faced by the poor masses. Despite having a few major and macro political achievements like the NFC Award, end of the 17th Amendment and introduction of the 18th Amendment, the people’s government seems to have failed in delivering on micro-economic issues.

The PPP leadership used to complain that, in the past, they were not given enough time to deliver on their promises and were ousted after the completion of just two years. In the beginning of their current tenure, they kept imploring the people to wait and allow some time to the government for sustainable development. What should the public expect after the completion of three years of their current tenure?

Dr Marvin Weinbaum, Scholar-in-Residence at the Middle East Institute, a think-tank based in Washington, and an expert on Pakistan, opines that the coalition government in Pakistan is not addressing public issues. This supports the arguments of the pro-military school of thought, which says that democracy in Pakistan cannot deliver and that the naïve politicians waste time and resources either by internecine conflicts or fall prey to the artful bureaucracy. He does not believe in the negotiations made among coalition partners to continue with the process until and unless they address the overriding issues, as without this the whole process seems worthless. He bemoans that, apart from Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, there has been no collectively acceptable leadership in Pakistan. For a brief period, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto appeared as a leader but, after him, our leaders have a limited pocket following; as a whole, the Pakistani public seems leaderless. He argues that the people reaching the power corridors in Pakistan, from Ayub Khan to Yahya, Zulfikar Bhutto to Generals Zia and Musharraf, all start believing that they are indispensable. He warns of grim consequences in case democracy fails to deliver. He does not support any rapid change being invoked by some sectors, impressed by the political upheavals in the Middle East. He says that because of different circumstances, the situation can very easily be hijacked by illiberal elements in Pakistan. He recommends choosing competent people who enjoy the support of the masses, and that they be made accountable to the same public.

Three years are enough proof and the public craves the fulfilment of the thousands of promises and rosy pictures that were presented to them during the election process.

We need to support the democratic process, we need to make it accountable and address the macro and micro issues of public relevance for the literal survival of the citizenry. A namesake democracy breeds only new generations of dictators who might already be waiting in the wings.

The writer holds a master’s degree in social sciences and is a professional trainer, researcher and peace activist. He may be contacted at

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