A failing state

Friday / Feb 22 2013

Newspaper : The Express Tribune

Pakistan is on the brink of becoming a failed state. Rampant corruption, particularly by those who govern us, has brought us to a position where the state of affairs under the military regimes of yesterday appear to be a bed of roses. The dream of the Quaid-e-Azam has turned into a nightmare. The estimated quantum of corruption, based on calculations by Transparency International, was about Rs8,500 billion in the first four years of the present government. The rupee has collapsed from Rs62 to the dollar to its present rate of Rs100.

Massive corruption in the rental power projects has cleared the way for the collapse of our industry. Balochistan has become a hotbed of intrigues, with India, as well as certain Western powers, who profess to be our friends, creating chaos and encouraging separatist movements.

The failure of the British parliamentary system of democracy in Pakistan is primarily due to three interconnected factors. Firstly, the provincial and federal parliaments in Pakistan are controlled by feudal landlords who have turned elections into a dirty business. Most of these corrupt and incompetent legislators do not appear to have any inclination to serve Pakistan. They spend millions to come into power and once elected, start plundering national funds to make up for that. Pakistan must be the only country in the world where 249 of its parliamentarians appear to have been elected on forged degrees. The Higher Education Commission should provide the names of all such dishonest parliamentarians to the election commission, as well as make their names public so that they do not get re-elected till their degrees are properly scrutinised. If it is found that they had indeed committed forgeries, then they should be barred for life from contesting future elections.

The second factor responsible for the failure of democracy in Pakistan is illiteracy and a low level of education. About half the people are illiterate. Of the remaining half, a major portion can barely sign their names. In this situation, elections are not fought on the basis of party manifestoes but on the basis of power footholds. It is not in the interests of those in power to invest in education as they would like their serfs to remain as slaves. Pakistan spends only 1.8 per cent of its GDP on education, ranking us among the bottom seven countries of the world in this category.

The third factor is the failure of the judicial system to dispense justice swiftly in cases of financial corruption or even terrorism. We seem to have established a tradition in which crooks get away without any punishment — the National Reconciliation Ordinance being one example of this. Terrorists belonging to various political parties roam at will in Karachi and a dozen or so political murders occur each day without any action taken against the persons responsible. The apparent murder of NAB official Kamran Faisal is also another example of just how perverted the law is in this land.

A major change is needed in the system of governance if democracy is to survive in Pakistan. Firstly, the Constitution needs to be changed so that a presidential system of democracy is introduced, and the president then selects his own team of technocrats as federal ministers from the most suitable persons available. Members of parliament (MP) should not be eligible to become federal or provincial ministers or ministers of state. This will thus remove the desire of the corrupt feudal landlords to ‘invest’ hundreds of millions to get elected.

MPs should have at least a master’s degrees as their primary role is lawmaking. The removal of educational qualifications as an eligibility requirement to become an MP is a mistake. How can we expect our legislators to make laws unless they are properly educated? Similar screening should be carried out for the post of president and other key persons in the government and heads of key national institutions. Furthermore, genuine land reforms should be introduced, as was done in India, and later in Bangladesh, to lay the foundations of genuine democracies.

Pakistan is at a precipice. The present set of MPs will not change the system since the status quo suits them. In Bangladesh, it was the Supreme Court that abolished the feudal system and paved the way for democracy. The Supreme Court of Pakistan needs to take suo-motu notice of our alarming situation before it is too late.

The writer is the former chairman of the HEC, and president of the Network of Academies of Science of OICCountries (NASIC).