Tuesday, January 10, 2012

It's really late...

A few weeks ago, we all breathed a sigh of relief as our President returned to the country safe and sound after a health scare that had everyone worried. That you are now wondering whether that sentence was serious or sarcastic highlights the conundrum that faces us all today. The government that symbolized the much celebrated return to democracy (again) is in trouble; if the various news media are to be trusted (which they seldom are), deep trouble! 
It appears the establishment (if there is such a thing), has had enough of the government’s shenanigans and is now looking for a way to do away with them. One lesson that has recently been drilled into our heads is that this would not be a good thing. Indeed, the establishment’s track record in running the country does not inspire much confidence in their decision-making.
So we should try to stop them? We have recently become much more hands on in our politics. Protests, dharnas, and whatnot are all the rage as more and more Pakistanis are beginning to realize that the affairs of the state affect us all too directly to be left to fate. Ideally, we should all get together and hold a grand rally that sends a clear signal to these establishment goons that their strong arm tactics are not going to work and we will not stand for any meddling with our democratic government.
But there’s a snag. Going into the streets to protest against a supposedly all-powerful institution sounds mildly dangerous, am I absolutely sure I want to take this risk for the love of Messrs Zardari and Gillani? Or even for the sanctity of the Bhutto name? Protecting our democracy is all well and good, but when push comes to shove, will I be ready to bear the pushing and shoving for a government that is practically synonymous with corruption and incompetence? A government that has, by virtue of selecting people like Sharmila Farooqi and Fauzia Wahab as their spokespersons, essentially shown their utter contempt for my opinion of them? The appointment of Rehman Malik just seemed like a conscious decision to antagonise us! I could go on, as is my habit to do so, but as we all know the basic charges, I will spare you all.
Going even further, there is another problem. Suppose I was to overlook what the government's performance and take a stand on principle. The problem now is, whatever case the establishment is to choose to rid itself of the government is likely to be fairly solid. In my heart of hearts, I will know that whatever charge has been brought against the government (corruption or treason or whatever else they are able to come up with) is probably true! So how am I supposed to take a principled stance in defence of democracy, by taking up the defence of somebody I believe to be guilty? 
The answer is of course, no, if the establishment finally does topple the government, I will not be rushing to provide my services as human shield. Far from it, in fact. In my opinion, any such action would just set a bad precedent.
People seem to think the establishment always had a problem with Zardari and the PPP. I disagree. As far as I can tell, the establishment couldn’t have asked for a better arrangement. The evidently inept government acts as the perfect lightning rod while the establishment goes about its business unfettered. Of course, Zardari and his government overstepped their bounds when they tried to come between the army and the US, and now the army will simply “do the needful” and either tighten their leash or send them packing. As much as the PPP shout and scream, it’s actually too late. There will be little fuss because, as snazzy as the slogan may be, that the absolute worst democracy is better than a dictatorship just doesn’t seem to be holding up as a tautology.
If the democratic process is ever to take root in this country it cannot simply be because it tries to sell itself as a lesser of two evils. Nor can it rely solely on catchphrases and supposed universal truths. It has to deliver. Democratic governments can only take on the establishment if they have the popular support to balance the strength of the deeply entrenched institutions. It requires loyalty from common citizens, not just party activists or other party alliances. In my opinion, even the common suggestion that political parties need to stick together against military rule is not really worth much if the populace is not actively supporting them.
At the very least, they need to be seen to be trying! What amuses me most is the fact that the army as an institution has always been much more image conscious than the politicians. It’s probably true that they have much more efficient PR techniques at their disposal in order to achieve this. However, the politicians need to accept that they are handicapped in this regard and that they operate on a much slimmer margin for error.  They need to start compensating, not by trying to increase this margin, but by trying to reduce their error.
A lot has been made recently on television by PPP politicians of the fact that people are willing to tolerate military dictators for a decade, but cannot put up with politicians for much smaller tenures. That is when I wonder if they are trying to be funny. Does it not occur to them that military dictators are not personally related to the entire country, but are tolerated either because it takes them much longer to inflict the damage caused by politicians in a much smaller span, or because it takes much longer for their blunders to be discovered. In either case, this fact does not reflect well on the PPP government!