Paying the price of democracy by Shahid Aziz

We are the chosen ones. We are the voice of people, the guardians of their interests and we are here to remedy their misery.
We know what hurts them and what is good for them. We are their saviours. The people have chosen us and that is the ultimate accountability. We are now accountable to no one. Our word is the law and we are above it. We are the godfathers of this nation.” Weigh this against the reality on ground and you shall recognise the mafia that rules behind this facade. This is our political reality. Will your vote change anything?
The other side of the coin is equally corroded. A military government is worse than a political setup, since in a democratic environment at least there is that lingering daydream that ‘eventually’ something positive will emerge. But the only fruit we reap from either is disgust. Dejected and disheartened, we fall from the lap of one to the other. Every few years we seek change, any change. When the pain of living crosses all thresholds, even death is preferable. And the pain is now crossing thresholds rapidly.
No one with money or power really wants anything to change; they thrive on the current status quo. The powerful elite have a unique set of values, and consider corruption and such other issues as ‘middle class blubber’. As Chairman NAB, I was usually affectionately counselled to grow up and step into the real world with such wisdom as, “which Governor or Minister in the world is not a rich man? This is the way of the world, learn to live in it.” And another favourite was, “corruption and development go hand in hand, you stop one and the other will come to a standstill.” And at another time, “what is wrong if the Chief Minister has given a road making contract to his brother? You have the road, don’t you? If he cannot even do this, what is his incentive for making the road?” This is the ethos at the highest echelons of authority. Unbridled power certainly alters the parameters of wisdom.
A good measure of this insatiability is the new anti-corruption law that is being pushed for adoption; a law that in fact encourages corruption, instead of fighting it. Our political system perpetuates corruption and deceit, since it can only be sustained in this environment. You can either remain clean or succeed as a politician. Clean politics is a misnomer. I once dined with Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the ex-Prime Minister of Singapore, who praised our nation, saying: “I had so much difficulty in finding a Minister, no one wanted the job; but in your country, it is amazing that so many are willing for public service.”
For us, public service means liberty to plunder. Not a shred of justice is visible anywhere. All injustice stems from corruption, and all wretchedness emanates from injustice. Look deeply and you will discover that today this is at the core of every problem facing our country; be it failure of governance, the mayhem in Karachi, Balochistan imbroglio or being part of US carnage in Afghanistan and the resulting terrorism across the country. All have roots in self-perpetuation for illicit gains. This is the entire focus of our leadership.
Since every social disorder starts from the top and seeps down, the entire nation is rapidly being engulfed by corruption. When the powerful have the liberty to live above the law, then the people will emulate. The greed for material benefit has overtaken all else. The principles of commerce, devoid of any moral or ethical considerations, have brought us to a point where every step is measured in terms of profit and loss, and nothing else matters; means are irrelevant, only the end counts. We are being transformed into a nation of tricksters and swindlers. They are becoming our new heroes, our role models. The rest are losers!
Our political legacy is strewn with leaders serving self-interest at the cost of the nation. Each one of them thrives on this corrupt political organism. Today, we have reached a point where we are being made to believe that these are our political compulsions and we need to learn to live with them. It is the price of democracy; and since continuance of this system has been directly equated with survival of the country, we have no choice but to pay the price. Sadly, the middle class has now been conditioned to accept this as a political reality and as our destiny. But take heed, greater wisdom flows in the streets.
There is systemic deformity in our political order. The fault lies in our system, which does not cater to our environment of total disregard for law. We dream and pray for a ‘good leader’. But even if such a man were to miraculously reach the top, he will be isolated in this contaminated environment and bound by its mandatory political compromises, the system will drag him down. The difference he can make will only be nominal and ephemeral. Elections are, therefore, inconsequential.
For a meaningful change, the entire dynamics of our political system have to be redefined, creating a new order that does not only bring forth competent leaders, but also ensures that they can and do perform effectively. This is the promise on which a military government steps in, only later to become part of the same system; making merely peripheral changes, to claim success through cosmetic gimmickry. We have repeatedly had the opportunity for transformation and missed it. Change has to be brought from the top and has to be across the entire spectrum of governance; the whole has rotted. A good system is not leader dependent; the leader draws strength from it. Good leaders don’t last, good systems do.
The writer is a retired lieutenant general and former corps commander of Lahore. Email:


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