Many of our problems like sectarianism, intolerance, extremism, disunity, non-cooperation, mistrust, etc can be resolved only in a democratic parliamentary system.

IMTIAZ RAFI BUTT, Chairman, Jinnah-Rafi Foundation.
Aug 14 - 20, 2006

This year Pakistan's independence day has come in the wake of crucial issues that demand careful consideration. On the home front these relate to the restoration of democracy, inter-provincial and federal-provincial harmony, provision of economic and social justice and curbing lawlessness. On the external front, the most challenging questions are: Kashmir, the Indo-US nuclear deal, Afghanistan, US-Pakistan ties and the strengthening and shifting of regional and global alliances. The domestic problems (contrary to popular belief) are not entirely of our own making and stem from our catastrophic error to ditch the principles dear to the father of the nation and the ability of foreign powers to capitalize on our meek political conditions. Our external problems, have emanated from the interplay of historical forces, our immensely important geo-political location and the inscrutable hand of fate.

Pakistan is a land of paradox. The country whose founder was known for his "incorruptibility" and "unimpeachable integrity," is today considered amongst the most corrupt in the world. The country whose founder was a great devotee of democracy is today(and for the greater part of its history, has been) deprived of democracy. And democracy is precisely what the nation needs today to put its house in order. Many of our problems like sectarianism, intolerance, extremism, disunity, non-cooperation, mistrust, etc can be resolved only in a democratic parliamentary system. Parliamentary system, however flawed, is one political system best able to deliver social justice. Pakistanis, both here and abroad, are therefore clamouring for democracy. The brief periods of democracy which we did have were turbulent due to the fact that democracy as an institution was never given enough time to establish itself and mature. Our democracy was not given the time or the external circumstances to show the system's almost magical power of self-correction. People are fed up with repeated military interventions and repeated breakdowns of the democratic process. Democracy ensures a sense of participation and self-respect. Unfettered democracy alone can cut down our ills.

Lack of inter-provincial harmony and the widening gulf between federation and units poses a serious threat to national unity. There is, for instance, massive opposition to the construction of Kalabagah Dam. There is dissatisfaction in Sindh over distribution of river water and dissatisfaction in Balochistan over a long history of neglect and injustice. These issues are highly sensitive and can be resolved amicably only in a genuine democratic framework.

Absence of economic justice is yet another issue. While Establishment figures indicate unprecedented economic progress, ground realities belie their authenticity. The much-touted Poverty Alienation Programme is no more than a hollow slogan. Sixty percent of the population is living below the poverty line. The middle class has been obliterated. The elite is living in almost another dimension, disconnected and alien to the conditions and circumstances of the masses who are striving, not to prosper, but to survive. With massive unemployment and galloping inflation, which create a dangerous atmosphere ripe with despair and hopelessness, Can one really be surprised at the revelation of sharp increases in snatching, stealing, assaults with intent to loot or people finding relief in suicide?

On the foreign front there is Kashmir - the festering sore that has triggered two wars and had brought the two nations eyeball to eyeball. Kashmir, sad to say, is imperceptible fading into oblivion. The CBM-euphoria that followed the Vajpayee-Musharraf summit has largely dwindled. The so-called composite dialogue has come to a dead-end. There is not even a semblance of a reasoning response from Bharat. It is stubbornly glued to its "atoot ang" policy. Bharat, in fact, is hankering to wriggle out of its Kashmir commitment and is not hesitant even to offer the flimsiest justification for its attempt to do so. Observe its knee-jerk reaction to last month's Mumbai blasts. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promptly accused Pakistan of the crime and warned that such incidents could spell the death of the peace process. His government also called off the foreign secretary-level talks as well as the visit of the Indian MPs to Pakistan. Evidently the Indian mindset has not changed. It still bemoans the creation of Pakistan and would readily wipe it off the face of the earth. Bharat subscribes to a double-faced policy; on the one hand it goes through the motions of negotiating with Pakistan while on the other hand it pursues anti-Pakistan activities and foments trouble in Balochistan. It even conducts mock battles - the most recent was code-named Sangha Shakti - near Pakistan's borders that aim at slicing Pakistan into half in the event of the actual war. Bharat and Pakistan can never come to terms, above all else due to foreign Great power interests and the regions geo-strategic location, the Cold War being a perfect example of these factors at work. With the conflicts in the middle east only increasing, the rise of China and its increasingly warmer ties with Russia; Pakistan and India will once again have to choose sides. With its delusions of grandeur, hegemonic ambitions and craving for regional supremacy, Bharat will not descend from its pedestal to parley as an equal with Pakistan. Bharat syndrome is not new. The Quaid had spotted it sixty years ago. To a question by a Swiss journalist on whether there was any hope of India and Pakistan coming to a peaceful settlement, the Quaid replied: "Yes, provided the Indian government will shed the superiority complex and will deal with Pakistan on an equal footing." The Indo-US nuclear deal will heighten Bharat's arrogance and harden its stance on Kashmir.

Since the US occupation of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan are at loggerhead. Karzai openly accuses Pakistan of backing the Taliban. Pakistan's denials cut no ice with him. As the US has higher stakes in Afghanistan, it badgers Pakistan to "do more". India, too, blames Pakistan for "cross-border terrorism." With two less-than-friendly borders and with Iran under severe western pressure, Pakistan indeed has some cause for concern. Moreover, if India under US insistence deploy troops in Afghanistan matters would become worse. Pakistan-US relations are growing lukewarm; the pace of the war on terror has also slackened. Neo-con America (adopting an almost Zionist foreign policy) and Hindu Bharat, have gauged together. Western opinion fails to agree, but its hard not too see these developments through Muslim eyes as not an alliance against terror, but an alliance against Islamic Civilisation itself. All these factors call for discreet modification in Pakistan's external policy.

BOTTOM LINE: We must take immediate cognizance of all crucial issues that sow dissension in the nation; we must remove the mist that clouds our vision and reaffirm the ideals that moved our elders to sacrifice their all for the achievement of a separate homeland. Short of thus, our yearning for democracy, socio-political harmony and economic justice may elude us yet again.