Raza Rumi argued recently that there are 5 myths in the Pakistani discourse that need to be put to rest. In his view these are the ‘Doctrine of Necessity,’ ‘Strategic depth,’ ‘Use of Proxies’, ‘Ummah’ and ‘China will fix all’. Raza is right. A large part of our media and intellect is discussing these myths.
I would argue that Raza’s 5 myths stem from our inability to configure proper democracy. Any democratic government with an open process of policymaking with due diligence (research and reporting through white papers and documentation), public consultation (forums with government provided information and genuine participation) and open decision-making processes (forums at all levels with proper public participation and open minutes even if with a lag), ghosts and monsters can be confronted. Simple. No decision without first, adequate public scrutiny, second documentation and consultation at all levels including the public, and finally full disclosure.
There is no democracy without these 3 steps. Democracy is not mere elections but a complete process for running government for the welfare of a free and sovereign people.
Change is not PM whim but his leadership of a process
This is what universities and think tanks are for. And yes, the government funds them to maintain this system of scrutiny on itself.
And yes! The PM must lead the process of changing policies and myths not by hiding in foreign travel but by leading the debate in Parliament cabinet and the public domain. He must use the civil service to research and prepare policies that are discussed in the public domain and in the cabinet. His word is not a command but a direction to be examined.
The civil military divide that so haunts out thinkers (who need to read a few primers in democracy) can also be handled in this open process of consultation. And yes, the army should be consulted and not treated like a subordinate department. In fact, no department should be a subordinate department. The job of the PM is to lead a consultation and not treat all as a subordinate.
Proper democratic processes are there to make consensus and democracy is about achieving consensuses. The term Prime Minister historically means first among ministers with the right to chair the cabinet. Even the Supreme Court has noted that the decision-making power lies with the cabinet and not the PM.
Let me also mention an obsession of our intellectuals: foreign policy (4 out 5 of Raza’s myths are foreign policy). Yet I find no foreign policy documents related to strategic depth and our role in the Ummah put out by the government. Where are the discussions on this? Where are the speeches and thoughts on this? Not mere pouting by children and leaks like in Dawn leaks.
We all hear of Nawaz Sharif wanting better ties with India but has anyone seen a government document defining the possibilities for the new relationship? Was that ever taken up in the cabinet? Was that ever discussed in the National Security Council? Can we see the minutes? Why does the PM and the FM not give us a white paper.
Contrary to popular intellectual opinion, PM is not elected to rule. Everything that he wants cannot be policy. The system is operating in perpetuity and should continue this way. Each ruler has no right to stop the work that was begun by the preceding government and change all polices inherited. The election only gives them the right to alter policy directions after considerable consultation and due process.
Whimsical government ended with the renaissance. Now we have continuity in policy which is tweaked and reformed through clear due process which our democrats hate.
Don’t derail the system but do let us talk of reform.
While Raza talks of myths, let us also talk of the major omission — what we don’t discuss.
All discussion of reform is stifled by the intellectual/senior analyst class by yelling ‘don’t derail the system.’ Any talk of reform is thought to be anti-democracy.
The expectation that somehow good democracy would happen after dynasties have run their course is expensive. Several generations will lose many opportunities before this happens. And as we have seen these politicians will do all in their power to strengthen their undemocratic system. They neither have the learning nor the statesmanship to seek better democracy. We have seen they will further foul up the system to make room for their family democracy. Will they allow reform to make true democracy happen?
We must not only talk of reform but agitate for it to shout for it if we want a serious democracy that will save our state and society. Raise your voice for reform so that they are forced to change this system.
A large number of issues must be discussed when it comes to reform. Here is a sampling.
Why don’t we experiment with elections (proportional, ranked choice, multi round) that will produce better results?
Why don’t we have term limits?
Why don’t we rule out families offering too many candidates?
Why don’t we define parties better?
Why don’t we totally separate the election commission from the executive?
Should independent local governments not exist? With different election cycles?
Should we not have more equal sized provinces for a better democracy?
Why don’t we ban appointments for judges after retirement?
Why is the civil service not independent? Why is the civil service not reformed for professionalisation with open entry?
The system must be reformed for us to get a better crop of politicians who would want to develop democracy and truly represent people and not their dynasties
Should there be an open transparent process to appoint people to key positions and taken out of the hands of the PM? The PM should not have the power to transfer anybody. That is not part of representation.
There should be limits on the PM’s ability to change budgets, engage in arbitrary expenditures, and give plots, perks and benefits to favourites.
We must ensure due process is followed.
Why don’t we make parliamentary attendance compulsory? Why cabinet meeting is not made compulsory? Why are minutes of most meetings not made available even if it is with a delay? Changes in policy must be clearly planned, investigated and consulted. Projects must be whetted, investigated and made public.
Why don’t we set up watchdogs like the CBO?
The conversation must be on change to push politicians
The family democrats with arbitrary power love the conversation that protects them from change. Should we keep the conversation on foreign policy and keep blaming the army to let them consolidate their arbitrary, lazy and wasteful rule? This is folly.
Reform will not happen if we don’t push them to make it. It is all right to wish for democracy but then let us get proper democracy and not some deformed variety that sneaks in dynasties from the back door to give them excessive arbitrary power without checks and balances or due process.
A reform discussion does not hurt democracy. Instead it nurtures it. It is the bad kind of reform that these politicians have done to consolidate arbitrary power that destabilises the system. Let us not blame ghosts and monsters for this; our politicians repeatedly want to kill checks and balances and due process for personal benefits.
The system must be reformed for us to get a better crop of politicians who would want to develop democracy and truly represent people and not their dynasties. And no, the system is not derailed by talk of reform or a reform movement. On the contrary, the current trend to strengthen elected dynasties is stifling democracy.
And remember democracy is not just a bad election. It has to be framed to allow elections to deliver good government responsive to the needs to people.
The writer is a former deputy chairman of the Planning Commission of Pakistan and a former senior resident representative of the IMF in Egypt and Sri Lanka. This article has appeared at www.project-syndicate.org under the headline: The Mullah-led Development Modeland has been re-produced with permission. Haq can be followed on Twitter @nadeemhaque