Time to think and act
Mohammad Jamil


People have waited for too long; their patience is running out and their persistent disappointment has morphed into boiling anger

There is turmoil, unrest and violent uprising against repressive regimes or so-called democracies in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and elsewhere due to the ruling elites’ indifference to the problems of the people and failure to control inflation and unbridled corruption. It was the streets from where the above leaderless and transformational revolutions emerged. An angry, despondent and alienated public imploded into spontaneous revolt against their entrenched autocrats, with the Tunisians having overthrown theirs already while the Egyptians are on the verge of doing the same to theirs. Though our political eminences claim that there are no comparisons or similarities between Pakistan, Tunisia and Egypt, yet the situation on the ground is not much different, and our streets are also seething with no lesser public fury. Our political nobility across the spectrum should therefore think and imbibe a lesson or two from the present gigantic upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt. Obsessed as our leaders are in their own fixations and self-serving agendas, they are fragilely in the crosshairs of intense public loathing and disdain.

The PPP-led government may feel secure by wooing and bringing the MQM members back onto the government benches and also by forming a committee to work on Mian Nawaz Sharif’s agenda, but the people are not amused or impressed by these gimmicks. Going by the results of the February 2008 elections, the PPP is indeed a national party, having won seats in all provinces. It should have taken measures to at least lessen the incidence of corruption and should have shown a semblance of good governance. However, let all and sundry understand that a suicidal death of an unemployed, frustrated and educated youth because of brutal police harassment in Tunisia triggered the pent-up anger of the frustrated and disgusted people into a spontaneous leaderless revolt that threw President Zine el-Abidine out of power. Tunisians refused to embrace Ben Ali’s ‘friendly’ opposition, and also ignored those who came back from self-exile because they had not stayed with their compatriots in their hour of need and had opted to leave for safe havens to live a comfortable, rather luxurious life.

One does not know what turn the events will take because both in Tunisia and Egypt the protests are not being led by any revolutionary party, yet the ouster of dictators is a step forward. For a successful revolution, there is need for a revolutionary party as mere contradictions and inequities do not cause a stir in society unless they are fed into the feelings and consciousness of the people. All flaws and hurdles in the development of a nation that exist in objectivity must enter subjectivity in order to cause movement among the people. The hearts of patriotic Pakistanis bleed to see the nation divided on various planes, destroying the very fabric of national cohesion due to socio-economic injustice, corruption, sectarianism and the flawed policies of inept rulers. In the face of ever-rising prices of essential commodities, poverty, rampant corruption and the energy crisis, there exists little hope of relief for the poor masses in Pakistan. Yet their dream lives on as Pakistan is endowed with natural resources; Samar Mubarakmand has given hope that the Reko Diq gold mines have the potential to make Pakistan pay off its huge debt, put it on the path of development and achieve prosperity for its people.

No doubt, the federal government is responsible for formulating policies and plans for development; no innovative job creation scheme has been launched and no industrial or agricultural development plan has been introduced since the democratic government has been at the helm. It has to be mentioned that the provincial governments have also failed in equal measure because controlling prices and improving the law and order situation are the provincial governments’ responsibilities. People have waited for too long; their patience is running out and their persistent disappointment has morphed into boiling anger. The nation listens to the government’s ‘resolve’ to reduce the cabinet size, yet two weeks ago Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani laid a foundation stone for two new blocks of Parliamentary Lodges consisting of 104 luxury family suites for the law makers and 500 quarters for their servants. So far, none of the political parties have shown the will to end corruption and set an example for others to lead an austere life. The wretched of the earth become more frustrated when they see the profligacy of their leaders, who lead the life of kings and nobles.

Recently, during a meeting between the PPP and the PML-N members of the committees in Islamabad to work on the ‘brilliant’ 10-point agenda of Mian Nawaz Sharif, one could see on television channels and pictures released in the print media, the elaborate arrangements of décor on the tables and huge flower displays, as if it were a royal banquet. Bear in mind that they were discussing a reduction in expenditure to meet the economic challenges to the country. Will the ruling PPP pack up this bizarre theatre of thrashing out the PML-N’s 10-point agenda on which the confabulations between the two are leading nowhere? Will it, for a change, get down to the serious business of governance that it has neglected so banefully because the nation cannot afford being trivialised any more? If it wants the national ownership of a plan to revive the economy and to give good governance to the country, it must take its proposal to parliament and press for an all-parties parliamentary committee to go over it, vet it and approve it within a prescribed span of time, limited to no more than two weeks.

The PPP central committee has decided to rightsize the cabinet to bring it in line with the 18th Amendment, which is likely to consist of 34 ministers. At present, the number of ministers is 90 — of them 40 are federal ministers, 18 are ministers of state, 30 are parliamentary secretaries and two are advisors to the prime minister. A federal minister costs the exchequer Rs 30 lacs per month, comprising his salary, huge perks like house rent, medical expenses, telephones bills, travelling expenses, cars, fuel and maintenance. In addition to the above, the salaries of 342 members of the National Assembly, 100 senators, and about 700 members of the provincial assemblies, who also get daily allowances and boarding and lodging when the assemblies are in session, make a staggering sum. So the reduction of almost 50 percent of the ministers, though a step in the right direction, will not save much. Since almost all our parliamentarians are very well off, they should not draw their salaries and perks, at least for the remaining period of their tenures. They can also afford to use their own vehicles. There should be zero-tolerance for corruption and all corrupt elements should be prosecuted irrespective of their positions or affiliations.