Media, democracy and governance Imtiaz Alam
These free times and democratic virtues are all thanks to and due to democracy – nothing else – that we all must preserve and defend as an essential component of the constitutional and democratic framework underwritten by fundamental rights, freedom of expression and an independent judiciary.
These are the times for celebrating the freedom that we have got through a protracted struggle for civil and human rights and for the restoration of democracy and constitutional rule that was successively interrupted by the usurpers-in-khaki. Pakistan can now be distinguished as the only country in the Muslim word to have a vocally free media and an authoritatively independent judiciary – the new vibrant components of our democracy-in-transition. Fortunately, we have a parliament that has earned the distinction of having passed the 18th Amendment with an absolute consensus, removing the stigma of most infamous Eight Amendment (if not most rabidly reactionary parts of it) and 17th Amendment and allowing greater autonomy to the federating units – a highly welcome improvement. Thanks to the Charter of Democracy and a policy of reconciliation, we are witnessing a democratic culture of accommodation, adjustment and understanding among various political elements with an opposition playing by the book, setting healthy democratic conventions.
As democracy allows greater space to civil society and civilian institutions, we witness a greater assertion of vocal elements of civil society, the media and the bars, the judiciary – revived under democracy by democratic means – and the federating units by virtue of the NFC Award, to expand their spheres and spaces scuttled during military dictatorships. We also see a presidency bowing to the parliamentary spirit of the 1973 Constitution, rather than remaining an instrument of the powers-that-be to scuttle the mandate of the people. Most vibrant and inclusive is the politics of coalition making at the Centre and the provinces. We see unprecedented accountability of the elected representatives by the media – often bordering on ridicule. On top of all this, a very proactive judiciary is not letting any omission of the executive go unpunished to a point where, on occasions, the poor executive looks traumatised and squeezed.
Every public complaint or outcry finds its fullest and loudest expression on 24/7 news broadcasts and the daily newspapers. The instant and minute-by-minute ‘breaking news’ stream and unending repetitive talk shows have captured the political and social landscape while frantically pursuing the misleading ratings by the self-serving monitors of aggressive commercial bosses. These free times and democratic virtues are all thanks to and due to democracy – nothing else – that we all must preserve and defend as an essential component of the constitutional and democratic framework underwritten by fundamental rights, freedom of expression and an independent judiciary. Those violating all norms while provoking the countdowns for undemocratic change every other week or month must realise that a free media, an independent judiciary, rule of law, respect for civil and human rights are all a sine qua non of democracy and not otherwise. If you will dig the grave for democracy, you will be inviting your own demise. Indeed, we are for accountability of all but, of course, without excluding ourselves – the media.
This is the noise of democracy that we relish and must protect. Indeed there are those, deluded by their new-found power, who are insulting the sanctity of freedom and legitimacy of their authority while crossing ethical and institutional limits for their parochial and vested interests. They must be checked from within amid growing public scepticism. The irony of the situation is that the ongoing tug-of-war among the civilian institutions and military forces to grab greater space at the cost of the other is, ironically, eroding the very foundation on which stands the whole edifice of democracy. Even the meek efforts at taming the untamed and bringing powerful apparatuses of the establishment under civilian and constitutional purview were frustrated – not as much by those who thrive beyond the law and accountability but by the same custodians of our freedom and lawful protection. Resultantly, the sphere of the elected government has been reduced to less than a sovereign’s job, consigning most strategic foreign and internal affairs back into the lap of the unaccountable masters of our destiny.
Real life beyond is full of challenges, obstacles and uncertainties. The challenges have to be tackled instead of making the politicians scapegoats who have always been wrongly or rightly blamed for decades. Sensing the undemocratic and unconstitutional threats to democracy, SAFMA along with some leading journalists, intellectuals and civil society leaders, from the platform of Citizens for Democracy, called upon all the institutions and stakeholders to say no to any undemocratic and unconstitutional change while emphasising the urgency to evolve a national agenda to tackle the all-sided crises of the sate. Some of the challenges, that pose a real threat to our existence as a people and a land, that is sacred to us, are as follows:
Low-growth-high-poverty equilibrium with lowest tax-GDP, saving-GDP, investment-GDP and per capita investment on the people with lowest social indicators in the developing world: It requires a new paradigm of inclusive and sustainable growth and all-out effort in every sphere of the economy, including the revitalisation of high value adding manufacturing, agricultural and servicing sectors, conservation, exploration and development of energy and water resources, human resource development and poverty eradication, withdrawal of subsidies and expansion of revenues by taxing both the rural and urban rich, reprioritisation of allocation of resources from military security to human security, drastic reformation or disposing off public sector corporations to get rid of financial haemorrhage, inclusion of the dispossessed people and the deprived backward regions into the mainstream of development and empowerment and opening up our eastern and western borders to revive traditional trade routes to become a hub of trans-regional trade and investment across South, Central and Western Asia.
A parasitic national security state failing to enforce its writ and maintain peace within and without: it must enforce its writ across every nook and corner of our land while keeping its monopoly over coercive means by completely eradicating non-state violent actors/militias threatening our existence/sovereignty and jeopardising our relations with our neighbours and the international community. The menace of terrorism has to be eradicated by all means and in every sphere that reproduces it. It calls for a radical reversion of our failed security paradigms that nourished these gravediggers of Pakistan’s otherwise moderate, tolerant, egalitarian and pluralist society.
Marginalisation of the will and the sovereignty of the people: all organs of the state and all stakeholders must submit to the will and sovereignty of the people exercised by the elected representatives of the people, responsible to the final arbiters – the people of all the federating units. Civil-military relations must be redefined strictly in accordance with the letter and spirit of the 1973 Constitution and everything about the security establishment must be brought under the purview of our sovereign parliament. All institutions and organs of the state must keep within their lawful limits, frustrating all machinations and efforts to destabilise the democratic setup and rejecting any change through undemocratic and unconstitutional means.
A flawed foreign and security paradigm promoting conflict in the neighbourhood: there is an urgent need to critically reappraise our foreign and national security policies that are beyond our national resources and repudiate peace both within and without, frustrate economic growth and prosperity and keep our people in the shackles of poverty. It requires, in particular, radical revision of our ‘India-centric’, ‘strategic-depth’ (vis-Ã -vis Afghanistan) and ‘strategic-assets’ (of our jihadis who are nobody’s friend) types of strategic assumptions. The militaristic version of national security, that failed to provide us internal and external security, must be replaced with an overarching vision of human security, thus eradicating the causes behind the growth of suicide bombers, violence and religious extremism; and a rational, smart and cost-effective defence backed by credible deterrence.
Crises of governance: Pakistan is faced with deep-rooted crises of governance from the civilian administration to the military establishment, financial sectors to fiscal spheres, generating revenues to transparent and accountable expenditure, delivery of cheap and easy justice and honest and law-abiding policing, respecting citizens’ fundamental rights regardless of gender, creed or ethnicity and empowering people, rewarding merit, entrepreneurship, innovation and competition while precluding unethical privileges, rent-seeking, bribery and fraud, respecting dissent and granting women and minorities equal privileges of equal citizens and devolving and de-concentrating power to the lower tiers of governance, all-sided and even-handed accountability of all through due process of law, access to and free flow of information and a transparent, accountable and efficient governance. This cannot be achieved by totalitarian or fascist regimes and barbaric means or by chasing the ghosts and shadows of past corruption.
Ethnic and sectarian tensions: despite granting provincial autonomy and some concessions to the smaller provinces, the federating units continue to suffer from alienation and nurse frustrations, such as Balochistan. While progressively and radically devolving power from the Centre to the provinces and onward to the districts and ultimately to the grassroots level to empower our people, the federation and its powerful arms must take affirmative steps to remove the grievances of the smaller provinces, Balochistan in particular. Balochistan needs extraordinary accommodation and amelioration. There are ethnic tensions within the provinces that also need to be addressed by respecting pluralism at all levels to strengthen unity-in-diversity. On the other hand, sectarian cleavages are tearing apart our social fabric, which has been increasingly taking a violent turn since General Zia’s so-called ‘Islamisation’ and induction of the jihadi and Kalashnikov culture. All sectarian and violent militias, their cover-up bodies, charities, sectarian seminaries preaching violence and producing hate materials must be prosecuted and banned. Instead of becoming a source of national unity, the sectarian forces that pollute the spiritual space have turned religion into a source of discord and disunity. A distinction has to be made between the state and religion and theology and education while respecting the beliefs of the people that do not hurt others’ beliefs and religious practices.
SAFMA Pakistan undertakes to initiate a public discourse on the above-mentioned national agenda and plans to convene a national conference to facilitate a broader consensus among the forces of civil society from the platform of Citizens for Democracy.
Source: Daily Times