The right to know
Pakistan’s Senate has finalized the Right to Information Bill. This Bill has been developed to make two of the cardinal principles of democracy, transparency and accountability, the cornerstone of Pakistan’s politics. If these two principles are established, Pakistan will not only be able to deal with the menace of corruption that has eaten into its core, it will put the country on the road of success because of available resources. Pakistan, as has been ably described by one of the architects of the bill, Farhatullah Babar, is peculiar in hushing up things under the veneer of a security threat or the ideology of Pakistan. We have lines of investigative reports waiting to be explored on issues that at one time had threatened the country’s very survival. We either chose to bury them or manipulated them to camouflage the real information. The Hamoodur Rahman Commission report on the 1971 war is an example that fits the definition of both twisted and covered-up truth. We have made many issues simply untouchable, such as the Kargil debacle, the law guiding the intelligence agencies, especially the ISI, the assets of defence officers, etc. Any demand for the disclosure of this information is considered a breach of national faith, aimed at weakening the state apparatus, i.e. its defence mechanism. Information sharing does not only lead to accountability, it also makes people part of the power structure that our government and the establishment are loathe to share, neither amongst themselves nor with the people. The Right to Information Bill if implemented in its true spirit will give people the real ‘power’ to reform. This Bill, according to Farhatullah Babar, will ensure maximum disclosure, the end of blanket immunity and minimum number of exemptions from disclosure. An Information Commission will also be set up to hear appeals against departments or people who deny or delay information.
Pakistan inherited and has retained to date the colonial system of governance, designed deliberately by the British to subjugate and alienate the masses. Instead of getting rid of this prejudiced system, we added to its biases by turning the country into a national security state that further alienated the masses and created a hermetically sealed power structure. Now that Pakistan has started its true journey towards democracy, it becomes all the more vital that its people are given the right to information on things that matter to them and to their country. Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have already passed right to information bills, Sindh and Balochistan must follow suit, and the federal government should make sure that its bill achieves its aim and becomes a paradigm of change.