God Does Not Want Democracy To Flourish In Pakistan
Our political system is simply not capable of meeting the coronavirus challenge. This system is primarily designed to cater to the needs and requirements of conventional groups and traditional classes—which control both the financial resources of the society and the dominant narrative at the social and political level, argues Umer Farooq.
Our political system was never as vulnerable as it was today—with the fast spread of COVID-19 pandemic in Pakistani society, the government is fast losing relevance to the situation citizens are facing. The last time, during the last ten years, when system appeared vulnerable to predatory forces was in the wake of US Special Forces raid on Abottabad that killed dreaded terrorist, Osama Bin Laden. Then the system appeared close to collapse.
But it survived as the forces threatening the survival of the system were rational forces and were manageable within the context of rational paradigms invented by the humans in the march of progress of human civilization. This time it is different—Pakistani political system is being threatened by social and political forces that would unleash in the society if the pandemic is allowed to run its normal course.
These forces will be unleashed if the fragile systems—meant to protect the citizenry against the spread of the pandemic, disease and corresponding miseries—are to collapse in the face of unhindered march of the COVID-19 and the government or the state machinery appears helpless or is perceived as silent spectator to what will be happening in the society.
The numbers suggest that nobody is in control of the situation—Pakistani government and its systems including health structures and those ensuring food and social security for the poor citizenry are already stretched to the limit while the pandemic is in its initial stages.
We don’t have the financial strength or the required level of manpower to ensure continued provision of health facilities or to ensure social or food security to our people in case pandemic continues to spread and numbers continue to multiple. Partial lockdown has failed to prevent the spread and the senior government officials have already started to predict a collapse of health systems if the disease continues to spread at the rate it is spreading.
Our political system doesn’t have the wherewithal or the required level of resources to cater to the needs of the people—which provide basis to the political system—in this time of crisis. Political systems, everywhere, are expected to fulfill the needs and requirements of the society and in return the populous accords legitimacy to the system through popular vote in a modern political system.
Pakistani political system, one can argue, have always failed to meet the needs of the people and still the people continue to accord legitimacy to the system through popular support. That’s true. But what will happen now will be much more dramatic than the usual and routine failure of the system. We will be witnessing hundreds of thousands of people turning to public hospitals in the hope of getting some kind of medical relief and God forbid, hundreds of deaths as a result of COVID-19 pandemic. And remember that all this will be televised live on more than two-dozen news channels in the country.
Just imagine hundreds of COVID-19 patients and their relatives waiting at the gates of public hospitals for medical relief turning into a protesting crowd. This is not happening now but this will happen if hundreds of thousands of people contract the disease by the end of May 2020 and if public health system collapses as predicted by senior government officials. Or if lockdown continues for an indefinite period, leaving hundreds of thousands jobless and foodless. The hundreds of thousands of now jobless daily wagers, looking for food, turning into mob in the urban centers would be realized, no much how much propaganda government machinery engages in to convince the people that they are doing their best to meet the challenge. Government’s efforts for provision of food to these daily wagers are nothing more than a photo opportunity for some government ministers and senior bureaucrats.
Our political system is simply not capable of meeting the challenge of such horrendous proportion. This system is primarily designed to cater to the needs and requirements of conventional groups and traditional classes—which control both the financial resources of the society and the dominant narrative at the social and political level.
The conventional groups and traditional classes simply invest in controlling the dominant narrative through the medium of popular media and are in control of all financial resources of the society, thus leaving crumbs for the poor masses and their security.
In the post-Zia period—the time when popular political leadership was emerging as a power center in Pakistani society—these conventional groups and traditional classes invested greatly in controlling centers of cultural production and mass media, thus in the process presenting themselves as saviors of the masses with the type of cultural production required for controlling the popular narrative. In normal circumstances this cultural production and propaganda machinery proved to be highly effective in diverting the attention of masses as people tend to forget their miseries in the face of free of cost (or may be at the payment of nominal cost) colorful screens in their bedrooms.
The COVID-19 crisis will just erode the effectiveness of this propaganda machinery and centers of cultural production, leaving the power structures and government legitimacy exposed to the social and political forces that the pandemic, disease and miseries will unleash in the society. Already the near stampede witnessed in some urban centers when ration was not distributed on time among the poor, must have rung the alarm bells in power centers. This political system already too narrowly based to be capable of absorbing the shocks that COVID-19 crisis is likely to generate. Correspondingly the luster of cultural production and colorfulness of the media will also lose its shine as the cultural productions will fail to match the glaring miseries that COVID-19 crisis is likely to produce—in case it is allowed to run its normal course.
Two types of political outcomes could result from this type of situation: First, PTI government could be sent packing after apportioning blame on it for the failures to meet the challenges of COVID-19 crisis.
PTI’s government’s legitimacy is likely to erode in the coming days as the failure to end the miseries of the people will become more and more glaring with the passage of time, thus making option of regime change much easier for the power wielders.
However the crisis itself will not go away, even if PTI government is dismantled. Second, outcome is more sinister and that is the erosion of the legitimacy of the state machinery itself. The collapse of health sector and collapse of the systems to ensure food security and social security is likely to speed up the process of erosion of legitimacy of the system itself.
The fact that all this will be happening in a very dramatic fashion could prove to be disastrous for the system. The power wielders can in desperation use the trump card of religion to explain the miseries of the common people. But I believe it is now too late for that as well.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.