Why have elections?

If our politicians favour real democracy, why do they not hold transparent elections in their own parties?

After the recent charade of the senate elections and the election of the chairman and deputy chairman, one cannot be blamed for wondering if we really do deserve to have the kind of democracy which allows politicians to loot and plunder.
Of course, since Nawaz Sharif himself did his best to destabilise past PPP governments, he ought not to have been shocked at what has happened to him.
It has been obvious for a long time that we are not democratic by nature. The ten immediate years after partition saw politicians fighting among themselves, while prime ministers did not last long in those tumultuous days, with one, I I Chundrigar, resigning only a month into his tenure.
The people, therefore, actually welcomed General Ayub Khan with open arms, calling him the saviour of the country. Claiming that universal adult franchise (one man-one vote) is not suited to the temperament of our people, Ayub introduced the basic democracy system in which an electorate of only eighty thousand people, out of a total population of eighty million, voted to elect members of the national assembly.
These basic democrats elected Ayub Khan as president, rejecting the popular Miss Fatima Jinnah. Those elections were thought to be massively rigged, as she was the sister of the founder of the nation and was very popular among the masses. Ms. Jinnah also died under very suspicious circumstances, and it is widely believed that she was murdered during her sleep.
When Ayub Khan became unpopular, however, our people came out on the streets to throw him out. The people did not protest when he handed power over to another general, although his own constitution said that the national assembly speaker, an East Pakistani, should have taken over as president.
After the first supposedly free and fair elections in 1970, the winner Shaikh Mujeebur Rahman should have been allowed to form the government. Unfortunately, our so-called ‘democracy-loving’ politicians, led by Bhutto, and those who were in power at the time simply could not bear the thought of having an East Pakistani heading the government.
The country was dismembered, and we had to start anew, with Bhutto serving as the civilian martial law administrator and whose intransigence was the main reason for the country’s breakup.
Despite calling himself a committed democrat, Bhutto was highly autocratic, very much like Imran Khan, Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif. He humiliated and tortured many of his party stalwarts like JA Rahim and Mukhtar Rana, who had the courage to oppose him.
Bhutto’s tenure ended in 1977 when the people came out to protest against the massively rigged elections, and when General Zia seized power even though he held Bhutto in high esteem mere days before launching the coup. Then again, our politicians too have the knack of changing sides at the drop of a hat, as is being witnessed nowadays.
After the restoration of democracy, both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto connived with the establishment to dislodge each other’s governments. Even during the last PPP government, both Zardari and Nawaz were at each other’s throats. Zardari imposed governor’s rule in Punjab, while Nawaz sided with the establishment in the Memogate scandal.
If our politicians favour real democracy, why do they not hold transparent elections in their own parties? Shahbaz Sharif was elected unopposed as party chairman of the PML-N. Apparently no one else had the guts to oppose him.
The PPP, moreover, is a family business, with grey-haired and experienced veterans like Aitzaz Ahsan and Raza Rabbani forced to obey the orders of the virtually inexperienced Bilawal, while the PTI chief rejected his own election commission’s report about rigged elections and corruption within his party.
It has sadly been like this since the country’s independence, with history repeating itself every few years. Our leaders have always been embroiled in trying to retain or attain power, which gives an opportunity to the establishment to step in, much to the relief of the common man. Those who lose elections try their best to dislodge the winners, who in turn try desperately to remain in power and therefore cannot concentrate on good governance, which leads to the country suffering.
It has been said that the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter. Talk to the voter in our rural areas and you find that he is not at all bothered by corruption. He respects those who are wealthy and who live in their own palatial houses.
In fact, if our politicians were to suddenly adopt simple lifestyles like giving up their motorcades and getting their children educated in government schools, they would find themselves losing the confidence and respect of their voters. The common Pakistani thinks, “If this man is not wealthy, how can he solve our problems?” The average Pakistani peasant will either vote for his feudal landlord’s party or to someone who belongs to his own caste or tribe. Which is why the PPP will continue to win elections in the rural areas of Sindh.
One may well ask then, “Why have elections at all?” Why not simply appoint members of the feudal elite throughout the country to rule and supervise development in those areas which they control?
Look at our assemblies, dominated by feudal lords and the filthy rich. The nation has to incur massive expenditure on holding elections, which in any case tend to be rigged and tend to cause so much bitterness.
Even in the US, a man like Donald Trump became president, despite the fact that Hilary Clinton got three million more votes than he did. In our own country, we had a prime minister who has been elected three times, and who is the alleged owner of property worth millions.
Perhaps a few years without elections may be the solution to our ills. Plus, of course, having incorruptible leaders like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore who will not hesitate to take strict action against those indulging in corruption.
The writer is an engineer, a former visiting lecturer at NED Engineering College, an industrialist, and has been associated with the petroleum, chemical industries for many years. He tweets @shakirlakhani
Published in Daily Times, May 16th 2018.

The tale of the Chinese and the Pakistani Police
MAY 9, 2018
Khanewal is one of those places very few people in Pakistan have visited. It is familiar only to those who travel by rail from Karachi to Lahore and beyond. One notable person it has produced is the famous religious scholar Maulana Tariq Jamil, whose sermons are very popular among the people. He has been able to make a few celebrities turn into deeply religious Muslims. He is also very popular among those worthy citizens who have huge undeclared properties abroad and for whose benefit the recent tax amnesty has been announced.
Many years ago, perhaps in 1965, a couple of Pakistanis got into a scuffle with a British national in Karachi. One of the locals said something about the Brit being an educated man who should refrain from jumping the queue, to which the Brit said something abusive.
The two Pakistanis reacted and started beating up the white man, while his wife sat screaming in their car. A crowd gathered and succeeded in rescuing the Englishman. At the time, I thought the locals should not have reacted so violently. Most of those assembled there, however supported the locals. Unfortunately this is the way our people have been brought up.
What does this incident have to do with Khanewal? Recently local cops were involved in a clash with Chinese workers who were building a road in the area. It seemed as if the Chinese wanted to go away from their quarters but the police insisted on accompanying them. This, according to the cops, was because they were responsible for the security of the Chinese workers.
It remains unclear who started the fight. The police say the Chinese attacked them, and they had no choice but to retaliate. One Chinese man is seen standing on a police mobile van in a video. Another video shows the Chinese workers being thrashed by the cops. I cannot say who is to blame, but it is abundantly clear that our cops are not equipped to deal with these situations.
In fact, policemen should not be given the task of protecting the Chinese. If there is one thing we know for sure, it is that our policemen are absolutely useless in maintaining law and order. The courts have asked the government to arrest Khadim Hussain Rizvi, and the man is roaming freely nowadays in Lahore, yet the police dare not approach him.
Compare this with what happened on March 25, 1971, when army personnel drove through the streets of Dacca which were packed with hostile crowds and arrested Sheikh Mujeebur Rahman from his residence.
Only military personnel could have successfully dealt with the Chinese, without any violence occurring. Policemen in Pakistan are usually workers of political parties and in many cases they have paid the right people to get jobs. In Karachi, due to the failure of the police to control street crimes, the task has been given to the Rangers. Our cops spend their working lives extracting money from poor helpless people so they can collect enough to get posted to more lucrative places where they can make even more money.
As expected, almost everyone in the country blamed the Chinese. Here are some comments from online newspaper readers.
“This is atrocious. Pakistani policemen being beaten up by the Chinese engineers only because they were stopped for security reasons. Will Chinese do such a thing in their own country? They will kick army men also tomorrow. Only because Pakistan is allowing them to build CPEC on their own land, China should not treat local Pakistani as their slaves. Pakistani junta must protest this behavior with a heavy hand or tomorrow Chinese will start treating Pakistan as their captured country”
Here is another one:
“Chinese workers that did this must be immediately repatriated back to China. We have a duty to safe guard our people and police services. The Chinese should either stay subservient to the local law or be thrown out. This is exactly what any other self-respecting country would do. No one can come to our country and beat up our people, as a mob, irrespective of who started it.”
Of course, we should have expected the ending. Khanewal District Police Officer (DPO) Rizwan Umar Gondal, a day after the clash between staff of a Chinese company and the Special Protection Unit of police, recommended to the Punjab government deportation of five officials including the country project manager of the foreign company. Even though the Chinese workers apologised, they were still deported.
There is, however, more to this story. Everyone seems to have missed this report: “According to police officials, Chinese engineers and other officials wanted to leave their camp in Khanewal and visit a “red-light” area on Tuesday night. They resorted to agitation when denied permission to leave the camp without being accompanied by security officials.”
A red-light area? In the Islamic Republic of Pakistan? And in the very place where Maulana Tariq Jamil was born? We know what happens in such red light areas, and we can say with certainty that the Chinese did not want to go there to play games like Scrabble or Ludo or Monopoly with the good women there.
We also know that in almost all cities such areas exist where people indulge in what is known as the oldest profession in the world. But this fact is never mentioned, especially by policemen, who pay huge sums to get posted to such localities to earn their fortunes.
Again, if the DPO and other police officers had ensured that no red light area existed in their jurisdiction, the Chinese would never have heard of the place and the scuffle would never have taken place.
So the government of Shehbaz Sharif should first sack the DPO and other police officers for this gross negligence. If he does not, perhaps the Chief Justice can take suo moto notice and do what is required.

Petrol prices
In 2013 when the present PML-N-led government came to power, the prices of petrol and diesel were Rs104 and Rs109 per litre respectively. Today the respective prices are Rs89 and Rs99 per litre. I fail to understand why there is such uproar.
Although I am not a supporter of the PML-N, I do feel that the people should be told that the current situation could have been worse. Had the PPP been in power today, the prices of petroleum products would have been much higher.
Shakir Lakhani
The News, May 3, 2018

K-Electric’s bill format
Sir: The new bill format adopted by K-Electric appears to have been designed to conceal vital information from consumers. In the old format, we could readily calculate the cost per unit charged by the utility company (by dividing the variable amount by the number of units consumed), as well as other charges (including the taxes paid to the government, which are usually from 20 to 30 percent, depending on the number of units).
The new format only gives the total amount (including taxes). K-Electric should revert to the old format immediately.
Published in Daily Times, May 2nd 2018.