This Article appeared in Daily The News on August 21st, 2010.

Despite the unprecedented internal and external threats faced by the country, the attitude of our political leadership is appalling. Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to France and Britain was a display of sheer callousness, to say the least. As it is supposed to do, the media only reported the facts about what happened during his visits. But, through its political activists, the PPP decided to use pressure tactics against the media. This is not the behaviour of members of a civilised society.

In the past few years, civil-society organisations, the lawyers’ community and the media have played an extremely positive role. However, unless their efforts are effectively supported by Pakistani society, they could be neutralised by powerful lobbies and the government, through a combination of inducements and coercion. This support will take time to develop since the forces for change are scattered in our society and therefore cannot exert sufficient pressure on the government to persuade it to mend its ways and act in accordance with the wishes of the people of Pakistan. In view of this situation, ways have to be found to bring the democratic forces together.

Claims by the leading political parties that they enjoy the mandate of the people of Pakistan are exposed as false when we realise that only 30 to 40 per cent of voters go to the polling booth on voting day. The majority of those who understand issues and can differentiate between good and bad politicians do not even bother to vote. The feudal lords and industrialists heading the top political parties act through party activists and even armed gangs. It is these political leaders with their specific vote banks who, when they are in government, benefit their favoured people by hook or by crook. It is leaders like these who wreck the system of governance when they come to power.

These parties and politicians may claim to be democratic but are evidently authoritarian by nature. These political parties with their goon squads are so strong and powerful that it is impossible for Pakistani society to change the status quo unless it stands up for its rights.

Availability of the internet and the mobile phone has added a new dimension to the power of civil society, which should put these to the most effective use to bring about changes in Pakistan. The media around the globe is freer than ever before to reveal crimes, corruption and cover-ups, and these revelations, in turn, can help reform the system of governance.

It is universally accepted that democracy is the best model of governance for a state where the will of the people is at the core. But whenever this system is abused through dictatorial policies of political parties and where the public mandate is achieved through dubious means, the system is likely to collapse sooner or later. It cannot be restored unless meaningful corrections are made.

Some people question the legitimacy of civil-society organisations. They feel that such organisations have obtained a remarkable power of their own without election or appointment. But these organisations should be considered complimentary and supplementary to democracy.

Military rules are no remedy. In fact, they further complicate the problems of the state and governance. As Thomas Jefferson said: “I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but inform their discretion.”