For a new democracy - by Dr Atta-ur-Rahman

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During the last 60 years we have seen successive democracies inter-mingled with military rules. It is a painful reality that the worst military rule in Pakistan was far better than the best democracy.

A comparison shows that the GDP growth rates were invariably higher during military regimes. Take for instance the recent past. The period between 2001 and 2008 saw an average GDP growth of between 6-8 percent under former president Musharraf. In the subsequent six-period it has hovered around three percent and the present government is struggling to have it reach even the lowly figure of four percent.

Why has democracy consistently failed to deliver here, although it has worked reasonably well in India and Bangladesh? The corrupt politicians would have us believe that it was not given a chance because of repeated military interventions. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The military interventions were precipitated either by rampant corruption or by suicidal acts by the democratic governments themselves. We have never had a real democracy but a ‘feudocracy’ in which powerful local feudals have dominated parliament. Genuine land reforms carried out in India by Nehru laid the foundations of a strong middle class that has now reached about 30 percent of the population and continues to grow by about one percent a year.

Similar action was taken by the Supreme Court of Bangladesh soon after its independence, and land reforms were implemented. The democratic systems that came into being in India gave the highest priority to education, science and technology with the result that IT exports from India have now reached $ 44 billion annually, and the biotechnology product exports are following the same path.

Today India’s pharmaceutical industry is the envy of many nations with basic manufacturing facilities in many fields. India manufactures its own wind mills to produce electricity and builds its own nuclear power plants without foreign assistance. It has a strong car manufacturing industry (not just assembly plants) and manufactures a large range of other items ranging from solar panels to ships, and from railway engines to aircraft carriers.

A team of Indian scientists who visited Pakistan recently proudly stated that science funding has never been a problem for them in India. In Pakistan science has been grossly neglected and the present government continues to neglect this vitally important sector.

The concept of building a knowledge economy has not been on the radar of our rulers. Science institutions lie in a shambles and many of our schools remind us of a nuclear holocaust. There was a remarkable but brief period of progress in Pakistan in the higher education sector during 2003-2008 which led to international research publications from Pakistan being at par or slightly ahead of India on a per million population basis.

This sent alarm bells ringing in India (presentation made to the Prime Minister of India about tremendous progress made by Pakistan in higher education during 2003-2008, see (, Neha Mehta, ‘Pak Threat to Indian Science’, Hindustan Times, 23 July 2006). The ‘stable democracy’ that followed President Musharraf’s era did everything to destroy the higher education sector. This was triggered by 200 parliamentarians with forged degrees led by the federal minister of education whose degrees were also found to be forged and who switched from the PML-Q to the PML-N. Instead of being in jail, he is oft seen defending the PML-N on television.

The present form of democracy will never ever work in Pakistan. What Allama Dr. Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan have been saying is absolutely correct – I have been writing about the urgent need for electoral reforms for years in newspaper articles. Following the same path will surely lead to more loot and plunder, leading to the destruction of this country.

What we must do is introduce a presidential system of democracy with the president being elected directly by a general vote. New provinces will need to be created to ensure better governance and that the president is not just from Punjab every time. The president should select his own team of ministers, not on the basis of ‘loyalty’ but strictly on their competence and leadership record. The role of parliament should be reduced to law-making and oversight.

The ministers should not be chosen from parliament. This will remove the greed element in which the candidates invest Rs50 million to later plunder billions by illegal means. All appointments of presidential candidates, ministers, governors etc must be reviewed and approved by a judicial screening committee in consultation with experts in the respective fields to ensure integrity and competence. Since the primary role of parliament is law-making, all members of parliament must have at least a masters degree in their respective fields, as is required by Iran.

There must be electoral reforms with the new Election Commission being appointed by the chief justices of the supreme and high courts from persons of unquestionable integrity and those not having no political affiliations. The Election Commission should appoint Returning Officers who should work under it. The elections must be done by electronic voting and army personnel posted inside each election camp to oversee the process.

The powers must be transferred to the grassroots as suggested by Allama Dr Tahirul Qadri in his speech on May 11. A national education emergency should be declared and education given at least five percent of GDP rising to eight percent over five years. Primary and secondary education should be declared compulsory and parents who don’t send their children to school should be sent to jail for a minimum period of 12 months.

Mosques should be used to provide additional space for schools and the retired army personnel mobilised to provide school teachers. A National Education Service requiring two years mandatory service for all graduating students should be introduced so that degrees are not given till students have completed this service satisfactorily and have been certified. 9) The justice system should undergo deep surgery to ensure that all cases are decided in 3-6 months and all back log cleared in 12 months.

The roadmap for transitioning to a knowledge economy prepared under my supervision (320-page document approved by the cabinet on August 30, 2007) should be implemented so that science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship can be promoted in a focused manner.

The present ‘honourable gentlemen’ in parliaments will never introduce these reforms. The army must make sure that they happen. A formal role of the army in the government, as in Turkey, is the only way forward.

The writer is the president of the Pakistan Academy of Sciences and former chairman of the HEC.