By Najma Sadeque
It seemed so appropriate, so symbolically powerful, that the forgotten, unserved – but not unwashed — masses of a ‘democracy’ should place themselves at the doorstep of the Supreme Court, the highest authority, to appeal for justice that’s never been their lot. For once, one really expected hearts and consciences to be touched. Turns out such things only happen in fairy tales and movies.
The laundry on public bushes and walls (tax-enabled), were too unsightly for some sensibilities. ‘Elected representatives’ found their beauty sleep disturbed by the thousands of protestors (they are supposed to represent) who can’t sleep when the sun and rain beat down on them. So much so, that, the JI chief surprisingly found it necessary to make a statement on behalf of the elite’s frazzled nerves!
For over a decade, reportage has been rising about the increasing use of the police, globally, to contain and intimidate civilians. Especially since George Bush introduced his ‘Patriot’ and ‘Home Security’ measures to justify reducing civil liberties, right to information and freedom of expression. A few months ago, a book self-explanatorily titled “A Government of Wolves: the Emerging American Police State”,was launched in the US, by John Whitehead, an attorney, and President of the Rutherford Institute, a non-profit civil liberties organisation. What does this have to do with the rest of the world? Plenty, in a globalized one.
Police states were once mostly associated with Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union of old, Chile, and South Africa of apartheid days. Colonial governments were in effect police states. While the degree of repression varies, today’s non-western police state is associated with multinational corporations and banks. Police look less and less like the formerly unarmed neighbourhood cop and more and more like aggressive, trigger-happy soldiers seeking blood.
John Whitehead points out some $34 billion has been spent on militarizing the US police – with lethal, high-powered machine guns, silencers, night-vision equipment, helmets, armored cars, even surveillance aircraft – to deal with their own resisting population. Over $60 billion was poured into the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and its 240,000 full-time personnel – enough for entire economic budgets of some countries. There is very little to distinguish them from military soldiers except the department that employs them. Allies ape them when they can afford similar equipment – they make popular import products; or their sponsor country generously gifts or subsidizes them.
These have grim implications for countries still trapped by unnecessary ‘development’ loans and unrepayable debts, and export-orientation that benefit only a tiny elite while further impoverishing the masses, especially the peasantry that produces export commodities.
It’s been happening since World Bank and IMF became the government-behind-the-scenes in countries that gained ‘independence’ around the same time. It worsened when they ensured permanent poverty through “structural adjustment” for over three decades.
It was finally made disastrous when gullible or greedy governments conceded to multinational-globalist plans under the WTO — to treat the entire world as a single economic unit for sourcing natural resources and agricultural commodities, irrespective of national and local politics and preferences. The offending term of colonization or neo-colonialism was merely replaced with the more palatable terms of foreign investment and ‘free trade’.
For citizens who didn’t like the idea of ‘elected’ political representatives signing away their rights, livelihoods and public goods, police statism became necessary to enforce international agreements signed against public will. It provided convenient ‘legal’ cover to business and political self-interests that enjoy benefits or a cut.
The inhuman contract system, for example, that hits most workers, never allowing permanent jobs, incremental raises, healthcare or pensions, has as much to do with globalization as with feudalism; with preserving both the national and global-political-economic status quo through maintaining ‘law and order’.
Development and democracy became associated with ‘efficiency’ – squeezing the highest output and profits from the least input — irrespective of human and environmental costs. Government increasingly represented global corporate interests, not national. Sovereignty became archaic.
It was once believed that if people were paid deservedly and well, especially at the highest level making critical decisions affecting citizens, they are unlikely to descend to bribery and corruption. This work wells for the average Joe who wants to retain his job, doesn’t have lofty ambitions and is content with basics fulfilled and the things in life that are ‘free’ — such as the joys of family and community life. But it seldom applies on politicians, and now, seemingly, no longer on other decision-makers either. The system again got scuttled by lack of transparency and timely accountability.
Perhaps different criteria and conditions need to be applied? – elected representatives, who mostly have other sources of income, paid minimum wages officially considered adequate for a minimum level of survival – to make them think when comparing with their personal costs of living? Making representation proportionate to social categories, such as labour, small farmers, women, not just based on size of administrative unit? A separate ‘social’ police system to protect citizens? When have feudal and industrialists members and ministers ever been representative of ordinary people? It may even attract genuine good Samaritans and social welfarists into politics.
Offices and factories deduct wages when workers are absent; does the PM (and other reps) get paid anyway even when they play hooky? Aren’t taxpayer citizens entitled to know?
Generalized views of the PAT and PTI ideals may not appeal to rigidly secular minds, but a progressive Imran Khan and the scholarly Dr. Qadri should hardly be clubbed falsely with the fanatics in and around the country. Such assumptions brush aside real issues of pervasive corruption and rights and needs. Besides, citizens can always support specific causes without joining a party.
Whether the protestors realize it or not, or others refuse to acknowledge, there have already been victories for the revolution-in-progress which will determine the course of future politics. – Even if total victory isn’t in sight. The first victory the police inadvertently handed to them for the first time in Pakistan, thanks to fast-responding TV channels that captured the most damning evidence. Henceforth the police, not just in Islamabad – will think twice — knowing ultimate authorities are too cowardly to admit responsibility or take the flak.
The other victory is the emergence of the new activist generation – which most weren’t even aware was quietly growing — including educated middle-class, youth, the sea of women side by side, all more aware than the previous generation, plus elders clinging with renewed hope despite the world having passed them by.
For senior citizens who had long given up hope of ever seeing the poor receiving all basic needs even if not a wholly egalitarian society, the turnout for PAT and PTI sparked an unexpected glimmer of hope.
No one expected the sit-in to go beyond a few days, especially after torrential rains. They displayed what we’ve never seen before – dedication and staying power – asking not for the moon, but merely the end of protected institutionalized corruption, and for justice.
People are actually asking for very, very little. If a government can’t even ensure this little, for what purpose is government?
This article was published in the The Nation on 27 August, 2014