In his book Pakistan: At the Crosscurrent of History, Lawrence Ziring meanders from elitist-controlled civilian rule to garrison rule over the last 70 odd years and states the real cause of Pakistan’s woes: “Jinnah’s vision had called for the establishment of a constitutional order, but institution-making was impossible among rival regional interests that were more inclined to protect their peculiar domain than construct a viable state. Unable to reconcile their different claims and sensing a loss of personal power, the politicians that inherited Pakistan state favoured their own more limited purposes and allowed the nation to grope for its own ill-defined destiny.”
As a result, the purpose of Pakistan, as defined by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, has remained elusive to this day.
In Pakistan: The Politics of the Misgoverned, former Punjab Inspector General of Police Azhar Hassan Nadeem, who experienced ill-governance in the political economy of Pakistan during his chequered career, sets out to revive the issue of how can Pakistan revert to the original purpose of the state. He examines the events of the last seven decades under a theoretical framework in nine chapters and, in the 10th, presents his recommendations for attaining the goal of the sustainable development of Pakistan’s political economy.
The key factor that led to multiple weaknesses in the governance apparatus is attributed to forsaking the principles on which the edifice of the state was to be raised. Nadeem lucidly explains the point thus: “The early death of Mohammad Ali Jinnah ... brought the dominant feudal elite into a leadership role. The Muslim League and the state easily fell prey to growing powers of the bureaucracy, the landlords and the military.” He argues that the interests of this class were to continue with the extractive institutions of colonial times. This had two consequences. One, it bred centralism; two, it strangulated “federalism, secularism and liberalism.”
The first casualty of our waywardness was witnessed in the relegation of rule of law to arbitrary and discretionary powers vested in the central authority. The offshoot was that the concept of separating power among the legislature, the executive and the judiciary was undermined. Instead of consistency in rulings, the judiciary delivered contradictory judgements in several constitutional cases. This apart, the Supreme Court granted legitimacy not only to the military regimes, but also to the establishment of military courts.
Citing other examples of the miscarriage of justice — including that of the special court constituted for Gen Pervez Musharraf’s trial for high treason — the author laments that, “notwithstanding the claim that the judiciary has been a catalyst in enforcing the rule of law and has expanded democracy, it is obvious that the superior judiciary in Pakistan had to judge the state mostly in the absence of a ‘representatively conceived constitution’.”
A former IG Police analyses the reasons for ill-governance in the country and how to put the state back on the road to Jinnah’s vision
The author is of the opinion that the lower judiciary is the fulcrum for enforcing contracts of small producers, but it is overburdened. As a result, the number of pending cases keeps rising, forcing litigants to take recourse to their personal networks. In this connection, he cites the observation in a petition to place a time limit for disposal of cases: “I admit openly that I have been unable to put the house in order, acknowledged Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar, while heading a four-judge bench that had taken up this petition. In order to give relief in civil cases, the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) was put into effect in February 2017, while granting constitutional cover to ‘jirga’ and ‘panchayat’ [tribal and village council] systems.”
Criminal cases fall in the domain of the police. To make the police force an apolitical, people-friendly and professionally autonomous institution, then president Musharraf replaced the Police Act 1861 with the Police Order 2002. However, being distasteful to the politicians, it was finally laid to rest through an ordinance, doing away the provision of prior approval of the president in the 17th Amendment and empowering parliament to amend the Police Order.
This apart, the police was totally politicised and was used to suppress political opponents and their rallies. Officers received postings on the basis of loyalty rather than merit. The cumulative effect was poor service, substandard management, corruption and loss of public confidence in the police as a protector of its lives, property and rights. Overcrowding in prisons and lack of resources completely paralysed the administration of prisons in the absence of a defined objective of imprisonment, and of reforms in obsolete laws.
Nadeem blames centralisation and authoritarianism on the post-Independence, migrant-led government in Karachi, which made elections dysfunctional out of a fear of loss of power. Civilian governments were formed in the drawing rooms of the centralist power-brokers, lacked the people’s mandate and were changed at will. This gave Gen Ayub Khan the opportunity to abrogate the 1956 Constitution and assume power. History kept repeating itself, with the army takeovers by Gen Ziaul Haq and Gen Musharraf. The author ascribes this to political parties losing sight of party-building, and making compromises to stay in power.
A new phenomenon came to light with the leaking of the Panama Papers in April 2016. Names of various leaders involved in money laundering came to the fore; former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was tried in the Supreme Court and subsequently convicted. His trial made obvious the nexus existing between business and politics and a Dawn editorial commented: “From the Sharifs’ business partnerships with a number of ruling families in the Middle East and the Gulf to their interests in that most recognisable of political assets, sugar mills, the obvious and perhaps hidden conflicts of interest are numerous ... Moreover, with the political government controlling economic policy, how can the government be trusted to fairly set the rules and tariffs in, for example, the sugar industry, if the Sharif family has business interests in the sector?”
The key factor that led to multiple weaknesses in the governance apparatus is attributed to forsaking the principles on which the edifice of the state was to be raised.
Nadeem describes political parties as personalised institutions or family dynasties, having no arrangements for internal debates on vital issues. He castigates the parties for having neither a system that lets junior cadres move to the top echelons, nor formal think tanks to evolve the party position on national issues. He further adds that elected representatives treat their constituencies as family fiefdoms and voters as bonded labour, ensuring their re-election to elected bodies at local, provincial and federal levels.
Civil society organisations (CSOs), including non-governmental organisations, play a major role in development, humanitarian relief, awareness and advocacy, to stem the tide of violence and extremism. However, CSOs in Pakistan are handicapped because of lack of training in management, funding and communication skills, and so have failed to play an effective role in the governance of state.
Local governments at the third tier of authority are considered an effective instrument for involving people in governance, but local interests and political parties have been averse to this concept since Pakistan’s inception. Narrating the historical background, the author mentions the treatment meted out to Gen Musharraf’s devolution plan. For the first time, local governments were created at district and tehsil/town levels under elected nazims rather than bureaucrats. The nazims were given authority to enact laws and rules, and to raise taxes for meeting current and development expenditures. But these reforms were set aside when Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa enacted the Punjab Local Government Act, the Sindh Local Government Act and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Local Government Act in 2013 and Balochistan enacted the Balochistan Local Government (Amendment Act) in 2014.
In formulating his recommendations, Nadeem asserts that “the role of the superior judiciary, political parties, civil and military bureaucracy, local government and society in determining the course of the citizen-state relationships in Pakistan, particularly during the period between 1999-2017, leaves a lot to be desired” and Pakistan’s governance structure needs a complete overhaul.
The new social contract, as proposed by Nadeem, is built around six features. First, a new constitution should be written, stipulating supremacy of law and the constitution over all other institutions and thereby ensuring the executive, the judiciary and the military establishment work within their constitutional parameters, with each organ functioning as real sovereign without interference from the other.
Second, the country should be governed by the polity ordained by the constitution and not by theocracy and the garrison. Third, judges should be appointed on merit through a federal public commission and should be completely independent, but made accountable under anti-corruption legislation applicable across the board without exception.
Fourth, economic policy should be made people-friendly rather than elitist-friendly. Fifth, foreign policy should emphasise peaceful co-existence with all South Asian neighbours and should not succumb to pressures exercised by other countries — as happened when Prime Minister Imran Khan backed out of attending the Kuala Lumpur Summit in December 2019. Finally, the criminal justice administration policy should be revamped to achieve public confidence, greater effectiveness and efficiency in police service, prosecution agencies, courts, prison and medico-legal services.
Nadeem assiduously makes a case that all the organs of state, as well as all institutions in the public and private sectors, have decayed to such an extent that the army has assumed a preponderant ascendency over all else. This opens up some questions. One, how will a collapse of the state materialise to rewrite a new social contract? Two, who will spearhead the new social contract when all state institutions are dormant? The author seems to be silent on these questions.
The reviewer is a retired government servant and author of several monographs and books. His latest book is Human Conflict with Nature: Alarm Bell for the Demise of our Modern Civilisation
Pakistan: The Politics of the Misgoverned
By Azhar Hassan Nadeem
Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, November 29th, 2020