GERMAN philosopher Friedrich Hegel has characterised history as “a march of reason”; Karl Marx called it a “dialectical process”, propelled by inherent social contradictions; and Joseph Schumpeter saw it as “creative destruction” that replaces obsolescence with innovation. These perspectives have left a considerable impact on much of the world, in particular Western society, politics and economy. Unfortunately, our state and political grandees have shown little regard for an objective analysis of history, remaining willfully unmindful of its ominous currents. No wonder, even as the state has turned politically toxic, economically crippled and institutionally deranged, they have shown reluctance to listen to the voice of reason calling for a wide-ranging discourse to forge a new, workable compact to cure the systemic malaise that gives rise to recurring sociopolitical crises.
Resultantly, the authorities, law, institutions and even morality are losing ground to the forces of anarchy. No more are vision, character or performance the criteria of leadership; instead, tribe-like phalanxes of followers and the impact of toxic narratives have become the measure of popularity. Hence, rejecting election results, defying judicial orders, challenging the government’s writ, and indulging in all kinds of obscenities in the guise of political rhetoric are the new ‘normal’. The age-old tools of democratic politics — discourse, civility and compromise — are becoming redundant as rival politicians fight each other like sworn enemies. If not stopped, the ongoing antagonism may lead to a situation where conflict-resolving institutions, particularly the judiciary, will also become ineffectual, leaving the embattled polity and already comatose economy without political or institutional recourse.
All this raises questions about the future of democracy. Unsurprisingly, the doomsayers are already out predicting a ‘soft takeover’. But this time, the plan is reportedly laced with a hard objective — an ‘all-round, relentless cleansing of the system’. The oracles are, however, silent on the modus operandi and the expected results of such cleansing in a body politic that has already been violently tribalised, with followers (in both camps) blindly bonding with their cultist chiefs, ever ready to take on their rivals. Moreover, the visible rise in ‘anti-establishment’ sentiments could also come in the way of garnering public support for establishment-sponsored accountability. But if the chips are down, would the judiciary sanctify an extra-constitutional set-up? And in case the court is packed via a PCO, would the compliant court sustain the massive backlash of the bar, civil society, social media and political parties?
A judicially supported ‘reformist’ putsch, too, would also be untenable. Accountability, no matter how well-meaning, has historically failed to bear fruit unless a robust legal system is in place to check the excesses of prosecution. Military dictator Pervez Musharraf tried this mode, but failed when a ‘collaborative’ judiciary couldn’t stop witch-hunting in the name of accountability.
The age-old tools of democratic politics are becoming redundant.
But even though an intervention seems unworkable in the given scenario, the question of how to deal with the continuing systemic failure remains. More so, given the delay in stitching together a deal with the IMF, and the increasing belligerence of the political leadership, which is drawing state institutions into the fray. The answer lies in our own history and that of other struggling democracies. Historically, the people led by a visionary, sagacious and selfless leadership have gone back to the drawing board if the existing system reached a plateau. Our case is no different. Parliament stands relegated to a sporadic talk shop. The executive remains subjugated to a dreadfully overbearing establishment (perceived by some to be in cahoots with judicial elements).
The judiciary, despite receiving post-18th Amendment boons, has failed on both counts, ie, constitutional enforcement and institutional performance. Much of the public sector reeks of rank inefficiency and unbounded corruption. The economy is literally on the ventilator, waiting for the IMF to resuscitate it. And even then, the political leadership refuses to rise above their petty personal and party interests, leaving a fragile democracy to fend for itself or wither away. In these circumstances, the only workable and long-term option seems to be the election of a new constituent assembly to review the much-mangled 50-year-old Constitution. The new constituent assembly needs to focus on at least the following eight areas:
One, remove the age-old civil-military imbalance that has cost us many an elected government, if not democracy, peace, progress and stability. Two, introduce an inbuilt constitutional mechanism to eradicate corruption that has become institutionalised and is gnawing on our economy and moral fabric. Three, reform the electoral system in order to ensure free and fair elections and a peaceful transfer of power. Four, revisit the laws governing private property, land reforms, and distribution of public wealth, so that the common folk may also receive their due share of national wealth and resources.
Five, dispense with the patently discriminatory and exploitative public policy and laws that allow public lands — urban and agricultural — to be monopolised by a select class of powerful elite comprising feudal, corporate, military, bureaucratic, judicial, media, political and real estate interests, and depriving millions of landless and homeless citizens, including peasants, labourers and katchi abadi residents of their rights.
Six, as no society can survive, let alone thrive, without justice and equity, our legal system being an extension of an obsolete security-fixated colonial order needs drastic reforms bringing to it more efficiency, agility and insularity. Particular focus is needed on resetting the rules related to administration, jurisdiction, appointment and accountability in the higher judiciary.
Seven, although we are a poor, backward state, it is ironic that we have been involved in virtually every sort of modern warfare — international, regional, internal, overt, covert, hot, cold, proxy, sectarian, ethnic, etc. Wars have cost us enormously in terms of human lives and economic losses. It’s time we did away with wars. Therefore, let matters of war and peace be decided strictly by parliament.
Finally, Pakistan was meant to be a true federal democracy, therefore, it’s imperative to further strengthen provincial autonomy — financially, administratively and politically. Only then will we see light at the end of the dark tunnel.
The writer is a lawyer and an academic.
Published in Dawn, March 23rd, 2023
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