MANY foibles and follies have been committed by individuals in positions of authority and institutions responsible for running the affairs of state. They have developed into a cascade of concerns requiring serious introspection for the survival of our state, which is founded on the republican principles of social justice, the rule of law and liberal democracy.
Let us start with the highest office of the state: the president. Dr Arif Alvi is a decent but weak head of state. He has chosen to cling to his esteemed public office rather than quit on the completion of his five-year term and devote himself to organising his tattered political party to which he owes the prestige and status bestowed upon him, especially at a time when the party chairman is incarcerated.
His ambivalent and weak stance in the context of amended bills relating to the Army Act and the Official Secrets Act defies the logic he tried to project through his personal X (formerly Twitter) account. It clearly shows that he has no access to the president’s official social media channels. Nor did he give any reason as to what objections he had raised on those changes made by parliament.
Under the Constitution, his not signing the amended laws had to be clearly articulated in writing. Shifting the blame on his principal secretary was inappropriate. No official inquiry was initiated, and the axe fell on the bureaucrat manning the presidential official business. He was merely transferred.
It was sheer embarrassment when his principal staff officer contradicted the stance by maintaining that the file was not cleared by the president, let alone any verbal instructions being conveyed to return the bills unsigned. A former chief justice of Lahore High Court is the legal adviser and his advice should have been on the file.
Simply put, the president capitulated under the pressure of the sponsors of the two highly controversial legal amendments passed by a parliament that acted as a rubber stamp for 16 months of the PDM coalition government that was foisted by the establishment on a benighted polity.
Another instance of ambivalent ‘decision-making’ by the president relates to violation of the Constitution by the Election Commission of Pakistan in not announcing the date for national elections to be held within 90 days of the dissolution of the National Assembly. There is no ambiguity in the constitutional provision but an amendment in the election law is being misused by rulers to suggest to the head of state not to announce the election date.
His response was again vague, proposing Nov 6 as the date to be announced by the ECP that may seek advice from the apex court if the constitutional provision is to be breached. This amounts to dilly-dallying and such tactics have exposed the machinations of those calling the shots.
It is now an open secret: the ECP, unfortunately, is not an independent constitutional instrument of democracy. It can defy the Supreme Court and the president and get away with it. We are no longer a rule-of-law nation. Edicts of unelected forces are followed by state institutions.
Nothing short of a revolution will save us from our demons.
The executive in the shape of the caretaker government, both at the centre and in the provinces, is a puppet governance paradigm, foisted by the deep state. People are now openly talking about the prime minister and his cabinet as an extension of a section of the previous crony regime.
The chairman and some key leaders of a political party are openly complaining about the lack of a level political playing field by alluding to the fact that a certain political party has a greater share and role given through key federal cabinet and advisory slots. While large-scale changes have been made in the administrative machinery of three provinces, one province has not been touched.
That is where the political battle lines are being redrawn to accommodate a perceived favourable future electoral alliance. We seem unable to abandon the deeply ingrained governance framework based on patronage, kinship, nepotism and corruption.
Our administrative machinery and law-enforcement departments are groaning under political engineering. The culture of merit and fair play is alien to our rulers’ Hobbesian mindset that doles out incentives to indolence and promotes patronage as a moral disease. Nothing short of a revolution will save us from our demons.
The idea of meritocracy was injected by the French Revolution into European politics. Article VI of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789) provided a concise vision of this idea: “Law is the expression of the general will; all citizens have the right to concur personally, or through their representatives, in its formation; it must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal before it, are equally admissible to all public offices, positions, and employments, according to their capacity, and without any other distinction than that of virtues and talents.”
Adrian Wooldridge in The Aristocracy of Talent (2021) says that the revolution “abolished the two great principles at the heart of the old society; the feudal principle that defined the relationship between masters and dependents on the basis of land tenure and the dynastic principle that put a family at the heart of power”.
Two developments followed: the idea that society should be ruled by ability rather than lineage and the second ensured that the government collapsed when it was given a shove. These two features define the pre-modern state of Pakistan today.
Lineage, families and dynasties constitute the elite class that consider it their right to govern; the exceptions face immense challenges at the hands of the firmly entrenched forces of status quo. They all capitulate to the actual masters whose primary concern is to safeguard their own narrow institutional interests.
In this gloomy scenario has entered a new chief justice: all eyes are on him to save the Constitution and uphold the rule of law. We hope he can fulfil great expectations and make a difference.
The writer is a former inspector general of police.
Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2023