Describing Pakistan as a failed state is invalid and improper. The widespread corruption, lawlessness, killings, poverty and backwardness in our authoritative society only go to prove that what has failed is not Pakistan or its people but ‘the state’ in Pakistan. Article 7 of the constitution defines the ‘state’ as the federal government, parliament, a provincial government, a provincial assembly, and such local and other authorities in Pakistan as are by law empowered to impose any tax or cess.
In practice, the state in Pakistan is none other than the ruling elite made up of senior civil and military officers and their surrogates in banking, industry, commerce, and the landed and religious aristocracy. They are in a minority of a few thousand people. Under the law they exercise total power. The 170 million people of Pakistan belonging to the poor and downtrodden sections of society, including members of the lower-middle and middle classes, have no say in running the state. The elections are a monumental fraud against the people since they only throw up the present and the future representatives of the ruling elite.
The armed power of the military, police, magistracy, jails, tax collector and secret service coerces the people into submission. On frequent occasions, it has not hesitated to dismiss presidents, prime ministers, chief justices and parliament. For the past several years, this power has come under severe strain. The police, the protector of citizens, itself needs protection. The armed forces, the protector of the police and internal and external security, are under attack from within and without. A military man in uniform is a rare sight in public.
The state has manifestly failed to deliver on its mandate given to it by the constitution by not discharging its functions and obligations to protect the life, property and dignity of citizens, to dispense justice on the basis of equality and fairness, and to provide equality of opportunity for diverse classes, nations, sects, religions and sexes. The breakdown of public services such as electricity, water supplies and railways, and the non-availability of essential goods is yet another strong evidence of the failure of the state.
The people of Pakistan do not accept the state as it is today. They will have none of it. The silent majority refuses to help the police in catching a criminal or go before a court of law to give evidence to secure a just decision. However, there is not a dull moment. Pakistan is alive and kicking. An active and determined minority among the people has taken to defying the law. Their acts of defiance are labelled as crimes by the state. These crimes are accelerating fast.
The total number of crimes committed in Punjab province, generally considered to have a relatively better administration, increased from 42,268 in 1958 to 383,379 in 2009 (Punjab police figures) — a whopping increase of 801 percent in 51 years. While the population increased at a rate of less than three percent per annum, crime increased at an arithmetical average of 15.9 percent (Daily Times, March 29, 2010).
While the rich and the mighty move about in bullet-proof vehicles and protect their offices, residences and recreation clubs with heavily armed guards, the common man and women go about the business of daily life not because there is the state to protect their life, property or dignity, but for the statistical chance of surviving a bomber, a remote controlled explosive device, a sniper or killers riding motorcycles. On an average, dozens of Pakistanis are killed every day. Kidnappings for ransom are frequent.
In Pakistan as in other countries, justice delayed is justice denied. The courts in Pakistan excel in delaying justice. According to Daily Times (February 1, 2010), 18,312 cases were pending in the Supreme Court, 110,110 in the Lahore High Court, 29,414 in the Sindh High Court, 14,522 in Peshawar High Court and 4,893 in the Balochistan High Court. In the subordinate courts, on January 15, 2010, the number of pending cases in Punjab was 1,092,669, 115,994 in Sindh, 128,102 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 6,322 in Balochistan. That makes a total of nearly 1.5 million cases as the new year started. While prisons in Pakistan are terribly overcrowded with poor people, no powerful or rich man gets convicted in Pakistan. Should one very rarely get sentenced, he is immediately awarded with a presidential pardon.
The state has consistently violated Article 3 of the constitution of Pakistan, which lays down that: “The state shall ensure the elimination of all forms of exploitation and the gradual fulfilment of the fundamental principle, from each according to his ability to each according to his work.” The state has consistently worked to deprive the poor multitudes to enrich the minority of exploiters.
Today, with few exceptions, looters and grabbers are leaders exercising power in our state. Many occupy high political and administrative positions, amassing fabulous wealth at home and abroad. Pakistan stands divided between the state and the people, between the fabulously rich on the one side and the downtrodden population on the other, between the haves and have-nots. The state, as we have it for the last 63 years, has manifestly failed to correct this gross asymmetry. Numerous repair jobs on it have not succeeded. Pakistan needs a brand new state. There has to be a transfer of power from the high and mighty to the low and humble.
As suggested by eminent intellectuals in Making Pakistan a Tenable State (Ferozsons, 2009), Pakistan needs a drastic change in its constitution to make the government accountable to the people. History tells: the smaller the government the better for the people. The power in the highly centralised government setup of Pakistan has to be redistributed on the principle that what the people can decide and implement at a lower level of the population should not be referred for decision and implementation to a higher level. Whatever can be decided and implemented at the level of a district must not be in the domain of the province. And whatever can be decided at the level of a province or among the provinces should not be in the domain of the authority of the federation.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Article originally published in Daily Times, reproduced by permission of DT