What would you say if the top people running a national institution or an organ of government overshoot their domain and trespass on the jurisdiction of other branches of government, be it the legislature, the executive or the judiciary or a combination of some or all of them? “Diabolical! It must be corrected forthwith.”
You think I’m talking of the army alone? I am also talking of the judiciary that under the deposed chief justice and other errant judges had overstepped its jurisdiction and was interfering in the domain of the executive, nearly paralysing it at a time when the country is at war. Sure the army has been overstepping its jurisdiction over the last 50 years and transgressing over the jurisdictions of one, two or all three branches of government. We forget that before the army it was the bureaucracy, especially the accounts service, because it was then the most organised and disciplined organ of government. Such transgressions always happen when a vacuum is created by the failure of the executive and legislative branches of government.
The downslide started with the failure of the political executive and the legislature (then constituent assembly) to fashion a native and workable basic law and system of government that emanates from a coherent ideology. We had none and still lack one. All we have is an assertion that we have singularly failed to substantiate. It led to such transgression by the bureaucracy that there was a time when both the heads of state and government came from the accounts service, without ever being elected! Not that the politicians, either in the constituent assembly or the executive, were elected either, at least not from the country they were in. By 1958 the army had organised itself and could move in. When it took the constituent assembly elected in India before independence and changed whimsically by successive governors general nine unnecessarily long years to fashion a flawed constitution by mutilating the 1935 British India Act for hypocritical reasons, no democratic institutions or traditions had been set that could have given transgressors pause. If we had made a constitution that was authenticated and signed by Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, no one could have fooled around with it easily. Elections were scheduled in 1959 under this anti-democratic constitution that violated the very cornerstone of democracy by denying the majority its will. The army took over. Since then Pakistan has been yo-yoing between spasms of military rule under the euphemism of ‘dictatorship’ and spasms of political rule under the euphemism of ‘democracy’. I use the word ‘euphemism’ because military rulers have always tried to become democrats and elected rulers have always tried to become dictators whenever they could help it. At the end of each spasm the country has been reduced to an economic, political, social and cultural wasteland rived by corruption, poor governance and polarisation. Once it broke in half after an indubitably fair election.
Not to put too fine a point on it, our first constitution was made by an unrepresentative assembly. The second was made by committee in 1962 and thus also lacked legitimacy. The third and current one was made by a rump assembly comprising the minority parties that had failed to win elections after the majority, along with the land and the people that had voted for it, was thrown out of the country. Thus it too is not legitimate. If you look at simply the letter of democracy and representative governance, we still don’t have a pristine, legitimate basic law after six decades. The wonder is that no one seems to realise this. What would you say about such a people? Any wonder that we have been yo-yoing between civilian governments elected after a fashion and bureaucratic and/or military governments and a near coup by the judiciary last year? Despite its assertions, when the military oversteps its jurisdiction the people take a back seat and when the ‘representatives of the people’ come to power the people get thrown off the bus entirely despite bombastic electoral promises. They then stand at a bus stop waiting to get on to the backseat of the next bus. The people don’t figure in either’s scheme of things, except when there is danger of the ruling elite’s applecart being toppled by civil disturbances by the hungry and deprived. Today, the leaders of the four top parties in the National Assembly are not even in parliament. All of South Asia suffers from the dynastic syndrome. It got so bad that the leader of India’s ruling party is an Italian Catholic lady simply because she is Prince Rajiv Gandhi’s wife and Pakistan’s ruling party is led by a 19-year old kid simply because his mother was Princess Benazir Bhutto. Both have proxy prime ministers. Our proxy prime minister, one is told, acts more like a minister in his finance minister’s cabinet during cabinet meetings. There seems to be no end in sight to this self-destructive syndrome.
One knows that the cabinet in a parliamentary system takes joint responsibility, with the prime minister first amongst equals. But one can’t have government by parliamentary committees alone. It’s bad enough the judiciary encroaching upon the domain of the executive. Now parliamentary committees are being made to, to the ridiculous extent that they are interfering into the domain of the Pakistan Cricket Board with regards to a fast bowler! Again, parliament is neither supreme nor sovereign. It is one of the three branches of government and has the upper hand. Only God is Sovereign and He has devolved some of His Sovereignty on the people, as in humanity. Because parliament comprises the ‘representatives of the people’ doesn’t give it an iota of God’s Sovereignty. How can a self-liquidating body be sovereign? God is not self-liquidating. Neither is humanity. It will live on forever with the Supreme Being after the universe has collapsed back into a singularity. So parliament should stick to its dual function of making laws and keeping a check on the executive. It shouldn’t transgress, even if a dithering executive comprising non-like-minded parties that have been forced to come together only by hatred for the president abdicates responsibility for difficult decisions on to it. What will come of this famous coalition if the president decides to go? It will collapse in a day. People can fool themselves as much as they like, that this is the dawn of democracy, but as I said recently, when small men start casting long shadows, you can be sure it’s sunset. What do you say now, huh?
Don’t say that our culture became undemocratic in the last eight years. It has always been undemocratic, as witness the behaviour of the victors and the storm-trooping lawyers on their bandwagon – or is it the other way round? What do you expect from an alien political system that throws up the oppressors of the people as their representatives, who wear ties and carry handbags more expensive than the per capita income of their people? We find that our politicians are dons, lawyers are hooligans and we exist under inequitable laws. If our culture had really been democratic the real assembly of 1970 would have met and Pakistan would still have been one.
If our culture had really been democratic the politicians would have made rescinding the satanic accountability law that stands equity on its head by placing the onus of proof on the accused as its priority. If our culture had really been democratic, our new government and parliament would have been striving to throw out the satanic ordinance that has one law for corrupt rulers and another for their victims, the ruled. Its both a sin and a crime to be poor, powerless and friendless in this country. What would you say now?
It’s a truism that good and strong institutions are a necessary pre-condition for a country to be successful. But good people are what make an institution good. If the people running the institution are bad the institution will be bad. The obvious, knee-jerk answer? The bad people have to go because the country comes first. But this doesn’t get to the root of the problem. Good people don’t fall out of the sky. It is the system that regularly throws them up. If the system is bad the people it throws up will be bad and if the people it throws up are bad then institutions will be bad and when the institutions are bad the country will be bad. Its time we went to the root of the problem and stopped cosmetic surgery. From 2002 to 2007 we tried a quasi military-political government. It worked better than any political or military government before it. Our macro economic indicators are largely better than they have ever been, second-time Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s squeals to prepare ground for future failure notwithstanding. I’m not going to go into it just yet and will wait for him to lay out his stall in the coming budget. But he should know that history will remember Shaukat Aziz at least for one thing: it was on his watch that Pakistan got out of the clutches of the IMF, something that seemed a pipedream when he became finance minister. That’s called breaking the begging bowl my friend.
With the greatest of respect Mr Dar, whatever do, don’t go down in history as the man who took us back into the clutches of the IMF. Remember, it is people who matter, not figures. Figures are just optics. Don’t reduce people to numbers and percentages. They are human beings. Good optics create a false credibility which attracts business and money. Only if you are humble, Mr Dar, and remember the condition you and your predecessors left the economy in instead of immediately starting to pass the buck will you succeed because God will be on your side. Only small people criticise predecessors. Big people look to the future.
Courtesy: The Nation, 20/4/2008