Crisis of conscience and credibility

Published: May 2, 2012

The writer is executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies

In a recent editorial in the The Friday Times (April 20), my dear friend Najam Sethi listed 10 crisis that he says are wrecking Pakistan: crisis of economy, education, urbanisation, demography, foreign policy, terrorism and radicalisation, civil-military relations, political system and governance, law and order and crisis of identity.

The list, nevertheless, missed the mother of all crises i.e., crisis of conscience and credibility. This triple ‘C’ was a glaring omission because if there are aggravating factors behind Pakistan’s woes, it is the propensity (among all those who matter) to bend law and morality according to convenience.

The political upheaval and acute political polarisation that has arisen out of disagreement over the Supreme Court ruling in the contempt of court case only reaffirms the crisis of conscience and credibility that lies at the root of the entire crisis. The former German president Christian Wulff resigned on February 17, following allegations that he accepted financial favours from political backers. In contrast, the backers of the prime minister and the president argue that “only a few persons (judges)” cannot decide the PM’s fate. They are essentially questioning the very existence of the apex court and just consider parliament — packed with people with fake or dubious educational qualifications — as the source of their legitimacy.

Look around and there is no dearth of social and political luminaries who were in different bandwagons at different times. There are no moral scruples whatsoever in a society where the ruling elite — both civilian and military — considers flouting the law as chivalry and justifies shameless expedience in the name of realpolitik, switching parties and loyalties as and when necessary. It is this self-serving, self-preserving interpretation of law and morality that has stymied Pakistan’s social, political and economic growth. What we see around us today, such as the cases at the Supreme Court, the reappointment of controversial persons as ministers, small-time politics by national leaders to outdo one another, the mockery of merit etc, are all a few manifestations of an elite which lacks conscience and moral scruples.

In a presentation that former Engro Chemicals chief executive officer Asad Umar gave in Karachi on April 20, he drew some tellingly bitter conclusions when talking about the roots of current political and economic adversity; when you have private security guards, there is no focus on security. If a rich person can get a generator, there is no focus on electricity. When there are separate systems created for the elite and the rest of the country, that system “goes to hell”.

If amplified, the message applies to many other areas; if the cavalcades of the very important speed through unhindered, how can they imagine traffic congestions that people at large usually face daily. If they are served at least half a dozen choices for lunch and dinner, how can they visualise the plight of those who toil a full day to get a few crumbs of bread and some half-cooked vegetable?

Asad Umar also spoke aloud about the ‘apartheid’ that multiple education systems have created in Pakistan. He emphatically called for  “one system of education” in the country because  “you cannot have one nation unless you have one educational system”.

Who will unify the various, conflicting education systems? Does the state possess the requisite wherewithal to do so? It does indeed. But that requires a strong political will and commitment to peoples’ welfare. Gimmicks such as Roshni or Danish schools won’t do the promised wonders.

Also, how can being part of a ruling elite that keeps jumping parties and treating law as their handmaiden distinguish between what is morally right or wrong? In a country that has been politically ruined by the military and misgoverned by the civilian elite that treats parliamentary status as a privilege rather than as the peoples’ trust, it is naive to expect radical changes in areas such as respect for rule of law or education system reform. Sociopolitical and economic development requires committed people of integrity, those who rise to prominence through professional excellence and not through deceit and fake degrees.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2012.

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Reader Comments (19)

  • Moko
    May 2, 2012 - 11:54PM

    In his book ‘Blood Brothers’, MJ Akbar has a phrase goes something like “It is alright if a leader does not have a religion, but it is bad if he does not have morals”. Applies to leaders of all countries.

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  • Ali Tanoli
    May 3, 2012 - 12:06AM

    we got one language to speak but we dont have one education which is making all the problems in our beloved country. look it any country who succeeded in the world have one lang education system.

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  • Seema
    May 3, 2012 - 12:15AM

    Dear author find some credibility and conscience for your judges who has yet to decided the stay order of Shahbaz shareef’s govt, OBL died in American operation at Abbotabad. and judicial commission is going to give them clean chit of being not guilty.How long judiciary collaba

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  • elementary
    May 3, 2012 - 12:58AM

    A brilliant piece and analysis .Thank you.

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  • gp65
    May 3, 2012 - 1:31AM

    “He emphatically called for “one system of education” in the country because “you cannot have one nation unless you have one educational system”.”

    This is arguable. Do you considr US as a natio? There are public schools (free for students and funded by property taxes) and pribvate schools. Even within private schools – some are clearly religiously oriented.

    at college level too there are state colleges and Ivy Leagues.

    Since any government in 3rd world country — be it India or Pakistan cannot afford a top quality educations for ALL, a single system means the one that meets the lowest common denominator. No room for excellence.

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  • Falcon
    May 3, 2012 - 1:32AM

    Great article. Akbar Zaidi authored a similar article in Dawn recently. Convergence of agreement within the segments of intellectual elite of the society that the elite should at least shoulder some responsibility in helping the country out of the woods is something we badly need. An indifferent elite that builds a separate system for itself and therefore reduces its dependency on the state is one of the worst things that can happen to the nation. If that happens, the only way out for the nation might be to wait for rise of the middle class to higher levels (as is evident from the hopes people are building around parties like PTI).

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  • pmbm
    May 3, 2012 - 5:00AM

    People need to know RIGHT from WRONG. Where are they going to find? 95% claim to be Muslims. By definition a muslim is to be God-conscience, honest and moral person.Where did we go wrong?

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  • Falcon
    May 3, 2012 - 7:53AM

    @gp65:
    Few things: Firstly, severity of the discrepancy between the elite and the poor on the initial ladders of education (up to high school) is a major source of concern as compared to differences at the level of colleges and universities. Secondly, even when U.S. has different types of systems, they are at least somewhat similar and people coming out of these at least can hope to compete on even keel. People who have seen three main forms of education in Pakistan closely (Urdu medium, English medium, and Madrassah system) would agree that the people coming out of these different education systems don’t even have a remote chance of competing with each other. Furthermore, these education systems emulate the different strata of the society. So, what you end up with is socially compartmentalized system from birth to cradle for each class where they can’t even dream of rising from one level to the other. This perpetuates social injustice in the society. On a side note, U.S. education system is not considered the greatest education system in the world (up to high school) and needs a lot of reforms of its own.

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  • harkol
    May 3, 2012 - 8:33AM

    Pakistan is in good company in having ‘crisis of conscience and credibility’ (CCC).

    We in India are going through our worst CCC since 1991 right now. With mega corruptions that are easily the biggest instances of corruption in the world to low credibility of the govt. in taking any action to stem the economic rot, India is in trouble – Though of a different kind than from Pakistan.

    I suppose to a certain extent all third world economies suffer from corruption and mis governance. So, I’d reckon the biggest crisis of Pakistan to be that of National Identity.

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  • May 3, 2012 - 12:14PM

    @Seema:
    Agree..nobody speaks of Calvacade of Supreme Court CJ, his whimsical appointment of Judges, his pomp and show, his sons exploits..in fact ‘social consensus for the good/moral is missing’, traffic police guy would love to kick a teacher on a motorbyke but scared of touching a cheater on a BMW…

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  • Super-Fool KaalCopterTanoli
    May 3, 2012 - 12:21PM

    Just clarifying the aspects of the US system since it was mentioned.
    There are public schools that are free.
    There are religion based schools but they also do not exclude anyone if they want to go there regardless of their religion.
    There are high priced private schools of both religious and non-religious nature.
    There are college versions of the above.

    They all have base requirements on curriculum but they can branch off into their own thing as long as those base requirements are met. They’re usually all primarily English based but you may find sub-classes within the school. By high school at the latest, learning other languages are optional for students. Sometimes a requirement.

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  • Yousaf Ali
    May 3, 2012 - 2:56PM

    A very nice article.

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  • Parvez
    May 3, 2012 - 3:40PM

    Excellent over-view of affairs but for your handling of the judiciary with kid gloves. Why ???
    They have much to answer for over these 65 years.

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  • Um-e-Banin
    May 3, 2012 - 4:36PM

    Why do we love to give comparison between apples and oranges? Why we wish to cover miles of journey in a shortest time? can somebody tell me how long it took Germany to have such moral standards? What process they went through? Even we should hardly compare ourselves with India as far as democratic system is concerned. By the way, how many graduates, honest Indians are sitting in parliament? What I heard from senior journalists and experts that democracy is time consuming process. It doesn’t flourish in a few years or decades. Let the people to decide who they want to be in parliament instead lessening their options by introducing “unique” laws and rules, brainchild of minority urbanized folks. It doesn’t mean of defending wrongdoers but emphasis is to let the process to kick them out. WHY the matter of “Crisis of Conscience and Credibility” was not raised after May 2 and Mehran Base incidents.

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  • Ammar
    May 3, 2012 - 5:04PM

    @ Imtiaz Gul,

    Sir, pardon me but this write up was way below your standard, advocating media driven popular perception among vulgar FB users, and Keyboard Mujahideen in cyber space, that collectively forms our fake intelligentsia. Particular mention of Asad Umer (who is no more than an ex-corporate bureaucrat) makes it even more suspicious. With all due respect Sir, I am very very sorry!!!

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  • May 3, 2012 - 5:19PM

    @Um-e-Banin:
    excellent, let the people decide whom they want to…is the key to future success and this judiciary is a big hurdle in that..

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  • Ammar
    May 3, 2012 - 5:37PM

    Sir! If these judges had the conscience, they wouldn’t be so enthusiastic in pursuing these cases when they failed to pass judgement in plenty of others, would they!

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  • May 3, 2012 - 6:16PM

    Factually I totally agree with the writer. His comments about political leadership are apt but to say that judiciary just because of more education is above the parliament because “parliament — packed with people with fake or dubious educational qualifications —” is erroneous. In any developing country you can not expect that all the people in the parliament will be scholars. The representatives represent the masses (awam) as they are drawn from masses. The problem is there because you have laid down qualifications for these representatives. In India there is no educational bar. And Sir to presume that uneducated people can not be worldly wise is wrong. In a democracy that is finding its feet there will be a time of chaos but be patient things will settle. In India and Pakistan we began with pretty honest and sacrificing leadership to day both the countries are stung by corruption. Silver lining is that in India scores of them are lying in jail. People are refusing to settle with corruption and there are very strong movements coming up. I am sure things will change.

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  • May 4, 2012 - 12:03AM

    @Ammar: Dear Ammar, I wrote what I believe in. Please look into the spirit of it. Am talking about the ruling elite – everybody who wields power above the common Pakistani citizens-. I am sorry the article doesnt come upto your standards, but I am happy the dominant majority of the comments do support my views, personaly text messages also along the same lines – and therefore I see it as massive endorsement of my ideas – irrespective of the political divide. Thanks for taking time out to read and comment .

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