The current troubled interaction between the state institutions and its adverse impact on the pattern of governance poses a serious challenge to Pakistan’s stability and democratic character.
The chief justice of Pakistan seeing major weaknesses in the performance of federal and provincial governments has taken upon himself with a missionary zeal to take corrective measures in public interest by invoking suo motu.
He is visiting hospitals, educational institutions, undertaking review and assessment of public-sector enterprises. His current focus is more towards Punjab and Balochistan although Sindh and other parts of Pakistan also remain under his scrutiny.
In addition, he is equally conscious of the enormous backlog of cases that are pending indefinitely in lower courts with scant prospects of these being expedited. At this slow rate of disposal it would take decades for the courts to hear the cases on their roster.
Moreover, laws are rarely implemented which is a major failure of the state and the poor are its worst sufferers. It is now a common occurrence that someone awaiting trial may serve more than the prospective sentence even before his turn comes.
On the top of this, state of functional lawlessness has become more of a norm than an exception. The chief justice has been forthright and open in being equally critical of judiciary and functioning of lower courts.
For it is unthinkable that in the 21st century there are litigations that for decades remain unattended. One can only sympathise with those individuals and families that are affected.
The military’s role in fighting terrorism and bringing normalcy to the war-stricken zones of tribal belt, especially in the north and south Waziristan, is highly commendable. It has come at a huge cost as thousands of our men in uniform and civilians have given their lives to achieve it. The military’s contribution in establishing a modicum of normalcy in Balochistan and Karachi is no mean achievement considering that the army is heavily deployed both on eastern and western fronts.
The army leadership also largely influences foreign, defence and security policies. It is the dominating voice and even architect at times when it comes to relations with India, Afghanistan, the US, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran and many other countries. The foreign trips of COAS to major capitals and visit of foreign dignitaries to GHQ is a testimony of the influence of the defence establishment.
With the passing of 18th constitutional amendment there has been a significant change in the power structure with provinces enjoying enhanced powers. Education, health and local government are all provincial subjects.
I do not have to remind readers that most of our elected members and party leaders have hardly any interest in the affairs of parliament. If this is what the national scenario is, the question one is tempted to ask is that is this the right model of governance that the state has veered into and does it not need a radical and urgent course correction. In terms of how it has deviated from norms of democratic conduct and institutional responsibilities, weakening the very foundations of state structure.
One would have expected that the coming national and provincial elections will provide a certain level of self-correction of state institutions. They would stay within the parameters of their constitutional boundaries, allowing the elected civilian government to govern. The present anarchic situation where every institution is transgressing over the other with mutual disdain will largely subside.
Unfortunately, the opposite is happening as efforts to dominate and even influence the outcome of elections is clearly in the making. The way Senate elections took place, the Balochistan government was formed and the migration of PML-N MNAs is taking place. The MQM too is facing an existential crisis — some engineered some its own doing — for all to see as the country moves towards elections.
Adding to the confusion, Nawaz Sharif’s constant barrage and innuendoes have distracted the government from focusing on governance. Imran Khan’s verbal assaults on his opponents have crowded out any serious dialogue on addressing national issues. The PPP leadership is focusing more on manipulation and Bhutto legacy than substance. We have yet to develop a culture where actions speak louder than pronouncements of personal and institutional achievements!
In this environment serious national issues are being relegated. To illustrate the point let us examine a few cases where the state is failing in dealing with these challenges. For instance, none of the political parties seem interested in improving the status of Pakistani women. Merely giving them representation in the National Assembly or encouraging them to attend public meetings is not enough. Not realising that when women are educated not only are they capable of becoming financially independent but it also has a positive impact on population control. And homes and workplaces become more conscious of hygiene and healthcare. There is clear evidence that women’s emancipation results in reduction of infant mortality, agricultural productivity increases and there is an overall improvement in the national income.
Another area of gross neglect is Fata. Foremost, we need to broaden the franchise of its people by implementing reforms without any further delay. The government should undertake administrative measures to expedite rehabilitation of thousands of residents that are awaiting its support. These people have suffered for too long and need financial and administrative backing.
The manoeuvering and alleged accusations of money being spent during the Senate elections were a sordid reflection of the state of politics. The next government in consultation with opposition parties should redress this outdated procedure that lends itself to corruption. It should be replaced by direct elections like those of National Assembly to give credibility to the Senate and be a genuine voice of the people.
Our national experience teaches us that decision-makers have tried to control events and steer policies towards what they thought best, mostly by departing from normal democratic and constitutional practices. It has not worked in the past and has done us great damage. So let us trust the system even if it is chaotic in the beginning and allow it to proceed.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th, 2018.