Pakistan needs cooperation not confrontation

Unruly activities by professional groups only reinforce the chaos in the society

Talat Masood December 18, 2019
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

The outrageous assault of lawyers on the Pakistan Institute of Cardiology and the previous occurrence where doctors misbehaved with lawyers, were serious incidents that will cast a long shadow on the country’s image. One could argue that in a way it was good that the worst came out in the open for everyone to see. But there is a big if, provided we are prepared to draw genuine lessons from the episode and take the long overdue corrections that successive governments and the leadership of these organisations have failed to address.

These happenings were not a consequence of a one-time grievance or wrongdoing by one party or the other. In essence, these are reflections on the quality of education in the country, the moral and ethical values of the society, and the general emptiness and frustration that are festering among young professionals. The double standards and deliberate transgressions of law that successive political governments and state institutions continue to commit to achieve their expedient short-term goals have come to haunt us. Moreover, the increasing divisiveness in politics and within our society as a whole has a price. The present acute political confrontation between the government and the opposition coupled with rising inflation has promoted an environment of defiance in the body politic of the society and is bound to have a long-lasting influence on it.

What is the genesis of the current turmoil and confrontation between these groups is a subject that needs serious analysis and introspection. The Lawyers’ Movement of 2007, which restored then chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and made military leader General Musharraf swallow his prides, has since emboldened the lawyers to have their way even if their demands or conduct is not in conformity with the law of the country. It is sad that this movement was based on principles, safeguarding the sanctity of the office of the chief justice and ensuring that the highest authority of the state — the military leader — abide by the tenants of the law and Constitution. Even during this movement there were groups among the lawyers that would have strayed into taking the law in their hands but were restrained by the wisdom and honest leadership of some of their peers like Munir Malik and Aitzaz Ahsan.

It is unfortunate that over the years our professional groups have drawn several wrong lessons from the successful and a fairly peaceful movement of lawyers. It has become a fairly common practice for the lawyer’s community and doctors to build pressure on the government, judiciary or other institutions, to promote their genuine or vested interests. Where the interests of the political parties and the business community converge, they also support them. Through collective strength these professionals have acquired a privileged position and are able to promote their agenda. The problem however arises when the lawyers use their collective strength for activities that are not in conformity with the law. The recent raid on the hospital was a blatant example of it. Similarly, how can doctors go on a strike and leave the patients on their own? Are they not governed by the strict code of medical ethics? Have we ever heard that doctors of any European country or Japan go on a strike in this manner? They are a noble profession known for serving with humanitarian organisations in the remotest and most hazardous places, at the peril of their lives.

These unruly activities by professional groups only reinforce the chaos in the society. And more importantly, this behaviour sends a wrong message especially to our younger generation and members of other professions. The trust of the general public in institutions and professionals is already historically low and these actions by lawyers and doctors would further compromise their reputation.

This lax and rowdy behaviour is the result of a general degradation in the quality of leadership and the institutional decay that has taken place all around. The greatest challenge the government is facing is the implementation of policies that would combat these dangerous trends. The responsibility of reversing this trend also rests with the organisations of these professional groups.

The PM and ministers have a key role in influencing the behaviour of these organisations by their conduct and general tone of discourse. It is not a good tactic on the part of the top political leadership to be the prosecutor and judge at the same time and blast one’s opponents on every forum. Claims of honesty do not give a licence to those in government to defame opposing political parties or its members. The task of dealing with corruption should be left to the judiciary and NAB. Undoubtedly, a wide cross-section of the country has appreciated the government’s measures to curb corruption. And these should continue with renewed zeal. But for any individual, political leader or state functionaries to assume that they have the monopoly of honesty and as such could accuse others, especially the political rivals for short-term gains, is not the right approach.

Prime Minister Imran Khan presents himself as an unapologetic critic of the misdeeds of the opposition. One understands his passion for cleansing the society and promoting the virtues of honesty and fair play. But his constant diatribe against them, degrading its leadership and opposition leaders reacting with similar disdain, has consequences on the future of democracy and stability of the country.

There is no doubt that Imran Khan has been the champion for the dispossessed and his previous marathon achievements of building hospitals, etcetera, bear witness to that. He rightly feels the poor were miserably neglected and he is going to be their saviour. The expansion of the Benazir Income Support Programme and low-cost housing schemes point toward that, and – if faithfully implemented – would certainly provide relief to the poor. But the real transformation of the poor segments of the society would take place if the government focuses on providing the right type of education, expanding health facilities and opportunities to develop appropriate skills. No less important is the quality of governance that affects the poor the most. One hopes the government will focus on these issues with similar fervour.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 18th, 2019.

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