The savagery of unguided human behaviour

Imran Khan may have good intentions, but intentions are not enough to run a state

Durdana Najam January 15, 2022

I do not find any difference between the deaths under the debris of snow in Murree and the brutal murder of Sri Lankan citizen Priyantha Kumar by a mob at a Sialkot factory in November last year. Both incidents were avoidable, but neither the people around nor the system raised over the years did anything to save the victim from the savagery of religious beliefs and climate.

They were all victims of a system that feed on greed and insensitivity. What happened in Murree, a hill resort in Pakistan’s Northern Area, is a story of abject apathy of human emotions. It is a story of a country where money is the only currency used to express not only the language of business but also love and emotions. It is the story of a state that has objectified its citizens. It is a story of a governance system where justice, rule of law, and constitutions have been rendered ineffective to consolidate the elite’s grip on the power lever. This elite group has standard layers. One layer is of those who have money and clout — the industrialists, the bankers, and the merchants. Another layer comprises people with the power to enforce law. The subsequent layer is of the economists and financial wizards with linkages with external financial houses. The final layer is of the intellectual and religious scholars who justify the actions of their compatriots in the group either from scriptures or by building a theory of moral ascendance on a new paradigm.

Human history is rife with wars and conflicts. The spirit of the Magna Carta lies in defining boundaries for a dignified life. A nation where boundaries are not respected becomes a herd of the human races. A country where boundaries are easily trespassed becomes a lawless society.

When no one is bound, then no one is responsible; and when no one is responsible, then the line between vice and virtue is interpreted on the altar of self-interest, self-motivation, and self-defined beliefs. In such a setting, the death of 23 people trapped in a snow-clad street or the killing of an innocent man in the hands of a rogue mob is treated as another unfortunate event. In this setting, the social contract between the state and its people becomes weak.

A law-abiding society is a two-way street: if citizens are expected to respect the law, those making and imposing the law will have to become their first abiders. If the National Disaster Management Authority is not pushed to stop a situation from becoming hazardous with the implementation of defined SOPs, if the Punjab Food Authority is not bothered to maintain food quality in a tourist resort, and if the Punjab Price Control Authority has left the profiteers to fleece people, why wouldn’t people become fearless of the law and are encouraged to take law in their hands?

The horrific killing of Priyantha and the Murree deaths should be a wake-up call for the government. The gap between the state and its people cannot be bridged by the mere development of any authority. Only through the rule of law and constitutional democracy is built a strong relationship between the state and its people.

Human beings cannot be left unguided lest they become victims of self-definition of vice and virtue. Behaviour management is an established discipline. The entire body of psychological findings and theory is devoted to subduing vile in human nature, to make space for productive and positive conduct. Nations are groomed. That is why the education sector of a country is considered the pivot that sets the direction of the nation’s destiny.

Pakistan does not need new institutions. Neither does it need a new system nor a messiah. Instead, it needs a culture that respects boundaries. Imran Khan may have good intentions, but intentions are not enough to run a state. In his book, The Future of Freedom, Fareed Zakaria writes: “The lesson of Rome’s fall is that, for the rule of law to endure, you need more than the good intentions of rulers, for they may change (both the intentions and rulers). You need institutions within society whose strength is independent of the state.”

Published in The Express Tribune, January 15th, 2022.

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