The slow fix

Published: April 8, 2013
Email
The writer is a partner at Bhandari, Naqvi & Riaz and an advocate of the Supreme Court. He can be reached on Twitter @laalshah

The writer is a partner at Bhandari, Naqvi & Riaz and an advocate of the Supreme Court. He can be reached on Twitter @laalshah

As the curtain finally came down on the five-year run of the PPP follies, the people of Pakistan woke up to the news that they now had new rulers. An interim prime minister was eventually announced by the Election Commission and new chief ministers also emerged in each of the provinces.

But as the now familiar cast of jokers faded away, a new series of questions emerged. If a caretaker federal administration can manage with 14 cabinet members, why did the democratically-elected regime have a cabinet of 60-plus people? If caretaker cabinets can include people who seem to know what they are doing — Ahmer Bilal Soofi as the law minister, for one — then why did democracy afflict us with idiots as ministers? Should we not extend or make permanent the caretaker system? Is it not obvious that we are ill-suited for democracy, that our people will only return cheats and fakers at the polls?

Then there is the national lamentation which has erupted over the shenanigans of our returning officers (RO). In case you haven’t heard, various ROs have deemed fit to interrogate candidates over the extent of their religious knowledge and even disqualify a few for not being able to recite the appropriate duas. Oh, the shame! Oh, the horror.

People of my country, chill the hell out. Just because a few odd judicial officers have gone bananas does not mean we need to start harrumphing like an elderly Sindh Club member confronted by a fly in his mulligatawny.

I’m not disputing the fact that some returning officers have gone overboard. But we are talking about a process involving the scrutiny of 24,000-plus candidates by 700-odd returning officers. Every process involves error, particularly any process which involves decision-making by hundreds of separate individuals. That is why the election laws provide for an appeal against the decision of the returning officer. Indeed, returning officers bent upon a frolic of their own have already been sternly reprimanded by Justice Mansoor Ali Shah of the Lahore High Court to concentrate on the documents placed before them and to avoid free-ranging inquiries.

On a personal note, I appeared recently in Jhang to challenge the nomination papers of a candidate. And while I was joined in my challenge by a lawyer representing an emphatically religious party (the ASWJ), the returning officer there made it abundantly clear that he would not be a party to “trial by dua”. More importantly, the assembled locals watching the proceedings also made it clear that they did not want the RO to test the religious credentials of a candidate.

My point here is simple: democracy is a process as much as it is an ideal. That process requires continuity of operation so that it can steadily improve itself through a process of trial and error. We need to bury this false ideal of a government run by disinterested philosophers, once and for all.

But why, you may ask? Shouldn’t public office be reserved for the best of the best? Shouldn’t our leaders be sadiq and ameen?

Well, duh! Of course they should. But as the punch line to the famous Punjabi joke goes, per kithon? Where are you going to find these benevolent dictators, these disinterested geniuses? And what guarantee do you have that they will return benevolent and disinterested?

Newsflash: being a politician is a pain in the butt. As a member of the national and provincial assemblies, you are directly answerable to hundreds and thousands of people and indirectly answerable to every chacha, mama and phuppa of those constituents, each of whom thinks it is your express duty to make sure that their kid gets admitted without merit, that their idiot son gets a job, that their murderous cousin gets bail and that their utterly frivolous disputes are resolved to their satisfaction.

It is time for us to give up this pipedream of perfect leaders and perfect politicians. We are an imperfect people and our representatives will always be as imperfect as we are. This doesn’t mean that we have to accept crooks as parliamentarians. But it does mean that we accept that this system will not be fixed overnight. It will require time, effort and repeated cycles of elections and accountability for us to get a better system just like it will require time, effort and repeated cycles of elections and accountability for us to get a better breed of politicians. Gnashing our teeth and wailing is not going to speed that process along.

In his book The Slow Fix, author Carl Honore talks about the modern-day cult of the quick fix and the damage it causes. His point is simple: complex, multi-factor problems cannot be resolved by waving a magic wand. Instead, complex problems require a slow, multi-pronged approach which accepts the fact that any sustainable improvement will only be the result of a gradual and incrementalist approach.

I can’t speak for others but as a former devotee of the political quick fix, I have certainly had enough. Yes, the political system in Pakistan sucks. Yes, we are led by thieves and rogues. Yes, our Constitution is a much-abused document, grossly defaced by various military dictators. But can we just get on with it? Nothing is going to get fixed overnight and the armchair generals who keep on clogging the opinion pages with instant fixes (A presidential system! Thirty-five provinces! Nothing but Sharia!) need to be put out to pasture.

There is an old saying that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now. We didn’t keep our faith in democracy 20 years ago. But the next best time is now.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 9th, 2013.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (22)

  • Parvez
    Apr 8, 2013 - 10:48PM

    What you have said is very right and this understanding is dawning on the people slowly.
    The aspect that you have avoided to address is that the failure of both military and civilian regimes has created a vacuum which is being encroached upon by the religious right.
    When one observes their behaviour and actions it does not need much to understand that this can’t be good for Pakistan.

    Recommend

  • Falcon
    Apr 8, 2013 - 11:34PM

    Feisal-
    While I agree with you in principal, I also think that this advice of ‘everything will be good in few decades’ works when you have to mobilize people. In fact, that is part of the reason for de-politicization of societies over time. People like striving for changes if they believe it can better their lives in the short term. I think it has to be a balance of both: we have to work on improving the system in the short-term (specially the quick fixes on the law & order and economy side) while realizing that deeper changes in social / political / economic structures take long time.

    Recommend

  • Falcon
    Apr 9, 2013 - 2:09AM

    Correction to my earlier comment: “While I agree with you in principal, I also think that this advice of ‘everything will be good in few decades’ DOES NOT work when you have to mobilize people”

    Recommend

  • Mirza
    Apr 9, 2013 - 2:30AM

    I usually agree with the writer but I have a couple of issue with this Op Ed. You asked, why did democracy afflict us with idiots as ministers? Ministers are not nominated but have to be elected members of NA/senate. We only elect what we are! It is the same PPP that once nominated M. A. Kasuri, Dr. Mubashir, Sheikh Rashid and likes. However, we do not elect those kinds of people. Today in no party do we see such names as above, do we?
    You also plead about 700 odd RO for scrutiny of nomination papers. They are acting like self-appointed kangaroo courts. Gen Mush’s papers are rejected from three different seats by RO but accepted don the fourth? Is this uniform justice and standard? A person is not eligible on three different days and places but perfectly fine at fourth! To be honest these paid govt servants and bureaucrats are acting as mini dictators appointed by God.
    However, I do agree that it is a long process and we have to be patient and earn it.Recommend

  • A. Khan
    Apr 9, 2013 - 8:27AM

    Have been hearing this mantra since 1988, Yet noting has changed.

    Recommend

  • observer
    Apr 9, 2013 - 9:05AM

    the returning officer there made it abundantly clear that he would not be a party to “trial by dua”. More importantly, the assembled locals watching the proceedings also made it clear that they did not want the RO to test the religious credentials of a candidate.

    This is the Silver Lining in the gathering clouds. All is not lost yet. With people holding their faith in democracy, even flawed, things are bound to get better over time.

    Thank you for this write up. It is a much needed ‘restorer of faith’.

    Recommend

  • Arifq
    Apr 9, 2013 - 9:52AM

    Patience is a virtue! Well said Feisal, democracy is a process and we need to be patient, period.

    Recommend

  • gp65
    Apr 9, 2013 - 11:36AM

    @Fiesal : Agree there is a need for patience for the sieving process to work. There will be trial and errors – this is to be expected. It is important to persist despite occassional disappointment with those that are elected.

    @A. Khan: “Have been hearing this mantra since 1988, Yet noting has changed.”

    And of course you have had non-stop democracy since then right?

    Recommend

  • abhi
    Apr 9, 2013 - 12:09PM

    I agree with most of the points, however you have to wait really long. In India we have around 65 years of democracy and still most of our leader are comparable to their Pakistani counterpart. Actually the quality of polical leaders is declined with time.

    Recommend

  • Omar Ali Khan
    Apr 9, 2013 - 12:29PM

    Well said, Mr Naqvi. We must stop being so pessimistic about Pakistan’s future. Things are difficult now and for too many Pakistanis, life is undoubtedly harsh. But most great nations have gone through similar (even worse) trials and come out the other end stronger and more prosperous. I have no doubt we will too. As the Great Jinnah said, “The Almighty has given us everything”. We just need time to make good use of all we’ve been given.

    Recommend

  • MYB
    Apr 9, 2013 - 1:29PM

    It only works for Nations with a conscience and a will to change. Pakistan needs a Revolution.

    Recommend

  • Murthy
    Apr 9, 2013 - 2:16PM

    That a govt stumbled on for a full term is considered a record in itself, after more than six decades of independence, speaks volumes of the instability of the system. At least now, once an elected govt is in place, whichever dispensation it is, the first thing it should engage itself in is framing a foolproof constitution that will ensure the supremacy of the elected parliament.

    Recommend

  • sabi
    Apr 9, 2013 - 3:43PM

    @Falcon:
    “In fact, that is part of the reason for de-politicization of societies over time”

    Only if we can de-politicise religion we can shut doors for non democratic forces to destabalise democracy.And, by the way I fail to understand what is- politicisation of societies or institutions.What do you understand by it?.

    Recommend

  • sabi
    Apr 9, 2013 - 3:50PM

    @Falcon:
    “In fact, that is part of the reason for de-politicization of societies over time”

    Only if we can de-politicise religion we can shut doors for non democratic forces to destabalise democracy.And, by the way I fail to understand what is- politicisation of societies or institutions.What do you understand by it?.Recommend

  • Hasan Mehmood
    Apr 9, 2013 - 4:07PM

    @abhi:
    {Actually the quality of polical leaders has declined with time}
    Congratulations for hitting the nail on head. That’s one reason that whatever progress is made in democratic evolution the same is cancelled out by lowering of poltical caliber of our leaders.

    Recommend

  • Solomon2
    Apr 9, 2013 - 6:30PM

    Sorry, Mr. Naqvi, I must disagree. As near as I can tell the “slow fix” is not in progress in Pakistan. The reason is that civic rights now take a back seat to orthodoxy; free speech and debate are limited. In the democratic contest for political power one’s opponent can always be delegitimized by accusing him of deviating from the hard line. Each political interaction, each election cycle, has seen increasing militancy. The end result of the process, if no sharp correction takes place, is always war, either internal or external.

    In ancient Rome the process led to street battles that demolished the Roman Republic. In ancient Greece the process led to class warfare that split Greek society and left its city-states open to conquest.

    In the U.S. the prime example of this was Abolition. Slavery was originally characterized as a “necessary evil” by the Founding Fathers, but after a series of slave revolts and increased calls to abolition what was called”the peculiar institution” in the 1830s southern slave-holding states forbade the circulation of anti-slavery literature. This soon morphed into automatic rejection of anti-slavery people socially and politically, increased hostility between parties, social acceptance of the decay of civil liberties, and eventually civil war between North and South.

    Only a sharp turn AWAY from orthodoxy works. The example of this is post-Cromwell England. While Cromwell was alive nobody dared challenge his authority. Luckily, however, his son and successor was a weakling, people wanted to change, and at first through secret negotiations by important men and then open popular support Charles II was Restored to the throne that had been vacant since his sire, Charles I, was executed twenty years before. England remained solidly Protestant – but the era of tyrannical Puritanism was over for good.

    Recommend

  • Falcon
    Apr 9, 2013 - 6:54PM

    @sabi:
    De-politicization refers to lack of interest in politics because of 3 factors in my view: Lack of understanding of its significance, perceived high complexity and selfishness of politics, and perception that things are not going to change by making political choices (this is the case I was referring to). As far as your comment, I think you are referring to de-coupling of religion and politics; that is a good goal to strive for, but can only be achieved after sufficient political support is available, which itself requires a mature polity (I am guessing we will be able to have this debate in Pakistan in a decade or so if democracy continues uninterrupted. Let’s hope so)

    Recommend

  • Muneer
    Apr 9, 2013 - 7:34PM

    Remember,the great poet/philospher Allama Mohammad Iqbal,once said,”Jamhoriat woo tarze hukamat hai,jahan logoon ko gina jata hai tola nahi jata”.(Democracy is a way of governance in which people are counted and not weighed).

    Recommend

  • nrmr44
    Apr 9, 2013 - 8:34PM

    ………. time, effort and repeated cycles ………. !
    The problem is there’s no way to find out in the present that you are progressing ‘incrementally’. You only find out after sixty-five odd years that you were running on the same spot! Or even regressing! When you are that deep in a hole you jump out of it, not walk leisurely up its vertical sides. There is either a smart re-awakening or there is nothing.

    Recommend

  • cautious
    Apr 9, 2013 - 10:15PM

    Practice makes perfect – unfortunately Pakistan hasn’t much practice in electing it’s leaders. On the bright side I have read more positive news on ET under the interim govt than I have in many years. Makes one believe that there maybe hope for Pakistan.

    Recommend

  • Pat G
    Apr 10, 2013 - 1:08AM

    Is there any evidence from history that democracy can arrest creeping (or sweeping!) religious othrodoxy — the type that potentially turns democracy into fascism or totitarian? Not that India or Bangladesh are anywhere nearHitler’s Germany, but they do provide useful clues as to what to expect from the democractic experiment in societies similar to our own. Let’s not forget, the genie’s been let out of the bottle here. It’s also worth remembering that India was able/willing to enforce land reforms in its infancy. Pakistan hasn’t that advantage.
    “Practice makes perfect” and “The system is self correcting” may be only so much of wishful thinking and/or ideological tripe. The system may be self-correcting, but there may be a need for certain baseline conditions to be met before we can speak of such a system.

    Recommend

  • sabi
    Apr 10, 2013 - 7:54AM

    @Falcon:
    Thanks for your response.I appriciate your spirit.

    Recommend

More in Opinion