Pakistan is a country suffering from every possible angle. In this current climate of despair, the usual voices can be heard claiming that either military rule or politicised religion offer more hope than this failed corruptocracy. When compared to politicians’ incompetence, it is true that both army discipline and religious piety or relief efforts can hold more mass appeal. In their own ways, these two options of power or piety bypass democratic pathways to solving problems; so who needs democracy?
The logic here is understandable, of course, but unjustifiable. And despite its obvious allure it is fatally flawed. Do nations progress due to the religiosity of their people and the piety of their rulers? Or even, is military rule the best way to create good governance? The answer is a resounding ‘no’. The fact is that public desire for more power or more piety usually leads to the same thing in the end, totalitarianism. Only fear of accountability makes good governance. In functioning societies, and I think we can agree that Pakistan today is not one, people hold leaders to account by a consensus upon which they agree to be ruled. If that consensus breaks, the people elect different leaders. This adversarial relationship between people and their leaders generates a culture where the government fears and serves its people.
People do not serve the government. When functioning like this, recent history bears witness to the fact that some phenomenally small islands with no demographic base or natural resources to speak of, like the United Kingdom, can become world powers. This was obviously not achieved by some abstract notion of piety in the leader’s conduct, or by pretences to religiosity by the nation. In times of crisis, such stark realities serve as a reminder to those who call for more power to be handed over to the state through militarisation, or demand more religiosity through Islamisation.
We must think. Why is it that some of the world’s most organised societies are not militarised? Why is it that some of the world’s least corrupt societies are not religious? Why is it that societies with the best welfare provisions on earth today are also very individualistic, run by selfish leaders? To the average Pakistani ear, these sentences would seem like paradoxes. They are facts. The answer lies in knowing that the only thing that keeps today’s politicians straight is fear of public and private accountability. Without this, no amount of power or piety can make a contemporary nation progress. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Piety, though a well-meaning trait, is by definition capricious and contested. In realpolitik, piety provides no objective standard by which to hold others to account.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 1st, 2010.
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