The term ‘republic’, which is also part of the official name of many countries of the world, including Pakistan, indicates that the system of government of these countries is based on the concept of ‘republicanism’, an ancient theory in politics. The political doctrine of ‘republicanism’ is a multifaceted concept having myriad interpretations. As far as the minimum or classical meaning of the term is concerned, a ‘representative’ government promotes the ‘common good’ and the welfare of the entire society in a republic. In other words, ‘republicanism’ is a system of governance where the elected representatives think beyond their personal, family, or other vested interests and consider the interests of the people at large. The Greek political philosopher Plato named his hypothetical ideal state a ‘republic’, which was based on the principles of justice and virtue. In 1787, Benjamin Franklin, one of the great American founding fathers, called the new state of America a ‘republic’ when he was asked to comment on the nature of the new union. According to this theory, Pakistan is neither a ‘republic’ nor a ‘welfare’ state because it has failed miserably to protect basic human rights. It is the failure of a state as a ‘republic’, not the failure of one government or another.
The independent states or republics speak through their policies or actions. The public policies of a state are the solutions proposed by the government to resolve the problems of the common people. To this end, the present regime is the bookish example of state failure in making concrete efforts to deliver. I don’t talk about the fundamental human rights, such as of life, property, employment, health, education, information, and social security; governments have failed to provide even the people’s natural right to eat properly and fairly. According to various socio-economic and political studies, the majority of people in Pakistan have neither food security nor quality food. Nearly half of the population has no access to safe drinking water.
According to the 2013-14 budget estimates, more than two-thirds of the spending is on non-developmental programmes, such as defence and debt servicing. The spending on health, education and other services is the lowest in the region. It seems as if the government is not responsible for anything that happens to the people. It has no control over skyrocketing food prices; rather it has increased the price of electricity three times, and the price of oil and gas twice since its inception a few weeks ago. The present government has also raised the sales tax by one per cent, which is already among the highest in the world. In fact, sales tax has even been imposed on old and used garments sold in Landa Bazaars. The tax increase on cell phone users is another example of insensitivity.
In a nutshell, a republic state is not a ‘shopkeeper’, which sells goods or commodities to its customers or clients as our state is doing. In a true republic, people have rights over the state, which plays the role of a ‘dispenser’ or ‘facilitator’ in order to promote the general well-being of its citizens. However, many republics in Asia, Africa and Latin America are protecting the interests of global actors, whether they be states or non-state actors, such as the IMF and multinational companies. I term this a ‘new imperialism’, where ‘global forces’ have greater impact over governments of such ‘republics’ to fulfil their needs only, compared with the protection and preservation of the rights of their own populace. If this continues, people might start questioning the importance or relevance of their states or republics in their lives.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2013.
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