The Ungovernable Nation


There will be no end to the troubles of states, or of humanity itself, till philosophers become kings in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands — Plato

When I started writing this article, I was advised by a friend that under the prevailing circumstances, I should try to be as politically correct as possible. It was what General Douglas Macarthur was told to be by President Truman in one of their exchanges. When Macarthur asked, what being ‘politically correct’ was, Truman replied, ‘that it was a doctrine, recently fostered by a delusional illogical minority and promoted by a sick mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a piece of shit by the clean end.’ We in Pakistan are finding it more and more difficult to be politically correct since we have now begun to run out of ‘clean ends’.

Having stood witness to the affairs of my country and watched each passing phase of a political evolution unfold before my eyes, I do not know whether to be concerned or amused. The former for the obvious effect, this political system, may have on the future of our nation and the generations to come – the latter, because I, now having lived long enough, relatively insignificantly, can recognise my irrelevance to the future, yet, I feel entitled to an unqualified opinion. I am reminded of the famous Shakespearean quote, ‘the evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones’. Our graveyards are so full of the good that people did – foregone conclusions, forgotten and ignored and yet this nation remains enveloped in the evil so many others have left behind! So one wonders, what will this country look like in another generation but what would we want it to look like and these are two very different sentiments — the first, a likely outcome of what we do today and the second a dream of what it could have been.

Nations have collapsed in the past; history stands witness to such happenings but if one looks into it searching for a lesson one will discover that this is a familiar human story. A story of a people who believed, for a long time, that their actions did not have consequences. It is the story of how those people will cope with the crumbling of their own myth. It is our story.  Sorry and sad.

We have now reached the dizzying heights of disorder and have established the rule of chaos. Democracy and mobocracy are synonymous in our chosen way of life and preferred system. No rational, no reason, judicial or administrative application, logic or judgement stand as factors in any equation to affect right from wrong — black from white, in this system.

The thin line dividing propriety from impropriety is not visible nor does it matter anymore. Individual acts are no longer governed by honour, honesty, sense of doing the right thing, moral persuasion or human empathy. We roam the streets either like predators or those who are hunted. Might is now effectively right – who you are is far more important than what you do. Merit is sacrificed at the altar of parochialism, nepotism or cheap popularity while every office exhibits a totally clueless, incompetent and unqualified semi-literate idiot who misuses his authority and causes damage to whatever institution he belongs to. Justice is dispensed selectively, that is, if time is found for any dispensation at all, in the first place. It is so shamelessly forgiving to the few undeserving criminals and yet so shamefully and disproportionately punitive to others who are implicated in exaggerated or false cases. Consistency in governance is measured by the convenience it offers to the administrator, continuity in routine is only specific to the corruption it lives on, security of the individual depends on how far and wide one can avoid the government, law enforcement and the justice system.  Survival in this country has now become an art performed by communities and individuals, despite the government and in spite of the administration.  

It is impossible to tell how fast our society is collapsing because history has been riddled with disinformation and reality is composed of half-fiction and full of paranoid conspiracy theories.  Yet, if nothing changes in the way things are being done now, then this envisaged collapse is not only predictable but inevitable. The causes of a societal collapse have always been either economical or moral but in our case they are both, and together collectively, which makes it even more ominous. Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC) had feared that the inherent dangers in democracy were, first, the conflict between the aristocracy and the poor, second, it would usher in corruption. Both processes would lead to collapse unless separation of power was enforced. We have arrived there already. The swagger of the insignificant crook as he is followed by his armed guards are all indicative of this reality.  Polybius (200 BC -118 BC) asserted that all nations follow a cycle: democracy, oligarchy, dictatorship, tyranny and collapse. We managed to ‘collapse’ without even sampling the other forms of governance. Are we to be denied basic nationhood and are we then a failed State even before becoming a State?

Closer to our own times, Ibn Khuldun (1332-1406) stated that dynasties (Governments) repeatedly become sedentary, senile, coercive, pompous and subservient to desire. Group feelings disappear as the dynasty (government) grows senile and senility is a chronic disease for which there is no cure because it is something natural.

Has our society become too senile and indifferent to rise above status quo? States do die or disappear occasionally but mostly they outlive the span of human life. There are moral difficulties in indicting a whole nation, because to do so would be to make the passive majority suffer the acts of the criminal minority and future generations for the sins of their fathers. Are we destined to continue living as such – in the wake of the sins of our fathers while we suffer the consequences of the phenomenon we are mistakenly living in and classifying as, ‘democracy’?

The question is, are we dying and very possibly we are. Corruption has brought about an economic and a moral collapse. A senility has permeated our society as we learn to accept the status-quo and not challenge the convention as it governs our society. Democracy now lies firmly in the grip of rogues, who by the inconsistencies of destiny sit in the chair of authority. The power that they wield is not a consequence of any qualification, education, awareness, experience or moral equation but simply the manipulation of the State machinery and apparatus. This manipulation has no moral censure, law, rules or regulation that either control or govern it. The aberration of injustices, maladministration and poor governance are explained and justified by the jugglery of words in a dishonest rhetoric; opinions shaped through a twisted mass media, spewing dishonesty and deceit.  Democracy has now taken the full circle, a phenomenon recognised by the tyranny of the few that exploits the silent majority. Thus, the democratic process for Pakistan can never be a solution to the problems its society and nation face since the application of democracy as we know it,  only empowers criminals, convicts and villains through the low values that have been introduced, new conventions, bad practices and wayward morals that now grip our society. To oppose such values one must fall to the level of such standards and many prefer to hold their peace in silence rather than compromise on their own principles.  Thus the rogues in power walk away uncontested, hooting into the wind while celebrating their conquest shamelessly holding up their fingers displaying the victory sign.
Having watched the happenings that go around us on a day to day basis, I have finally come to the conclusion that there is no political solution to Pakistan’s woes – not with these people, not with this leadership or that which is available in the country. So many reasons are cited for where we as a nation have descended to. Corruption is first and foremost.

In Pakistan, the slogan remains, ‘I pray that I rise to a material level where I too can afford to be honest’ – it is conditional, relative and flexible. Corruption is not exclusive to those in power but envelopes anyone who has the opportunity regardless of what his status is — from the lowest level of human being to the highest. No transaction, business or engagement is possible without some sort of corruption. It’s the norm. Even the one offering the sweetener, is himself relieved, in that he has discovered a way forward to whatever he wanted done, acquire or sell. Officials put up their demands and justify their claim on the basis that they are going for Hajj. We proudly call ourselves the Islamic Republic of Pakistan where every mosque is filled with humanity yet no child is safe on the streets. Ours is a nation destined to be rated as 130th out of 139 countries in the rule of law, one of the most corrupt countries in the world (140th in ranking out of 180), a bankrupt State living off the largesse of others and on the edge of being declared a failed state.

Our political acumen is measured by the loans we can acquire as we stand before the world hat in hand, begging, suppliant and pleading. Our people are an accomplice to this phenomenon of shameless conduct as we keep bleating about the joys of democracy and sell our vote to the highest bidder. A society of hypocrites, whose religion evolves around form while substance is quietly set aside; a people caught in ritual as they forget God in their enthusiasm to practice their belief. We have allowed the benefits of Islam, as a way of life, to be adopted and enjoyed by countries which may have no Muslims and yet, we who are Muslims, living in an Islamic republic, have ignored the basic principle of Haqquq-al-ibad as we steal, lie and cheat each other.

Can democracy be the answer to this aberration of a country where people and government both are an accomplice in misrule and mal-administration – each living off the other?  Can anyone be so naïve as to expect that ‘of the people, by the people, for the people ‘is the panacea for the ills that we suffer? That we need to continue to follow the course and in time we shall finally get it right? To me such people are living in a fool’s paradise – they cannot see the irreversible damage being done by the games we are playing; we are running out of resources and time. Each day of democracy in Pakistan, has proven to be worse than the one before it – nothing improves in this system as each day brings us closer to our own demise.

So I ask myself as to what is the purpose of this article. Is it just the rants of a frustrated person who has found a method to unburdening himself? These lines are not likely to influence, affect or impress anyone at all; the thought within them will matter even less. I write in disgust and contempt, more with myself than anything else. I am now living that hopeless feeling of failure reinforced by the inability to do anything, being another helpless, irrelevant citizen surrounded by a society drowning in fatalism who remain resigned to whatever destiny metes out to them.

The offices that matter neither have neither the intellect to comprehend the gravity of our situation, nor do they have the moral courage to do anything about it. They live on in the hope that things will right themselves. Others are simply beneficiaries of this flawed system and till it collapses, they have much to gain from it. However, when it finally implodes, these leaders and the privileged few will flee from this country like rats abandoning a sinking ship.

There is no example of any country that was in a predicament such as we are in, that pulled itself out of its misery, through a democratic exercise. In our own region South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia are some good examples of nations who raised themselves up from the ashes to take their place amongst the comity of nations. The administrative models or type of governance forms that they adopted could be studied. Then again, even in the west, States in crisis did adopt measures such as technocrat Governments or National Governments to bring order to disorder and these were Greece, Italy and France amongst many others. Never before has a nation needed to do something unconventional, different and quickly to confront the future and sustain itself, as Pakistan needs to do now. We need a change.

The change could be anything but it must be able to bring about a difference quickly and permanently. We need a technocratic government at the Provincial levels as well as the National level. Small cabinets of a dozen experts at the national level and half a dozen at the provincial level. That they be selected by a judicial team with a military overwatch. They must be mandated to address the three crucial areas immediately, i.e. the economy (Including documenting the informal economy), the foreign policy direction and priorities and National Security. The Government must be installed for at least 5 to 7 years and tasked to carry out the reforms that the country needs so desperately. These reforms must include:

  • Judicial reforms.
  • De-politicisation of the Police.
  • Rewriting or moderating part of the Constitution.
  • Developing more Provinces.
  • Education based on internationally recognised standards.
  • Merit Orientation in the bureaucracy and civil services.
  • Privatising Government owned Businesses immediately.
  • Madrassa Reforms and reigning in the influence of the Maulvi or of Religion in Politics.
  • Industrial Reforms to boost manufacturing and production.
  • Bringing in services into the private sector to include energy distribution, type of energy, consumer services and establishing national consumer standards.
  • Defining red lines for waste disposal, energy distribution, water management, the enforcement of regulation and implementation of rules.

I strongly recommend that having been able to bind the country within regulatory parameters, standards and sustainable growth, the technocrat government can then ease the way for a more people inclusive democratic process. This could be the parliamentary system for which, apparently, we are not suited or then a presidential form of government, if that is the preferred choice. Whatever may be the need of that time? I end this note here. I do not know if it has any significance for anyone, will it influence thinking, can it contribute towards a new mechanism to improve our country but I hope that it is at the least considered towards such ends. To conclude it would not be amiss to quote from the serenity prayer:

‘O Lord! Give me the serenity to recognise the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can And the wisdom to know the difference between both.’

Tariq Khan HI(M)
Tariq Khan HI(M)
The writer is a retired Lt General of the Pakistan Army. He is noted for his services as the Commander of I Strike Corps at Mangla and Inspector General of the Frontier Corps.

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