Vinegar in Milk

Vinegar in Milk

I consider Anwar Masood not only a poet, but also a philosopher. He says:
“We have put vinegar in milk Now we are left thinking what to do”

The same is true of my beloved Pakistan. Such shortcomings have taken root in every sector of the country and in most of its institutions, that it is not merely difficult, but in fact almost impossible, to turn this vinegar-laden mixture back into pure milk. Is it positive thinking to still pin our hopes on this outdated and dysfunctional system, or do we need to restructure this nonperforming and useless system if we are to have any hope? Some philosophers have said that if the same process or action is repeated over and over again, expecting the result to be any different, is insanity.

 Democracy is often flawed, but it is unarguably serving humanity in many regions. What we need to examine are the intentions of our country’s Constitution and democracy and the direction in which we are moving, and question if there still exists even a ray of hope. When a system is set up for the governance of any country or society, its greatest and highest goal is the protection of the collective and individual prosperity, life, property, and honour of its citizens. This is called the Supreme National Interest, and this is the basic demand of the Constitution. However, there may be differing views on how to achieve this basic goal, and all political, economic, and security policies are shaped by this thinking.

It is from such a process that different political philosophies and thoughts arise. But if this diversity of thought exacerbates dissension rather than engender positive debate to the point that political and institutional differences make us mortal enemies of each other, then the ultimate goal of prosperity and security is buried in the depths of bitterness. Society becomes a victim of unnecessary and useless debate.

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Countries are made up of institutions and institutions are made up of individuals, like houses with different rooms, made of bricks. If there is any distortion of planning and training in these three aspects of a country (individuals, institutions, communities) then the system will be weak and it will be hard to achieve the goals required to attain the Supreme National Interest. We in Pakistan have this problem.

 An overview of our society, and of the lines on which its moral and political structures are based might help us understand the reasons why our national journey is not in the right direction — ie. in pursuance of light and happiness. Education, justice, health, economics, and social structures, etc., are the key features of any good polity and society. When we examine the ones in place in Pakistan, we can see how ours are sadly lacking.

The Constitution of Pakistan is a unanimous document and the result of great effort, so to blame it for its failures after just a cursory discussion and superficial deliberation would not be fair. However, the Constitution is not static or written on stone; it can be changed or made more effective by adapting it to changing national aspirations and contemporary requirements by the methods written in the Constitution itself. The authorities should discuss the following issues and, wherever possible, address them through constitutional amendments:

It is not enough to make laws in any institution or country. It is important to make arrangements to ensure that the law is enforced and that violators are punished. The ability to enforce the government’s writ is the justification for governing, taking into account basic human rights and applicable laws. In addition, responsibilities such as day-to-day justice, primary education, sanitation, clean drinking water, primary healthcare, etc., can be successfully provided within a limited population, and a manageable area. A capable and efficient police force for enforcement, a judicial system to provide speedy justice, and local government officials willing to serve (who among other things are also obliged to collect taxes and spend them on appropriate works and services), are the main cardinals of effective governance. An excellent system should be devised at the federal level for recruitment, training, monitoring, and development in these departments and the best minds and characters of the country should be mobilised for these tasks.

Law and order, and basic municipal responsibilities (municipal functions) can be performed smoothly only when the area of responsibility and the population are commensurate with the size of the government machinery. Therefore, this is not possible until the country is divided into smaller administrative provinces or commissionaires. The details can be decided by experts. After that, the legitimacy of the present provincial governments would be lost. Experience has shown that the local government system was not allowed to function in the presence of large provinces. Therefore, only two levels of government (federal and local, which you can also call small provincial) should be able to fulfil all governance-related responsibilities.

An independent, competent, and effective judiciary is the hallmark of any vibrant society and good governance system. In addition to those at the helm being educated and intelligent, strong decision-making requires a strong character. This is possible only when a highly respected, trained, and trusted Department of Justice is in charge. For this, it is necessary to form a new cadre in which admission on merit is key. In such a system lateral entry is impossible and has its own separate administrative structure. If a lawyer today is an active member of a political party and tomorrow, with the help of that party, he is appointed as a judge of the higher courts, will he be able to make independent decisions?

 In addition, all departments should be required to resolve departmental issues within their jurisdiction in accordance with the law, and to devise a system of internal justice so that only important and complex cases go to court. The Ministry of Justice should introduce the concept of Roving or Mobile Courts in which a superior judge should be able to make himself present at the scene, set up a court, record the statements of witnesses and provide speedy justice. We need to get rid of a system plagued with sluggishness and inefficiency — one everyone is fed up of, be it the Prime Minister or the common man. Strict laws should be enacted for heinous crimes such as murder, rape, robbery, extortion, drug trafficking, etc.

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Real democracy is not possible unless there is a pure democratic character within the political parties. This democracy should not be superficial, with party members artificially going through the motions, subverting the spirit of the Political Parties Act. Why is it that almost all the major parties have become hostage to dynastic politics? One of the reasons for this might be the tendency for individualism in our society. The other reason, which is more important, is the control of party leaders over party funds and decision-making. In this system, even supposedly respectable, senior politicians seem to be compelled to flatter and become subservient to the children of the leaders and put them ahead of other more deserving people. It is very important to eliminate these practices, or our politics will never mature. There is also an urgent need to shed the influence and interference of institutions in politics, otherwise the joke that is being played out in the name of democracy will continue. Special arrangements will have to be made for the development of a democratic ethos and capacity-building in various fields. It is very important to have some technocrats in Parliament. Today’s governments cannot function without economists, engineers, doctors, managers, IT, and defence experts. The condition of a BA degree for aspiring candidates for political office was perceived as being quite offensive in some quarters. From this, one might be able to guess the academic qualifications of those who have a monopoly in our politics and parliament.

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To make matters worse, such people — who are often clueless — are appointed to manage the affairs of the country’s economy, defence, foreign relations, and interior.

This assessment is not an attempt to belittle politicians, but rather an effort to point out the shortcomings of the prevailing political structure. Honest politicians with character should pay heed.

There are also other issues in urgent need of redress.

We are well aware of the deteriorating state of our education system. Currently there are many parallel systems in vogue. The English and Urdu Medium streams have further sub divisions, and a large swathe of society only has the option of madrassas. The rich and upper-middle class educate their children in international streams, ie. Cambridge and Oxford. They take O and A levels and proceed to find seats in engineering and medical colleges, in financial institutions, etc. The poor and lower middle class meanwhile, remain at a huge disadvantage. And so, often really intelligent and deserving children are left behind in the race of life, and the country is left behind developmentally due to the loss of a great volume of potential talent.  

Due to the lack of equal opportunities, the selection base shrinks, resulting in mediocrity, which is rampant in almost every institution and at every level. And we keep wondering why we have stagnation in our institutions, factories, agriculture, and research etc, why we lag behind on nearly every front. To add to this state of affairs, the tendency to cheat in exams has acquired ominous dimensions, as has the use of drugs in our educational institutions, and the state is silent and inactive about these crucial issues, as if these matters have nothing to do with our survival.

How to attach our educational structure to global higher educational systems, while remaining in accordance with our environment, needs to be professionally evaluated by experts in this field. Even to a layman, one thing is quite clear: this serious problem cannot be solved without the imposition of an education emergency. All tiers of society, including institutions and retired personnel will have to be integrated to bring about a meaningful change. The young population, if illiterate, unhealthy and without economic opportunities, can be a burden on society and the country. Whatever the government decides, it will have to be done on an emergency basis. The curriculum should be fashioned to include moral and ethical training along with academics. Primary education should be handed over to the local governments, but it is imperative that curricula be developed at the national level to improve and ensure national cohesion. Schools, colleges and universities that do not provide playgrounds and balanced extracurricular activities should be excluded from the definition of educational institutions. 

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National security is not only a military term or a phrase related to public law and order. National security depends on many factors such as the economy, the functioning of systems, the provision of justice, food autarky, water sufficiency and the protection of borders and the people, etc. But the focus at this moment should be on the security forces of Pakistan, guarding the country’s borders against enemies and fighting the armed groups spreading internal disturbances.

There are many misunderstandings (fiction and misperceptions) in circulation about the forces, especially the army. They are often not openly discussed. It would be in the national interest to speak out and write about them, remaining conscious that these are sensitive issues and the country’s enemies should not be given any opportunity to spread negative propaganda against our best institutions. The armed forces should also open up to allow inspection of them to whatever extent possible, and simultaneously introspect and try to remove the negative apprehensions about the institution.

So how did Pakistan become a security state?

Our country faced severe security challenges from the very beginning (India, Kashmir, river water, etc.). The details are well known. Then perhaps it is understandable that we had little or no choice but to join other military blocs to strengthen our forces for own protection. And so, we became members of SEATO, CENTO, etc., and thereby our bent towards the US and the West. The armed forces of Pakistan emerged as a strong institution, but unfortunately, in collaboration with the bureaucracy, they considered it necessary to intervene in politics under the misplaced principle of necessity, and some of the politicians themselves included uniformed generals in the cabinet. The judiciary, meanwhile, sometimes condoned such interventions, making that our greatest misfortune. Since then, the military’s involvement in politics has never ended — it has only altered its manifestations, in varying intensity and depth. Thus Pakistan’s problems have always been viewed from a security perspective, and basic issues such as education, health and justice have been perpetually relegated to the back burner. This has slowly created bitterness between the military and the country’s genuine politicians. But a new nursery of politicians have, with the army at their back, taken advantage of the opportunity to climb to the political apex.

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During such periods, there may have been some glimmers of development, but we drifted away from true sustainable democracy, and it is now clear that democratic values do not exist in most political parties or the political system today. They have become hostage to political dynasties, and are trying their best to perpetuate the inefficient and corrupt system, as it suits them best. Sham democracy, and vested interests have subsumed the entire polity, giving the poor nothing but false promises. The few lights at the end of this tunnel: the emergence of some young seemingly honest, earnest politicians, and alongside, undercurrents in the military suggesting a growing sentiment that they must stay away from politics to allow the country to achieve true democracy.

There is also a requirement to completely review our military system to make it economical, affordable and socially inclusive. Either we review our ‘Grand Strategy’  and go for smart, modern, small forces in line with the changing character of war, or immediately assign our forces to do large-scale nation building tasks to generate funds for their self-sustenance. A pension model also needs to be reviewed, as the present one is not sustainable. Hybrid wars, in any case, do not lie solely in the domain of kinetics. We need to create an appropriate organisation to negotiate such threats.

To achieve this goal, the political, judicial, social and military leadership will have to collectively join hands and take some extraordinary steps to devise systems in which new young and capable people, free from corruption, have the opportunity to take over the country.

Difficult as this may be, it is not impossible.

Recent history indicates that when people have talked about efforts and commissions to investigate issues and resolve them, they have usually been exercises in futility. It is almost as if those calling for them are just talking the talk, when in fact they wish to continue with the same corrupt leadership and non-performing system.

In fact, there is not a single important institution that can be absolved of the wrongdoings perpetrated against our people and systems. Politicians, the judiciary, army, media, religious leaders, etc, are all guilty.

So if we are to have any meaningful change, all the pillars of the state, and the armed forces need to acknowledge their respective failings. The army should admit its past transgressions and undertake to resolve that in future, other than their main security tasks, they will help the country, the people and the government, and limit themselves to whatever advice and help is sought within the bounds of the law and Constitution. The armed forces should also re-examine the military system and focus on making it economical, participatory, relevant to modern warfare, and create an efficient mechanism to collaborate with institutions to create abilities to fight back hybrid threats. They must now also concentrate on the nature and character of future wars, and work towards creating a smart standing army and a larger reserve force making it economical and agile.

The country’s entire justice system also needs restructuring (investigation, prosecution and judicial procedures) to provide prompt and just verdicts, and lateral entries in the higher judiciary should be discouraged. The steering committee headed by the Chief Justice, which is probably already working on this, should make its recommendations soon. And the Chairmen NAB and EC should be selected by the SJC, not by political parties.

All political parties should say goodbye to the dynasties, the self-styled royal families imposed on them.  Younger leaders should come forward and pledge that they will never sit in the laps of dictators, and keep the old corrupt leaders out of their ranks. They must pledge to put the interests of the nation, the country and the welfare of the people first.

The judiciary and the armed forces should be respected, but there should be no room for appeasement by or for the executive authorities. Politicians and the government should never ask them to do anything illegal, nor allow them to do so. This would, however, only work if true democratic values are upheld within the political parties and in the Parliament.

The politicising of the bureaucracy and police can only be arrested by providing these two great and important institutions with constitutional protection and independence in their affairs. Only the appointment of the top bureaucrat and top police officer should be the prerogative of the executive head, along with periodic appraisals of their respective performance. Beyond that, there must be no interference in promotions, postings etc, as in the case of the armed forces.

And last, but not least, the media should realise its power and the responsibility it shoulders, and be held accountable by a neutral supra body appointed through an appropriate mechanism. Freedom of speech and writing must be clearly distinguished from misinformation, disinformation and sponsored stories.

All this will, however, be just wishful thinking if we can’t collectively devise the ways and means to bring about all the suggested changes. So if we are to embark on any genuine journey of change, first and foremost a discussion must ensue to debate the merit and logistical plausibility of the changes recommended.

After a majority view is consolidated (consensus being impossible) then we can work on the modalities. Certain ideas are especially worthy of consideration, such as the expansion of the NSC which would include among its ranks the judiciary, bureaucracy (including top police officials) and media representatives. A referendum by the incumbent political leadership with the approval of the Supreme Court is also worth considering. An open discussion should be initiated for the emergence of a new political set-up that gets voted in for this very objective, etc.

All these options may be discussed threadbare on the platform of the newly composed National Security Committee, and the Chief Justice of Pakistan should take the oath from all those concerned for the new charter.

An interim government based and led by the the non-politicised members of the higher judiciary (agreed upon by stakeholders), including retired bureaucrats, honest generals and other technocrats should be formed, with the commitment of instituting the new system. The political parties should first prove themselves at local tiers and then come forward with their new workable manifestos. Clean, honest individuals beyond any moral blemish can be allowed to contest the elections — which a strong, neutral EC is enough to ensure — after a certain stabilising period. The resultant Legislative Assembly should draft major amendments in the Constitution within months, and institute agreed-upon changes, making it governance-efficient, one that ensures public welfare, by providing education, justice, health and equal economic opportunities.

All this is undoubtedly easier said than done. In the face of the existential threat that we face because of the obsolescence of the existing system and its various sub systems, we need to act collectively and swiftly. However, if even one of the four major stakeholders (the political parties, judiciary, armed forces, media) refuse to reform themselves, no change will be possible. And then, anarchy may reign supreme.

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Lt. Gen. (R) Naeem Khalid Lodhi

The writer is a former defence minister and defence secretary. He has held major command positions in the Pakistan Army.

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