Machiavelli, regarded as the father of nationalism, is usually perceived as a proponent of politics divorced from conventional morality and bringing forth all means in the quest for political power, even the most unscrupulous. There are many takers of that view and in most third-world countries including Pakistan, morality has no place in the power game. Against this perception, there is no dearth of people who see Machiavelli as a pragmatist who recognised the harsh realities of political life. In their estimation, he was the first person to acknowledge the true nature of ‘reasons of the state’ and the place of ‘necessity’ in politics. The concept of ‘reasons of state’ promotes the narrative that the security and interests of the state take precedence over all other considerations. Similarly, it is held that ‘necessity’ recognises no laws and morality has no place when the interests of the state are at stake. Pakistan again is quintessential of the applicability of these views. The judiciary in Pakistan has been legitimising the military coups by invoking the doctrine of necessity and the dictators have found cover under the self-defined interests and security of the state to derail democracy taking the country away from the course envisioned by its founding father.

In contrast to the foregoing views, some claim that Machiavelli did not subordinate moral standards to political ones maintaining that he was concerned both with what means and what ends were right. It is argued that his advocacy for the adoption of ruthless strategies was not to preserve power for its own sake but to create and maintain a strong state, the moral purpose of which was the good of the whole community. History is replete with examples where politicians and military dictators have used the slogan of the good of the whole community and maintaining the strong state as a justification for their actions, even though those steps proved disastrous in the end. The military dictators in Pakistan came with an ostensible plea and determination to eliminate the rampant corruption, but lured by the attraction of wielding power, became involved in dirty politics and left the country in a still greater mess in regards to corruption. Similarly, the politicians have also been using the farce of accountability to victimise their political opponents causing unfathomable damage to political morality and the chances of putting in place a system of good governance.

It is also said that Machiavelli never actually said that the ends justified the means. Instead, he showed how well-intentioned and morally good actions could have worse results than supposedly immoral but bold and resolute actions. At times, force and violence, cruelty and deceit are justified as lesser evils. Machiavelli implied that the morality appropriate to politics was not the one based on ideals, but was a consequential morality where actions were judged according to the good consequences they promoted for the general good of society. The case for consequential morality in political life rested on the claim that it was unrealistic and naïve to think that good ends could be achieved without resorting to dubious means. Politicians who keep their hands clean sometimes cause the evil of the status quo to continue or worse evil to result. In these circumstances, it would be self-indulgent, irresponsible and morally wrong to insist on doing the ‘right thing’ regardless of how bad the consequences might be. These arguments have taken a new lease of life in recent times with the rise of the phenomenon of terrorism if ever they needed one. In the face of terrorist attacks, upholding of absolute rules against torture and arbitrary detention, rights to a fair trial, freedom of conscience, thought and expression has been dismissed as naïve. Politicians and academics have justified infringing these rights as a lesser evil, necessary to protect national security. But those who oppose such violations are not the idealists from the other world.

The principle of ‘majority is authority’ is accepted and followed by the entire world in all domains of life including the practice of statecraft and governance. Democracy is supported and practiced by the majority of nations. People are accepted as sovereigns on whose behalf the state is governed by the chosen representatives as our constitution stipulates. The consequence of the crass politics is that Pakistan today stands at the edge of the precipice. Unfortunately, the man who pledged to reverse this phenomenon through his revolutionary agenda, establish the rule of law and orchestrate a corruption-free society and end the culture of political vendetta has perpetuated these vices with impunity. The revelation by Fawad Chaudhry that the drug case against Rana Sanaullah was fake tells the story of the much-hyped process of accountability. So does the reference against SC judge Qazi Faiz Esa which Imran has admitted was a mistake on his part. The same is true about the falsehood of 35 punctures, the narrative on which he built his campaign against the PML (N) government. How can a leader with such soiled credentials be trusted?