National dialogue – vinegar in milk - PART-I

Today’s title is taken from the Punjabi poetry collection of Anwar Masood, whom I consider not only a poet but also a philosopher. It goes:

We have put vinegar in the milk,

Now are left thinking what to do

The same is true of my beloved Pakistan. Such maladies have taken root in every sector and in most of the institutions, that it is not only difficult but almost impossible to turn this vinegar-laden substance back into pure milk. Is it positive thinking to pin our hopes on this outdated and dysfunctional system or should we restructure this non performing and useless system? Some philosophers have said that if the same process is repeated over and over again and the expected result is different, then it is nothing but naiveté́. Counting the flaws of the democratic system is by no means the intention of this article. Democracy is serving humanity in many regions, although now political experts are pointing at the weaknesses in some forms of democracy and capitalism, but that is a completely different debate.

Here we will talk about the intentions of our constitution and democracy, in which direction we are going and is there any ray of hope? When a system gets evolved and is set up for the governance of any country or society, its greatest and highest goal is the creation and protection of prosperity, life, property, and the honour of its people. And this is the supreme national interest. Therefore, the debate regarding what our supreme interest is should be put to rest, because this is enshrined in the Constitution and there is no room for further interpretation. However, there may be differing views on how to achieve these basic goals, and all political, economic, and security policies are shaped due to this thinking. And this is a subject of Political Science from where the different political philosophies and thoughts emanate. But if this diversity of thoughts exacerbates opposition instead of positive debate to the point that political and institutional interests make them almost avowed 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 discussions. We are facing the same problem.

Countries are made up of institutions and institutions are made up of individuals. Like houses with different rooms, and these in turn are made of bricks. Now if there is any distortion in planning and training in these three aspects (individuals, institutions, countries) then the state structure and system will be clumsy and weak and will not be able to achieve the above goals.

Let’s take a look at our society, on what lines our moral and political structures are based and what are the reasons that our national direction is not aligned with the aspirations of our people, preventing the richly-deserved prosperity and happiness. Education, justice, health, economics, security and social structures, etc., are the key features of any good political system. It will be clear when we take a look at all of them one by one.

Political structure; the Constitution of Pakistan is a unanimous document and the result of a colossal effort, so it would be unwise to only blame it for all our failures, just after a cursory discussion and superficial deliberations. However, the constitution is a dynamic document and can be changed or made more effective by the methods written within the constitution itself to adapt it to the changing national aspirations and contemporary requirements. The authorities should discuss the following issues and, wherever possible, address them through constitutional amendments:

The country should be divided into small administrative regions (not on ethnic or linguistic lines).

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 irrespective of their social stature. The ability to enforce a government writ is a justification for governing, of course, taking into account basic human rights and applicable laws. In addition, responsibilities such as primary education, sanitation, clean drinking water, primary healthcare etc, can only be implemented in a manageable limited population and area. A capable and efficient police force for enforcement, a judicial system to provide speedy justice, and local government officials willing to provide basic municipal services (who are also obliged to collect taxes and spend them on appropriate work), are the keys to successful management. An excellent system should be devised at the federal level for recruitment, training, monitoring, and development of these departments and the best minds and characters of the country should be mobilised for these tasks.

Law and order, and basic municipal functions can only be performed smoothly 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 is 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 we can also call small provincial) should fulfil their responsibilities.

Judiciary; an independent, sovereign, and effective judiciary is the hallmark of any living society and good governance system.

In addition to 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 the merit of admission should be much higher than the rest of the departments. Lateral entry should be impossible and it must have its own separate administrative structure. If a lawyer today is an active member of a political party and with the help of that party he is appointed as judge of the higher courts, what are the prospects of him/her making 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 the courts. The Ministry of Justice should introduce the concept of roving or mobile courts in which a superior judge will be 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 — and with the present system everyone is fed up, from the Prime Minister down to the common man. Strict laws should be enacted (responsibility of legislature) for heinous crimes such as murder, robbery, extortion, drug trafficking, etc.

A Political Parties Act; real democracy is not possible unless there is a pure democratic spirit within the political parties. And it should not happen in a superficial way just to complete the formalities and the process. Why have almost all the major parties become hostage to dynastic and family politics? One of the reasons is the tendency of personality worshipping in our society and the other reason, which is more important; the control of party leaders over party funds and decision-making without delegating it to larger forums. Also, the misuse of the Horse Trading Act where a party member is unable to give his/her personal free and honest opinion. Leaders in the name of parties have taken good politicians as hostage by hoarding money and resorting to horse-trading laws, resulting in very respectable people being compelled to flatter the children of the leaders and put them ahead of themselves.

People feel sorry for such practices by senior politicians when they bow in front of the children of their party leaders. It is very important to remove these compulsions, otherwise, our politics will never mature. There is also an urgent need to eliminate the influence and interference of institutions in politics, otherwise the joke in the name of democracy will not allow us to develop. Special arrangements will have to be made for the development of democratic attitudes 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 was not palatable to some people. From this, it can be guessed who has the monopoly in our politics and parliament – big landlords, pirs, religious persons, industrialists etc.

Furthermore, at times such people are placed at the top to look after the affairs of the economy, defence, foreign affairs, and interior, who sometimes do not even know the basics and working knowledge about these departments. Stringent controls to ensure democratic norms within the parties and during elections, are only possible if a strong, independent Election Commission is created and made functional. Not with the mutual agreement and connivance of political parties, but by the Supreme Judicial Council. Same should be the case with NAB. Politicians should not consider this article as an attempt to malign them or to go against them, but rather it is an endeavour to point out the shortcomings of the prevailing political structure. These issues have been pointed out for the welfare of the honest politicians with character. It should be taken in the same spirit. In the next episode, InshAllah, the rest of the institutions will also be discussed.

To be continued.


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