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Agenda for the nation 2013 and beyond-II

What is the real nature and extent of the domestic crisis? Let me try to highlight some of its major dimensions. First and foremost, it is a ‘crisis of legitimacy’. For any country’s good governance, legitimacy is essential. Military general turned president Pervez Musharraf lacked legitimacy, and the outgoing government, despite having the semblance of democracy, also lacked moral and political legitimacy.

There is a. lack of trust between the people and the leadership, as also between state institutions and the stake-holders. The government was an arrangement of convenience, lacking unity of thought, commonality of vision and concerns. The spirit and substance of co-participation, co-operation and co-sharing did not exist. Key institutions were either at loggerheads or in a state of uneasy coexistence.

Higher judiciary is perhaps the only exception. Media has generally played a positive role. Army, which has always enjoyed the trust of the people as defenders of our borders, has become disputed because of its involvement in the ‘War on Terror’, and also because of people’s apprehensions about the role of intelligence agencies in civil, political and regional affairs.

This crisis of legitimacy is a matter of deep concern. This situation calls for fresh elections, fair and with utmost transparency. It is only with the emergence of a new political leadership, that enjoys people’s trust, that a new beginning can be made.

CRISIS OF INTEGRITY: The second dimension of the crisis can be described as a crisis of integrity. It is more than a natural corollary of the crisis of legitimacy. While integrity includes legitimacy it is more than that. Integrity is achieved on the basis of vision, character, trust and incorruptibility. The incumbent political regime has failed to demonstrate any of these. The ongoing ‘War on Terror’ has seriously dented the integrity of the ruling classes. A large number of people think that their leadership is not making decisions on the basis of what constitutes Pakistan’s national interest.

There is a trust deficit between the army and the people. An alarming symptom of this was the official instruction issued to military personnel during the Musharraf regime not to travel in public transport in uniform. This was the lowest watermark. The role assigned to army viz-a-viz internal counter-terrorism is unavoidable. The essential part of a strategy of deterrence has its darker side. Undoubtedly, terrorism is a threat yet it has to be tackled in an effective manner, focusing upon the causes of the malaise and its origin and not merely its symptoms and expressions. There can be no military solution to an essentially political problem as the Parliament had recommended in its three resolutions. It had suggested having an independent foreign policy and a political solution of the problem based on dialogue, development and deterrence. The government painfully failed to follow that path. The imposed strategy it followed has failed even to contain terrorism, what to say of its elimination. Unfortunately, this strategy has dented army’s integrity viz-a-viz the people.

Unfortunately, the US has played a role in it by making the people feel that army and the political leadership are following American roadmap, not a truly Pakistani policy. This has a direct role in aggravating the crisis of integrity. It would be appropriate to suggest that a way out cannot be found without a well thought out political decision which is possible only if there is change in political leadership. Unless a new leadership comes up with a new vision and a fresh strategy to serve Pakistan’s interests we may not be able to come out of this crisis. This new strategy must take on board all the stakeholders as partners.

The political scene is clouded but there certainly are some positive developments. The government, despite all its failures and compromises, had not resorted to naked political vendetta and victimisation, as had been the case during military rules. However poor their performance was, major constitutional institutions, even though they had failed to fulfil the people’s expectations, were operational.

In this regard, at least three positive aspects can be noted: One, at the constitutional and legal level, major constitutional distortions which had destroyed the balance of power as envisioned in the original Constitution have been removed and a new balance achieved through a national consensus. All the problems have not been resolved yet, but a framework has certainly been agreed upon, which can take care of issues at the federal level and can lead to improvement in relations between the federation and provinces. It is a big failure that the provincial-local relationship could not be addressed so far although at federal and provincial levels, some developments are positive as far as the constitutional framework is concerned. Similarly, there is some improvement in the area of legislation through proper parliamentary process. Legislation by ordinances, although present, has decreased.

Secondly, there have been some positive developments as far as the higher judiciary is concerned. Independence of the Judiciary was achieved through a heroic struggle of the people and the legal community. The post-2008 government showed great reluctance, even resistance, to restore independent judiciary, but the will of the people prevailed and, while the independence of Judiciary had been achieved, tensions between the Executive and the Judiciary escalated.

Many of Judiciary’s decisions remain unimplemented. At times it seemed that there was a tug of war between the Executive and the Judiciary. Judicial activism becomes necessary because of the failure of the Executive to deliver and operate within the framework of the Constitution and Law. The Judiciary had to fulfil its normal responsibilities as also respond to people’s grievances caused by Government’s failure to do its duty fairly and honestly. In such cases it had to resort to its constitutional role as the defender of human rights. This has been due to an abnormal situation.

Judicial restraint must remain as important as judicial activism. A balance between the two is necessary. The whole idea of fundamental rights and the Supreme Court to be the guardian of fundamental rights was a very important contribution of the original 1973 Constitution. Embedded in this constitutional provision is the view that if fundamental rights are violated as a result of a faulty executive action, it becomes the duty of the Supreme Court (not any other court) to intervene. That is how a political issue becomes an issue of fundamental rights. And as such it comes under the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Frequent use of this right is taking place because the executive had failed to deliver. But still, while we recognise the positive contribution of judicial activism, the danger is that if it becomes a norm that would not be helpful to promoting institutional balance and safeguarding structural equation as established in the Constitution. That leads us back to the core issue of good governance. Courts cannot play the role of the Executive and its different organs. It can only act as a source of restraint and guide, not as a substitute.

The third positive development relates to the freedom of media and its enhanced role both as a source of information and as a forum promoting debate that could influence policy-making. It has also a role to play to promote greater accountability in the society and polity. Unfortunately, there have been a number of excesses in this area as well, particularly because of the role of certain lobbies, both domestic and international; and also because of covert influence of certain cultural groups, political mafias and power elites who have also used advertisements to achieve their vested interests. Despite these failures and weaknesses, free media is a source of strength and whatever has been achieved has been a positive development.

CRISIS OF GOVERNANCE: The third challenge that we face relates to a serious, all-pervading crisis of governance. It is a central issue. Along with the crisis of legitimacy and integrity, it is the crisis of governance that has to be the centerpiece for an ‘Agenda for the Nation 2013 and Beyond’. Legitimacy and integrity are essential but not enough. Without good governance a country cannot make real progress. If the leadership and institutions lack the capacity to deliver, the governance would be at low ebb. And when a lack of capacity is coupled with corruption, all is lost.

Our failure of governance can be traced to many factors: lack of legitimacy and credibility, failure on the count of rule of law, disregard of the principle of merit, absence of transparency, and wanton violation of standing operational procedures, abuse of power and wealth-aggrandisement for personal ends. Some SoPs may also be flawed but whatever is there has to be respected. And if rules are openly and persistently violated good governance can never follow. It is because of this rampant culture of incompetence and corruption that has driven governance to near collapse. This is so throughout the length and breadth of the country. If a change for the better has to take place, both incompetence and corruption, would have to be addressed firmly.

I put incompetence and corruption as twin disasters because in my view corruption is antithetical to capacity. It is also a gateway to the destruction of capacity and credibility. Corruption is not merely monetary embezzlement, which is only one gruesome form of it. Each and every form of misuse of power is corruption. That destroys every fabric of the state and pollutes all those processes that produce capable leadership in a country. So the menace of corruption has to be fought at the foundational levels (legitimacy and integrity) and also at the operational levels (competence, capability, rule of law and respect for merit). An aggressive anti-corruption crusade can result in substantial reduction in corruption in the first phase and its ultimate eradication in due course of time. This should be one of the primary objectives in this National Agenda.

CRISIS OF CREDIBILITY: Primarily a moral phenomenon based on conformity between word and deed, policy and action, law and respect of law, the crisis of credibility is another aspect that needs to be urgently addressed as it affects every activity in every sphere of governance.

It is a pity that no serious steps have been taken to set things right, and the conditions allowed to go to such abysmal depths that all these crises are now considered the hallmarks of this government. All the forces, local and global, responsible for bringing about such a pass stand in the dock of history, charged with bringing about the worst form of governance in our history.

(To be continued)(The writer is Chairman, Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad (www.ips.org.pk) – The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the newspaper)

Khurshid Ahmad, "Agenda for the nation 2013 and beyond-II," Business recorder. 2013-04-03.