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Power, justice and democracy

As a nation the world views us as synonymous with people of unpredictable talent – from politics to cricket. Our happiness is short-lived and so are our sorrows. Every now and then, we find a reason to be excited and then sadness engulfs us beyond prediction.

We have accepted these mood swings as the reality of our social and political life. With each passing day we have something to celebrate or mourn about and hence ours is a happening country. Emotions are so deep-rooted in our culture of celebration and mourning that we do not care about the broader spectrum, the bigger perspectives and the concerns beyond daily life.

It seems we react only to appease power which is external to us but which determines our happiness and sorrows. We fear the wrath of power and we have been taught not to raise critical questions to invite its wrath. It would rather be sacrilegious or treacherous to question the purity and piety of this external power. The external power or the foreign masters we obey could otherwise be deemed as invaders by an independent reader of political history of the Subcontinent.

Our education breeds emotions and jubilation which were brought to us by others. All our heroes are foreigners who came to civilize us, who set the rules of politics and principles of morality for us. Though we became independent with the departure of the colonial masters, then we re-wrote a new history to educate our children, glorifying foreign heroes sans the British. We are not done yet; none of our heroes are statesmen, scholars or philosophers but all of them are good fighters who with their God-gifted fighting skills and religious belief were able to conquer the Indian subcontinent.

From a common man in the street to a privileged parliamentarian and from a TV anchorperson to an opinion writer, we are driven by emotions and we enjoy it. We have seen bloodshed in our streets, our schools have been bombed and even our worship places have not been spared but we continue to live with emotions and excitement. Isn’t it interesting and wonderful?

This is perhaps why the world says that we, Pakistanis, are one of the most resilient nations on earth. Poverty, deprivation, terrorism, unemployment and natural disasters have hit us hard but life goes on with the resolve that God will help us weather all our political and natural storms.

Once I did not believe that we can make any distinction between nations on the basis of their collective political behaviour. To me nationhood was an artificial geographical division of humanity for political and economic controls with no significant effect on the trajectory of national progress.

Postcolonial critical theory was also predicated upon this premise, that postcolonial states must essentially have a unified political and economic agenda to counter the dominance of West. Ironically, the idea of protecting indigenousness against the outsiders could only help protect the interests of the local elite in most of the cases. The local elite, in turn, failed to provide leadership in advancing the economic development and democratic transition of postcolonial state.

While it is true that geographical boundaries have been drawn for political and economic reasons in a world driven by inequality, there is something more to it too. Within the geographical confines of a nation-state, people develop certain political and economic behaviour based on the institutions they develop for political governance and economic distribution. Almost all decolonizing nations started their political and economic journey from a relatively similar state of affairs but over the years they landed in a different set of political and economic situations.

Depending upon the political choices made by their leaders, with or without the acquiescence of the citizens, some of the nations evolved strong economies and functioning democracies while others did not. Some of these postcolonial states have emerged as leading economies of the world outside the Global North – while others continued to function as satellite nations and peripheral clients of global economic and political giants. These postcolonial states could neither develop a strong economy nor are functional democracies and they are some of the lowest ranked nations on the Human Development Index today.

Pakistan is one of those lowest ranked postcolonial nations where strong personalities, self-proclaimed messianic leaders and actions of individuals rather than strong institutions set the tone of the national debate on politics, justice and economy. From judiciary to parliament, all state institutions have been subservient to unaccountable powerful interests. Perhaps not very long ago some of us were criticising the judiciary for being biased and for protecting the rich and affluent. And suddenly we started to heap all praises upon the same judiciary for its verdict against Pervez Musharraf for upholding the supremacy of law.

There is no doubt that the verdict against Pervez Musharraf is an historic one but the question is whether the judiciary as an institution will continue to function to dispense justice. Will it be ruled by the discretionary powers of a strong chief justice and some honest judges with integrity or will it function as a key pillar of the state to ensure the supremacy of law and sanctity of parliament in a true sense beyond the whimsical opinions of strong men?

Will parliament function as the protector of the rights of citizens and as an institution to strengthen democracy rather than protecting the interests of powerful groups?

These questions still remain unanswered in Pakistan. It would not be too Platonic to say that in a state of moral vacuum all we produce are demagogues who believe in preaching more than practising good. The demagogues of faith and ideology are out there crying for justice of their own choosing at the cost of institutional sanctity.

This mercurial state of mind is a reflection of the fact that we have only been the recipients rather than the architects of our destiny as a nation. The process of building a stable nation lies in the engagement and co-creation of a unified value system, principles of good governance and ideals of grass national happiness. It is not about some momentary celebration or mourning; it is about the constructive process to learn and improve – and ultimately it is about democracy and inclusivity.

When democracy does not function and we allow dictators to decide about our political future, our happiness will be short-lived – like a charity granted to us for temporary relief from our suffering. The scars of political wounds inflicted upon this polity will not be erased without allowing our collective political imagination to function as a force of constructing a prosperous society. The time is ripe for political commitment to rebuild this country from its own debris rather than from borrowed bricks; then, there is a promising future for all of us.

Nationhood is all about the collective aspirations and common goals of citizens and it is certainly not about fear. It is about justice and democracy which go side by side, beyond the whims of power and beyond surprises and unpredictability.

Amir Hussain, "Power, justice and democracy," The News. 2019-12-26.
Keywords: Political science , Political life , Social life , Political history , religious belief , Natural disasters , Natural storms , Political storms , Economic control , Economic agenda , Economic development , Economic reasons , Economic situations