Dr. Khalil Ahmad
Pity on us who live in a country where state and government and its institutions are nothing but instruments in the hands of an alliance of elite classes composed of top military brass, civil bureaucracy, politicians of all hues – religious or non-religious, leadership of political parties, big business houses, big landlords, electronic and print media bosses and big journalists, to amass wealth and enjoy luxury at the expense of hapless people, there we the ordinary citizens can only suffer under the most miserable conditions.
The present state of electricity-lessness and its non-availability for long hours regardless of the time of day and night, provides us with just one look into the lives of us, the Les Miserables of this land. Everyone can imagine that electric power is such a necessity without which daily and routine life turns into living in a desert with no shelter from the blazing sun overhead and the hot sands underneath.
Out of a plethora of other such evidences some are so common that they cannot escape our sight such as ordinary citizens’ protests against the high-handedness of police, forlorn people endlessly waiting for the public transport on the roads, and ordinary consumers wrangling over the prices of those items which somehow have a connection with government and its representatives, such as flour, and more than every other item the petroleum products.
To these must be added the scourge of terrorism and plight of the IDPs. And sure, though the present non-dependent courts have taken the first step towards the improvement of dismal state of the system of justice, crowds of the wretched who gather daily in the courts from lower to the highest looking for justice to be dispensed to them must find a mention here.
Under the circumstances, and as has been proved time and time again, and as is happening now and here under an elected peoples’ government, who cares for the lot of the ordinary citizens!
Military? Never! It is they who repeatedly undermined constitutional rule and fundamental rights, and destroyed the value system by promoting and strengthening the formation of power pockets throughout Pakistan.
Civil bureaucracy, then? Just out of question! Politicians keep changing seats as their government’s tenure concludes or abruptly wrapped up and new elections are held, but the bureaucracy is the eternal parasite. They have a naked hunger for wealth, perks and privileges and luxury. They are the people who evolve a relationship of complicity with every “invader.” The least they could do is to strictly implement the rules and laws but they did not. And remember a group of top retired bureaucrats who submitted an appeal to a former Chief Minister of Punjab to dole out money to them since after retirement they were not able to live the erstwhile privileged life!
What about the politicians? Actually and indeed, it should be them who would care for the ordinary citizens. It is their oath, profession, and expressed wish to safeguard and work for the interests of the people. Leave the past experiences aside, leave the politicians’ complicit relationship with the military dictatorships aside, and leave aside the denomination of religious with politicians – they are the worst ideological specie engrossed in their own petty materialities.
Just take into consideration the present elected government of Pakistan Peoples Party, an avowed party of the people. Where does this party stand vis-à-vis interests of the ordinary people? Have a look at its performance while it is in government this time only! To name a few bigger issues: judges’ restoration, PCO Chief Justice, Abdul Hameed Dogar’s retention and support, Benazir Bhutto’s murder and its investigation/trial, General Musharraf’s trial, undoing of General Musharraf’s November 3 (2007) acts, undoing of Presidential powers such as 58-2B and 17th amendment, hoodwinking the Charter of Democracy, so on and so forth. And the latest feat of passing of the federal budget 2009-10 in a quick and quiet manner, and levying of arbitrary taxes such as the Carbon tax, and the recent increase in the prices of petroleum products. And now when these words were written the PPP Presidency through an ordinance has again increased these prices in retaliation to the Supreme Court’s suspension of the Carbon tax.
As to the PML (N) and its politics, it is no more than a sleeping partner of the present PPP government this time. A quiet accomplice! Not clear what they are up to and why they are sitting passively in the power waiting room. What a trick of political acumen that they did not oppose the Carbon tax and increase in the prices of petroleum products in the Parliament, but whisked away to the Supreme Court against these!
As far as other elite members such as big business houses, big landlords, electronic and print media bosses and big journalists are concerned, they have their own axes to grind. Among other things they are born rent-seekers. Then, how could they betray their survival instinct?
Against this gloomy background, two years back the first ray of hope shined through when the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry defied the unwritten code of ethics of the elite classes of Pakistan. Not only the lawyers’ community and civil society, but a considerable number of people came out on the roads to support his cause (the remaining majority of the people silently supported the same cause), which was really a cause of constitutionalism, rule of law and fundamental rights to be supreme in this land.
Now as that very much self-confident court imbued with a new spirit of judicial activism stands restored, in it the ordinary people see a real friend. All of its judgments especially after its restoration on this March 16 speak volumes in support of the emergence of this new friend of the ordinary people of Pakistan. Of course this should not be taken to mean the making of a populist court, but a court that is the true custodian of the Constitution of Pakistan, that really cares for the rule of law and security of the fundamental rights to each and every citizen of Pakistan.
However, the elite classes cannot digest such a court. Although, they had to restore it under an unprecedentedly vigorous and persistent demand by the people, but they have no regard for such an independent custodian of the constitution and they are hell bent to fizzle it out. The most recent and the most sinister attempt has emerged once again from the same Presidency which tried its best to fail the restoration movement. While Supreme Court suspends the Carbon tax, the Presidency issues an ordinance to impose the petroleum development levy on the petroleum products. This amounts to sort of a declaration of war against the Supreme Court and the people as well.
Here the point that needs to be highlighted is that government’s power to tax and regulate is not and should not be arbitrary and of the nature of extortion. However, practically and really it is more so in Pakistan. How can one on earth justify the levying of the tax on withdrawal of one’s own money from banks which has already been taxed at so many levels?
Thus, it is time for the elite classes to realize that if the Supreme Court does not come to the rescue of the ordinary people and government continues squeezing the pockets of the people that may cause a rebellion like situation ultimately destroying the very fabric of the whole society.
In fact, as is clear from the Supreme Court’s Judicial Commission’s report, levying of taxes and surcharges on petroleum products has been an easy way of getting huge amounts of money for every government to meet their spendthrift habits. Also, as the present ordinance from the Presidency proves there is no end to it.
Sure, this must stop now. It is time to stop it. This arbitrary power of government to tax and regulate must be made subject to revision by the court. It is as simple as that that every tax and regulation should have a plausible justification. Now as by suspending the thug-like Carbon tax and by freezing the electricity tariff the Supreme Court has taken the first step in this direction, let us once again rally behind it. Let us push the elitist forces once again to retreat. Let us not lose a friend we have finally won and found in the form of this independent Supreme Court. Let us not leave it alone against another onslaught of the elite classes. You see the battle has already begun. We must win it too!
Dr. Khalil Ahmad is founder/head of the Alternate Solutions Institute, Pakistan’s first free market think tank.