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This is a Defining Moment for Pakistan – A Clarion Call


Part I

Azhar Aslam

The current situation in Pakistan is chaotic rapidly descending into anarchy. Despite a democratic set up in place, the state institutions are absent. Rule of law is non-existent. Terrorism and unchecked and unabated criminal activity has become the order of the day. Sate is failing to provide even the basics: peace, security of life, food, justice and environment for economic opportunity to earn a dignified living.

Then there are internal conflicts of all hue and kind: provincial, political, social, institutional. Emotionally charged and labile we Pakistanis continue to carry so much historical baggage that we are almost being crushed under the sheer weight of it. Finally to top it all we are under external ‘pressures” from ‘friends and foe’ alike. Governed by a group who even the outsiders are reluctant to hand aid money to, for the lack of trust and transparency, this vicious combination of mainly internal deficiencies and external threats have brought the country to the edge of a precipice.

Most importantly the plight of an ordinary Pakistani (the majority – the theela wallas, drivers, masis and house maids, servants, mazdoors, junior officials in public and private enterprise, teachers, small vendors, small shopkeepers, the peasants, haris, kisaans, the dhiyeeri wallas) is extremely miserable. The sole and the whole purpose of any State is to serve its public, improve their social and economic well-being and quality of life and provide them with secure and peaceful environment to go on about their daily life. The state of Pakistan is failing on all those measures.

For those very Pakistanis, the overwhelming majority, those ordinary inhabitants of this land, it is time now that this rot stops and change is ushered in. Enough is enough. It is about time, if not already long overdue, that the state starts responding to the desires and necessities of its Public. Those very ordinary Pakistanis, who despite running from pillar to post to earn even meager living and eke out a lifeless existence remain true to the dream that was Pakistan . Pakistanis who still dream the Pakistan dream.

That dream is the first step on the path of reform or revolution. This is the idea that has not died yet. The dream is to define Pakistan and make it exist as the rationalist Muslim state inhabited by humans of different origins, race and colour without fear or prejudice.

The dream that will fulfill in the form of Pakistan as a progressive, post-modern nation state, that spearheads the development of Muslim and Human commonwealth. And in the process helps make Humanity ready for the existential challenges that face human beings in the 21st century. A State, whose intellectuals lead the new beginnings of Islam, to restore it back to its original human outlook, by taking it out of the clutches of Sufis and Ulemas.

A Nation that becomes a beacon of light and hope for the world.

Why has Pakistan failed to build the dream? We believe this is mainly, because we have lacked the intellectuals with this clear vision to provide underpinnings for materialization of this dream. A few with the vision, have displayed the lack of the courage to stand up for it or taken a social route for reform, and in this process have become voices in wilderness. Majority have been simply been complicit with the rulers and served their interests.
While Mauduadi setup a political framework, for his flawed vision of an Islamic state, and every conservative traditionalists has political presence in Pakistan , people like Ghulam Pervaiz, Amin Islahi and Fazal Rehman stayed within academic bounds and social parameters with no political voices. In the present day people like Ghamidi, Riffat Hassan, Hoodbhoy etc continue on this course.
Pakistan more than being the failure of politicians, military or bureaucracy has been the failure of intellectuals closely followed by judiciary. Had one honourable Justice stood up to the usurpers, history would have been very different. But lets not waste time on regrets.
So has the dream gone sour forever? Has the present nightmare taken over it?
Most importantly, are we going to let it be?
We hear about the extremists / extremism taking over Pakistan day and night. The only reason any extremist may take over Pakistan or there may be danger of a disintegration of the dream that Pakistan is, is because, the rest of us sit silently and have let loose the likes of zardaris, sharifs, fazul rehmans, Gilanis etc to run our affairs. Our politicians are witless and vision less. They cannot see beyond their noses (assuming they have any).

There is no intellectual framework that can provide bulwark against the tyranny of both Taliban Islam and failed Westminster style parliamentary system which is not very conducive to democracy in its structure and provides an easy conduit for dictatorship in a country that has powerless masses, broken institutions and is without robust and transparent systems of accountability and governance.

The call of the time is for the Pakistani and Muslim intellectuals to wrest back their ‘virasat of jamhorriyaat’ and stand up for their ideals of Equality, Justice and Liberty; not only for Muslims but for all humans.

To achieve this, we need as the first to define and develop a competent and principled system to run the state. And second we need to have clear, well thought out strategy and properly laid out plan of action, for the successful implementation of such a system.

How will such a plan of action be implemented and by who? We believe to achieve these aims one does not need mass revolution or dream for an overnight change through a messiah. We need a group of sincere, dedicated and selfless people, who believe in this dream, are willing to live and work to achieve this dream and if need be ready to die for it. They will become the true and honest role models.

We need both Power and Principle. As Tony Blair once said ‘Power without principle is barren, but principle without power is futile‘.

This first generation of ours which has to bring this change faces the most difficult task. That is to achieve power, start the reforms and then hand it over to the next generation. That is to pass on both the principles and power. To let go of power after acquiring it. .

To bequeath to the people of Pakistan a nation and a state, that continues to progress in a relentless pursuit of the dream – the dream of leading the human commonwealth and facing the challenges of the 21st century.

The plan that we need to achieve this goal, must as a first, provide a framework of social, political and economic reforms, that can convince not only the People of Pakistan, about the comprehensive strategy created for their own welfare. But in addition, when this strategy is implemented it can once and for all lay the solid foundations for continuing social and economic progress and provide constant ability to adapt and evolve with each new generation.

This we believe is the only rational way that will fulfill the dream of Pakistan and lead this nation to progress and prosperity.

I shall now propose, in broad out line, the salient features of this strategy of reform as we have thought it out. This is being presented as a starting point for discussion and is neither set in stone nor a panacea. This must be taken as an open forum for discussion. We shall discuss the proposed reforms first. This will be followed by outlining an action plan for implementing the reform strategy. Lastly we shall discuss the execution of this action plan and how should we go on about its implementation.

The fundamental reforms can be classed into two categories. First set of reforms are those that fundamentally effect the federating structure of the State and such political and socio-economic basis on which the premise of the nation of Pakistan rests. Second set of reforms are those that create, define and establish the fundamental institutions that provide the basis for execution of the will of people of Pakistan and define and establish the inter-institutional relationship.

The structure and method of Governance and Legislation is the first and the most fundamental issue that needs to be addressed. There is no doubt that in the long run democracy leads to equality, justice and liberty. But it comes at a cost. Development may be seriously delayed in corrupt democracies, where as, in well developed states, executive democracies take full advantage of public apathy to run the sate in the service of rentier class and corporate interests. However dictatorships, even if benevolent, are risky in that every succeeding generation may not be as true to the cause as the first generation. History of rule by Military Juntas different parts of the world, post second world war, serves as the clearest example in this regard.

It must be borne in mind that democracy is not an electioneering method and its presence does not automatically either guarantee development and its absence does not mean lack of development. That, whether we need democracy at all, is another argument altogether, and not for this space. But our own brief history at least serves as an example to say that we do need people to have power. You may call it democracy or whatever name you want to feel appropriate. But power to the people of Pakistan is essential if we are to survive as a nation.

The conclusion therefore is that ‘the system of democracy’ i.e. its methods and executions, should constantly evolve. Otherwise we end up in a situation where British government went to an illegal war against the will of its people ( executive democracy), or where the country with the greatest pace of economic progress in history ( china 1990 to date) is heaving for liberty and choice but cannot find an acceptable solution
( benevolent dictatorship) or a country becomes Putin’s Russia, where Putin has to stay on in some form or shape to make sure his pro-people agenda is carried through, with no clear sign of what will happen when he is no more ( unipotent democracy).

May be by developing a truly people-responsive system of democracy, we can teach the world a lesson or two in this regard.

Pakistan needs to develop an indigenous jamhoori system. This system must be such that it delivers the power, its execution, and ‘ikhtiar’ or authority of who should use this power, and how, to the people of Pakistan . Such a system must define the relationship of the different social groups that exist in Pakistani society. We have pre-exiting systems at family, extended family, mohalla, village levels for consultations. This trend of consultation and conferencing is crafted in our culture. So it must be put into practice even at the political and administrative levels.

We don’t get tired of quoting Abu Bakr, when he said ‘follow me only if I do the right and stop me if I am wrong’ (accountability), or about Umar when he was questioned about his shirt by an ordinary person (transparency). Standing against injustice and Zulm runs deep in our blood through Ali and Hussain.

So there is no reason that we cannot have tolerance, pluralism, consultation, accountability and transparency in our own indigenously developed democratic system. It is not as if these are concepts are alien to us.

Such a system will have the capacity to express and reflect the will of people.

The power to the people and by the people should be the most fundamental and constant principle. The methods of how to achieve this will follow.

We are also fond of quoting Iqbal (when criticizing democracy) ‘Jamhorriate is a system in which ‘bandoon k gina karle hein tula nahin karte’. If this is really the case, then we should strive to make sure that our democratic system is constantly evolving to reach the point when ‘ginti’ becomes equivalent of ‘tulana’. The best way of doing it is of course to increase the level of knowledge and wisdom of people by educating them. So that, their opinion becomes wiser. And they are not at all or less liable to suffer from the evils of narrow-mindedness, parochialism, archaism, prejudice and bigotry.

However since in practice this may be too much of idealism even for this scribe, perhaps the best way is to devise and incorporate such methods in our democratic system, that these prevent the undesirable consequences of western democracy that we mentioned above in cases of Britain , or Russia . There are several ways of achieving this and since none is 100 % fool proof, perhaps the best method is to mix and match.

The merits and demerits of first past the poll system, proportional representation, any combination of these, or other ways of producing legislature and governors must be discussed and a suitable method chosen and developed. Limiting tenures is another idea that can be incorporated and makes sure fresh blood keeps being injected.
In brief any method that prevents the concentration of power in one hand or even few individuals, and curtails the use of such power, must be incorporated in our system. This should be even before transparency and accountability. We must not leave this power-abuse-prevention to anything or anyone.
As we stated before ‘The power to the people and by the people should be the most fundamental and constant principle.’

However one of the fundamental inalienable right that must be guaranteed under all circumstances should be the right to recall by the voters. That is that the decision to take away the ‘ikthtiar of exercising executive power through either legislature or governance, that decision must be firmly in the hands of the people of Pakistan . And they should have an appropriate method available to them to exercise such a right and decide when and where to terminate the terms for anyone.
A certain percentage of voters should be able to petition to launch a recall elections. The voters can then vote on whether or not to recall the incumbent representative and the same ballot, be able to vote a potential replacement. This rule should apply to all representative levels and all public offices without exception.

The precise methods to ensure that correct and accurate representation can take many forms. I shall not debate those here. Suffice is if I repeat my mantra of ‘The power to the people and by the people should be the most fundamental and constant principle.’

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Vision 21 is Pakistan based non-profit, non- party Socio-Political organisation. We work through research and advocacy for developing and improving Human Capital, by focusing on Poverty and Misery Alleviation, Rights Awareness, Human Dignity, Women empowerment and Justice as a right and obligation. We act to promote and actively seek Human well-being and happiness by working side by side with the deprived and have-nots.

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