NationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 5

Urgent need for political system overhaul

Contemporary Pakistan finds itself mired in one of the most severe political crises in its history, verging on a virtual breakdown of the constitutional order. Despite claims from the powers-that-be and nearly all political groups asserting their adherence to the Constitution, the depth and pervasiveness of this political crisis are alarming.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has declared a violation of the Constitution by none other than the President of Pakistan, who failed to set a date for national elections, an action within his constitutional powers. Even after the President announced the election date on the court’s orders, there is widespread uncertainty about whether elections can indeed take place on February 8. This constitutional breakdown and the ensuing political uncertainty about elections and, more significantly, the formation of a government to govern the state, have deep-seated roots in society, its social structure, and the political system.

In the current discourse within Pakistani society, many, especially political parties, privately attribute the country’s problems to the long periods of military rule and the ‘parallel’ governments during ostensibly civilian setups. Conversely, prominent parties like the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) attribute the nation’s multidimensional issues to ‘pervasive corruption’ and ‘injustice.’ While direct military rule, parallel government, financial corruption, or injustice are all contributing factors—or, as scholars term them, ‘auxiliary’ causes—to the chaotic state of affairs, the root cause of the multifaceted issues facing the state and society lies elsewhere.

Although the military ruled the country for decades in the past, the people did not vehemently oppose such rule. The occasional unrest and low-level agitation during military rule in Pakistan were mostly in response to the escalation of staple commodity prices, not against military rule itself. Several reasons explain this indifference to the restoration of democracy. Foremost among them is the widespread illiteracy, low educational standards, and the almost non-existent political education of the majority. This, in turn, stems from the prevailing social system in the country.

The fundamental features of Pakistan’s social system include ultra-conservativeness, authoritarian social attitudes, profound ignorance of civilized structures of power, and a resulting self-centered and extremely narrow worldview, encompassing politics. Individuals socialized in such an environment tend to respect traditional systems of authority, be it malik, nawab, khan, or sipah (soldiers). This population has little understanding of self-rule or democracy, hindering the cultivation of a democratic culture in society. In the rigidly competitive struggle for power within such a social setup, only the physically powerful can prevail, a dynamic that has been all too evident in Pakistan.

While it is true to a certain extent that corruption may be a root cause of many problems faced by the state and society, it is essential to understand why corruption occurs and becomes widespread. The answer lies in the key characteristics of Pakistani society. In an ultraconservative society, where patronage is based on kith and kin, nepotism and cronyism thrive, preventing the establishment and flourishing of meritocracy. Financial and administrative corruption becomes pervasive, and Pakistani society has witnessed institutionalized corruption over decades, as such practices are not only socially acceptable but socially sanctioned.

Injustice, another root cause of the state and society’s issues, is a direct consequence of the lack of meritocracy. This injustice is not confined to state or government institutions but is pervasive throughout society. Even within families, without direct state or government intervention, profound and institutionalized injustice exists. An undeclared system of primogeniture persists across Pakistan, where females and, in some cases, even males face discrimination and unequal treatment by their parents. If parents cannot treat their children equally or equitably, it is unrealistic to expect a state, which mirrors these social realities, to treat its citizens equally and equitably. While ideally, the state should at least strive for equitable treatment, a state dominated by individuals who have been powerful in their families is unlikely to achieve such a goal. Thus, it is evident that whether it is direct or indirect military rule, widespread financial corruption, or injustice, these are not isolated root causes of the state and society’s multidimensional issues.

The role of political leadership becomes crucial in addressing these issues. Conscientious, visionary, and unselfish political leadership should analyze the problems facing the state and society and propose solutions. This vision should translate into a political system, considered a mechanism for regulating every aspect of social life. The political system takes the form of a constitution, ideally a contract between different classes, professions, genders, and social groups. In Pakistan, the 1973 constitution was claimed to be unanimous. However, the parliamentary political system based on constituency politics has not effectively addressed the state and society’s issues; instead, it has exacerbated them. Many divisions, enmities, and conflicts hindering development in every sector of society are linked to the weaknesses of the political system. The political system’s fundamental shortcomings have prevented it from providing the necessary political stability and the resulting social order. The political leadership of the early 1970s prioritized petty political interests over addressing the main problems of the people of Pakistan, leading to crisis after crisis. Therefore, it is high time for the intelligentsia of Pakistan to seriously consider replacing the current political system and take the lead in this regard.