Descent into anarchy
Friday, June 18, 2010
Is it the malaise of a long hot summer or a rising despair at the antics of our ruling elite? No specific trigger point is required for feeling like this given that stories of mismanagement and corruption have become an essential part of our political landscape.
But, beyond greedy rulers, it is the pattern of indecency and general contempt for law exhibited by the powerful that point to a more serious disease within our state and society. It is this fracture, between the rulers and the ruled, that is more frightening.
Take the treatment meted out to retried Air Vice-Marshal Ataur Rahman by the loutish progeny of a purported member of the National Assembly. Or, in the same city, behaviour on the road of people guarding a Rangers big shot. On a larger canvas, they are small incidents but indicative of the contempt the powerful have for those who cannot exhibit raw naked force.
In other words, we are becoming a society that does not honour learning -- God forbid -- or even status and position, unless it is backed up by an armed posse of goons. I know of some essentially decent people, who carry with them armed escorts not because their life is in danger. They do it to send out a message that they are important.
When a society sinks to a level where raw display of power is the only measure of success, it is in serious trouble. It does not only mean that the rule of law has withered beyond redemption, that actually is a mild way of putting it. What it shows is a state of anarchy where the only real power is brute force.
It would be easy to blame frequent interruption of military rule for the depths that state and society have sunk into. Martial rule is an obvious victory of brute force over law and the constitution. But, while this contains elements of truth, it would be an easy way out.
Military rule in the macro sense is a negation of the rule of law because it cannot come about without putting aside the fundamental law of the land. But having committed this larger sin, its brute strength has in the past been confined to tackling its enemies.
This it did without a care for rules or procedures. All military rulers are guilty of this and none more so than the brutal Ziaul Haq. He not only contrived to hang Bhutto through pliant courts but also tortured many ordinary PPP workers and murdered some.
Musharraf's was less brutal although if you ask people in Balochistan they would have a different story to tell. But, dealing with his political opponents like the Sharif brothers, he did not have much care for law. He also damaged the judiciary by his peremptory sacking of the chief justice and later imposing another martial law on November 3, 2007.
No rewriting of history can absolve Ayub, Yahya, Zia or Musharraf of these crimes. However, the failings of the institution they headed were less egregious. No doubt, some senior officers indulged in corruption and their juniors were given to throwing their weight around. Also, through legal mechanisms perks and privileges for the officers and men were institutionalised.
But, the military as an institution has an ethos of rules and legality. No one who breaches its discipline is spared. That is the only way it can survive. Therefore, as rulers too, on an operational level, there was greater respect for law and efforts were generally made to enforce it without fear or favour.
Thus, in what we call governance, or a how a state is run on a day-to-day basis, there was an effort by the military rulers to do it with diligence and by and large on the basis of law. Their mistakes in governance were because of poor appreciation of how a state is supposed to work -- for example Musharraf's devolution plan that weakened its structure – but not because they did not have a desire to improve things.
The essentially middle-class background of military's officer corps had an impact too. They were not the idle rich who took power and status as an entitlement. Many of them had risen in life because of hard work and diligence. They valued these qualities and when dealing with the state apparatus tried to promote merit because that is the measure through which they had made it. This attitude had a salutary impact on governance.
Again, this is no advertisement for military rule because its essential lack of contact with the people, particularly in the smaller provinces, was a huge drawback. The mistakes made by it were strategic with perhaps greater consequences. But, in tactical day-to-day handling of governance, they were far more successful.
The political class starts with a huge advantage of democratic legitimacy. No one can question its right to rule. Also, in handling politics between disparate parties and addressing larger questions of provincial rights and fair allocation of national resources, it does a very good job.
Where the political class fails miserably is in governance. It has no concept of organisational discipline or merit. It would staff positions by people who have neither the required seniority nor the ability to hold them. A classical example of this is the new appointments in NAB but it applies across the board in the centre and the provinces.
The thing that politicians value above all else is loyalty and to get it they would ride roughshod over any rules or regulations that stop them. The result is that merit becomes an elusive entity and organisational discipline is severely eroded. This has terrible impact on governance and the state structure starts to wobble.
What gives it a deadly blow is penchant for corruption that has been a bane of many political governments. Prime Minister Gilani may well say that corruption is always an excuse to get rid of democracy, but what are the facts on the ground.
Transparency International and other international organisations have documented the increase in corruption. If we don't value them, we know what has happened and continues to happen to state-owned organisations. Whether it is PIA, WAPDA, Steel Mill, or indeed all other state entities, the extent of loot and plunder has reached unbearable limits. Just the Steel Mill bail-out has cost Rs25 billion.
It is this massive combination of corruption and incompetence that is eroding whatever was left of governance. It is not a surprise that we are now being ranked as the fifth least stable state in the world. Our problems and challenges are so many that this ongoing plunder and failure of governance will destroy us.
So let us not just blame the military for our failures. It has committed its share of sins but the political class is now compounding them by delivering the worst governance possible. This decline has to be reversed or we have no future.
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