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What is our real problem?

For establishing sustainable democratic rule, the sine qua non is accountability for all

What is our real problem?

People ask what the real issue of Pakistan is. Why there is dissatisfaction all around. Why military top brass is not happy with the performance of the civil government. On daily basis, our popular TV anchors and newspaper columnists spend hours and hours highlighting dangers faced by “democracy.”

However, they seldom initiate any serious and meaningful debate about restructuring the existing outdated system. So, this is the real issue of Pakistan. Everybody complains about the “system” but nobody is willing to follow the rule of law — majority argue that since money power rules, government machinery is not accountable and justice delivery is non-existent, then how can we do this. In other words, they are implying that “law of jungle” will continue.

The nations that submit before the oppressors and do not strive for better lag behind in all walks of life. Resistance to change and to endurance to injustice is the worst one can expect from a nation.

Edict of the judge of destiny

As laid down since eternity

Sublimation is punishable

By cessation of revelations

(Allama Iqbal)

A true democratic setup ensures rule of law and accountability of all, especially of rulers, public offices holders and government officials. Absence of rule of law (as is the case in Pakistan) is negation of democracy. Favouritism, nepotism, despotism, repression, fascism, bigotry, totalitarianism, oppression, tyranny, denial of human rights, persecution of minorities and denial of access to justice are all antithesis of democracy. Elections per se cannot guarantee a democratic polity or rule of law. Since abuse of powers can only be checked through a proactive and impartial judiciary, dispensation of justice is a sine qua non for democracy.

No society can function smoothly if it lacks justice. There is a consensus that delivery of justice is our weakest area. Police and Revenue Departments are the main sources of litigation — nobody, both at federal and provincial levels, wants to restructure them. The officers and staff of these departments have strong political backings. They use influence or money for lucrative posts and then serve their political masters and/or take bribes! Even courts, after holding that a particular officer or officers committed willful abuse of powers, seldom punish the head of department, who is ultimately responsible for administration. This is the root cause of perpetuation of excesses of government officials.

In judiciary, we are still following the outdated procedures whereas many countries have shifted to e-system for filing of cases and their speedy disposal through fast-track follow-ups.

In addition to absence of rule of law, the existing system by structure is anti-people. The ruling elites thrive on taxpayers’ money and use police, taxation and judiciary to control the masses. The empowerment of people politically and economically is the essence of democracy, but this would be a deathblow for our ruling classes. Thus, they work hand-in-hand to safeguard their common interests and despite occasional in-fights and pulling each other’s legs for grabbing more and more benefits and privileges, they immediately unite to “salvage the system.” They hoodwink the masses by arguing that the “system” is more important compared to giving them their basic rights. The ruling elites know that perpetuation of the existing system alone can help them to keep the masses in eternal subjugation. In other words, historically all the subjects were ruled by one king but today, each subject has to bow before many kings.

The existing power structures, whether related to executive, judiciary or legislation, belie good governance and democratic norms. No political party wants to dismantle these structures. On the contrary, politicians vociferously protect the interests of civil-military bureaucracy, landed classes and unscrupulous businessmen. This unholy alliance not only denies empowerment of masses but also exploits them in the name of “democracy” and/or “national interest.”

The real challenge for masses is dismantling this unholy alliance. The elites, being beneficiaries of the system, will show strong resistance for obvious reasons. Since the rich and mighty perpetrate their rule through money power, control over assets and State machinery, they would never be interested in enforcing rule of law. Rule of law embraces at least three principles: First, that the law is supreme over officials of the government as well as private individuals, and thereby preclusive of the influence of arbitrary and political power. Second, it requires the creation and maintenance of an actual order of positive laws which preserves and embodies the more general principle of normative order. Third, it requires that the relationship between the state and the individual be regulated by law.

Judiciary, as the custodian of the rights of people, must ensure rule of law. Therefore, as a first step, Pakistan needs a comprehensive legislation for judicial accountability and reforms entailing setting up an independent and credible institution for the appointment of judges, entertaining complaints against them, criminal investigation of judges if found indulging in corruption, amendment of the Contempt of Courts Law by removing “scandalizing and lowering the authority of the Court” from the definition of “contempt” and implementation of right-to-information law to all organs of State, including the judiciary which is being thwarted by self-serving rules framed and judgements delivered. These steps effectively stonewall information about the administrative functioning of the judiciary.

Pakistan needs massive reforms in all areas of governance, rather than patchwork or cosmetic changes here and there. In judiciary, we are still following the outdated procedures and methods whereas many countries have shifted to e-system for filing of cases and their speedy disposal through fast-track follow-ups. Since dispensation of justice is the main pillar of democracy, the foremost need is elimination of unnecessary litigation and facilitating smooth running of affairs between the State and its citizens. Once both learn to act within the four corners of law, present massive litigation will automatically diminish.

It is shameful that presently our State itself happens to be the main litigant. State machinery usurps the rights of people and then audaciously drags them in courts. A high-powered Judicial Reforms Commission should be established to not only determine the reasons for this sorry state of affairs but also to suggest means and methods to stop unnecessary litigation as well as processes for speedy disposal of cases.

For establishing sustainable democratic rule, the sine qua non is accountability for all. Accountability must start from the judges who adjudge others. Judges must be above board — extraordinary competent legal minds, men of integrity, blameless, and free from all internal and external pressures. Since justice should not only be done but seen to have been done, the prime duty of a judge is to demonstrate this through his judgements and not by verbal exchanges in courts or issuance of statements on various occasions.

The starting point of reforms in Pakistan should be accountability of all organs of State. In a country where politicians, high-ranking civil and military officials and judges get state lands as bounties and do not make public declaration of assets owned by them and their relatives, there cannot be hope for true democracy, rule of law and responsible governance. A broad-based alliance of progressive political workers, civil society, media and intelligentsia should be formed to force the Parliament to abdicate all laws of secrecy and enact a comprehensive legislation for right to information, as enshrined in Article 19A of the Constitution, coupled with strict accountability by an independent body.

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