ONE of the world’s oldest written constitutions, the Massachusetts constitution of 1780, decreed that when the government fails the people, “the people have a right to alter the government, and to take measures necessary for their safety, prosperity and happiness”. This implied a right to revolution. When the social contract between the rulers and the governed is weakened or breaks, violent upheavals follow.
It is in this context that, 73 years after winning our independence, there should be serious introspection on the relationship between the Pakistani state and society. Jinnah helped create a new state, but its citizens could not uphold and sustain the values that formed its basis — equal rights, rule of law and sovereignty of the people — hampering our progress as a democratic, enlightened polity. Frequent military rules and successive inept civilian governments have resulted in a lack of trust between state and society.
There should be serious introspection on the relationship between the Pakistani state and society.
While important to admit past mistakes, it is more important to move beyond blame and towards the serious task of nation building. We have no choice but to work together to carve out a charter of governance, based on strengthening democracy, improving service delivery, ensuring accountability, and upholding the rule of law.
Democracy: (i) Though mutilated by military dictators and civilian despots, reviving the social contract is only possible within the near-consensus 1973 Constitution. (ii) Any constitutional amendments must be undertaken only after extensive parliamentary and public debates, and with active involvement of civil society. (iii) The National Assembly’s tenure may be curtailed to four instead of five years, with a maximum of two four-year tenures for the chief executives of the federation and provinces. (iv) Free and transparent elections must be ensured by an independent, empowered election commission, and dispensing with superficial, arbitrary and expensive caretaker governments. (v) Senators should be elected through a direct vote of the people instead of a patronage-based, selection-cum-election process. (vi) The federal cabinet should not exceed 25 ministers or ministers of state; comprising 50 per cent MNAs, 25pc senators and 25pc technocrats, appointed by the prime minister subject to simple-majority ratification by parliament. No minister or adviser should be a dual national. (vii) Effective elected local governments must be put in place.
Service delivery: (i) There should be zero-tolerance for military involvement in federal, provincial and local governments. The current practice of accommodating serving and retired military personnel in civilian departments causes widespread resentment. Due to its discipline and organisational skills, military assistance should be sought during crises like Covid-19 and natural disasters. (ii) A significant number of civil servants have become politically aligned and in some cases corrupt; an independent commission should scrutinise and send home the incorrigible lot. (iii) Promotion to BPS-22 should not be monopolised by one service group; 5pc from each cadre may form the apex of the civil services pyramid, with those from smaller provinces given their due share through a merit-based process. (iv) In appointing federal secretaries as head of divisions within ministries, specialists over generalists should be preferred; 25pc of technical and commerce-related divisions and departments should be headed by technocrats and professionals, on a fixed three-year term through an open selection process. (v) Security of tenure must be ensured. Removal, transfer or disciplinary action should be through an institutional process of inquiry. (vi) Key performance indicators should be approved and independent monitoring mechanisms instituted. (vii) The practice of doling out plots to civil servants, judges and defence personnel on nominal charges should be dispensed with.
Accountability: (i) NAB can be restructured along the lines of Hong Kong’s Independent Commission against Corruption. (ii) No one should be arrested during complaint verification and inquiry stages. (iii) Arrests of white-collar criminals should not be arbitrary; the chairman, prosecutor general and director general should reach a consensus and then seek the judge’s approval to arrest an accused. (iv) Accountability court judges should not be appointed by the federal government but by the five-member administration committee headed by the chief justices of the high courts, for a three-year term. (v) 90-day pre-trial detention should be curtailed to 30 days. If a reference has not been decided within 60 days, the accused should be released on bail and placed on the ECL. (vi) Chairman NAB should be appointed after meaningful consultation between the chief justice of Pakistan, the prime minister and leader of the opposition, subject to ratification by the Senate, for a non-extendable four-year term.
Rule of law: (i) Judges should have unimpeachable integrity and administer justice without fear or favour; ie a completely independent judiciary. (ii) The process of judges’ appointment to the superior courts should be improved and streamlined. (iii) Certain administrative powers of the chief justices should be regulated through a committee-based system. (iv) Suo motu powers may be reviewed in accordance with draft rules prepared by a former chief justice so that the exercise of this authority is streamlined. (v) Police should be depoliticised and accountable to citizens. Institutional safeguards need to be provided. An independent commission may be constituted to implement the January 2019 recommendations by the Police Reforms Committee. (vi) Security of tenure of police commanders must be ensured in federal and provincial departments. (vii) Civilian and military intelligence agencies must work within a legal framework legislated by parliament, and monitored by an IG appointed by parliament under a statutory framework of oversight. (viii) Fundamental rights must be jealously safeguarded; freedom of expression must not be muzzled, and no one should be illegally detained or tortured by any segment of the security apparatus.
Such a charter of governance, though limited in scope, would nudge our republic from authoritarianism to egalitarianism; from totalitarianism to humanitarianism; from oppression to magnanimity; from fear to trust; from dual standards to unity of purpose. Above all, it is a message to our leaders not to rule but to govern. They should pay heed to Goethe’s words: “It is bad governments, not bad people, who cause revolutions.”
The writer is a former IG Police and author of The Faltering State and Inconvenient Truths.
Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2020