The rules of governance

January 21, 2021

Rules and traditions are shaped within states, essentially to ensure the smooth running of governments and fair play for all individuals involved. When these rules are violated, or set aside, there...

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Rules and traditions are shaped within states, essentially to ensure the smooth running of governments and fair play for all individuals involved. When these rules are violated, or set aside, there can be chaos and a general sense of uncertainty and unease among people.

People after all, vote for leaders in the belief that they will follow the law of their land as laid down in the constitution, as well as other rules, regulations, and traditions which are central to the running of any country.

We have all seen what has happened in the US when this simple formula was broken by President Donald Trump, who some competitors are openly terming as suffering from a psychological disorder, as he completes his term in office. But beyond Trump himself, and his mental condition, is the matter of the condition of the US.

At the current moment, it is in turmoil, and no matter what incoming President Joe Biden's ambitions may be, it will take a very long time to heal the wounds. Indeed, a very, very long time. Racism and fascism leave deep scars, and the wounds are never easy to stitch together no matter how skilled the surgeon. Skilled surgeons are not easy to find in the shattered USA of today.

The same can be said to some degree of our own country. We too have seen some of the same mistakes as were made by Trump over his four years in office. There have been actions taken on whim and strange violations of regular practices, which make it extremely difficult to manage a government which is intended to rule over or indeed rule alongside a population, the size of Pakistan's.

The recent Islamabad High Court decision on the appointment of Naeem Bokhari as chairman PTV, in which it asked how this appointment was made without considering the rules in place, is simply one example of all that has gone wrong. The court pointed out that Bokhari, as was noted in the petition challenging his appointment, had crossed the age limit of 65 years. And it needed a change in the rule if the appointment was to be made. Even more curiously, the appointment appears to have been made on a whim, with a Cabinet meeting held in advance, which did not change the rules. However, despite this, later a notification was issued, which simply said Naeem Bokhari had been appointed by the federal government as chairman PTV.

Things cannot run in this ad hoc fashion and without any adherence to the rules and norms of governance. Pakistan, indeed, needs to take a look at the US and learn from all that has happened there. There are, of course, other examples as well. The entire Broadsheet affair and the manner in which it is being handled again raises questions about the competence of the government, as well as its reliability, and its willingness to adhere to the truth and the whole truth at all times. When people suspect that this is not happening, they lose respect for their leaders. And the loss of this respect can only mean it becomes harder to govern a country, which in the case of Pakistan is already extremely difficult to run.

It is possible to put Pakistan back on the road towards some kind of order if it has the leadership capable enough to do this. In the very first place, this means a readiness to abide by the constitution and follow all its causes without attempting to bring in rules intended to suit certain people or to lay down the case for their promotions or appointments or exemption from punishment.

We have, over the years of the PTI government, seen this happen in our country. It is unfortunate it has done nothing to make a government which could have managed the country extremely well given that it came in on the slogan of creating a new country and building among people, particularly young people, a great deal of hope and optimism. Sadly, this optimism has somewhat faded, although it has not disappeared altogether. There is still time to undo what is wrong and begin at the very beginning.

But to achieve this, change will have to come from the top. In recent days, there have been some attempts in the US to change Trump. It is difficult to say who is behind these attempts, or whether it is simply that Trump fears a hearing and trial now that his tenure in power is over. Certainly, very few believe that his recent speeches have been heartfelt, or mean very much more than mere attempts to placate those who impeached him and the Senate, which will be hearing the trial against him.

In the same way, we need leaders who are able to think well beyond themselves, and also act not as dictators or emperors from some medieval age, but as elected leaders, whose oath demands that they do everything they can to uphold the constitution of Pakistan, and the rules of the land. The constitution and other rules that surround it have been carefully worked out over the years – and altered now and then, it is true, but still retained – in other cases to make governance an affair which is not filled with chaos and events which break out from one moment to the next, upsetting the entire order of things. This has happened again and again. Indeed, we appear to move from one crisis to the next.

We have had crises involving inflation, the affair involving Broadsheet and Mr Kaveh Moussavi of Iran and other scandals as well, which involve some people closest to the prime minister. The laying out of the BRT in Peshawar is one example of this. Of course, there has been corruption in previous governments; far too much corruption, far too much wrongdoing, and far too much indifference to the people. However, people need to see a definite change if they are to go along with a government which came in on the promise that it would indeed bring change. So far, we have seen very little change and instead only a resort to a kind of fantasy, which is difficult to see come true, and which so far has certainly not turned our country into a heaven for its people, as had been promised to them.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.


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