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Thursday April 25, 2024

The Hobbesian mindset

By Mir Adnan Aziz
September 20, 2023

One of the most influential political philosophers John Locke pioneered the ideas of natural law, social contract and religious toleration in the Western world. In 1689, he published his seminal work ‘Two Treatises of Government’.

Based on the separation of powers and the premise that a government could only exist with the consent of the governed, he asserted that wherever rule of law ended, tyranny began.

Thomas Hobbes, a Locke contemporary, was the proponent of a single person holding absolute civil, military and judicial power. It seems that our power-elite has always been plagued by the Hobbesian mindset. And that has been the undoing of Pakistan.

The constitution, not a cherry-picking booklet, mandates a code of conduct that protects citizens from the tyranny of the unelected and ensures that the elected never acquire unaccountable power. An unequivocal fact remains that in the hierarchy of laws, the constitution reigns supreme. Its sanctity and resilience is entwined with the strength and authority of the institutions in a democracy. The bedrock of a delivering democracy is when each institution and individual submits to rule of law.

An independent and impartial judiciary and a truly professional prosecution service is an essential foundation for rule of law. In the early 1950s, US senator Joseph McCarthy initiated probes that are known in American political history as McCarthyism. It alleged that communists had penetrated into all US institutions. Political analysts unanimously hold that McCarthy had no ethical or ideological compass whatsoever.

Roy Cohen was McCarthy’s chief counsel. His infamous motto was “I don’t want to know what the law is; I want to know who the judge is”. The triumphant return of Nawaz Sharif, a convict and declared absconder, has been publically synced with the departure of former chief justice Umar Ata Bandial. Confucius famously said: “By three methods we learn wisdom. First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

Nawaz Sharif, despite experiencing the bitterest repeatedly, still remains smitten by the ‘my man syndrome’.

The PDM government spewed out a spate of self-serving legislation. The now struck down NAB amendment law benefitted lawmakers including a former president and six prime ministers. To compound this mockery, judgments of the highest court of this land were flouted. This unconstitutional defiance was dubbed supremacy of parliament. Due process, the very spirit of justice, was also revoked. This was evident from the midnight knocks, arbitrary arrests with revolving door imprisonments – some under colonial-era rules – and the muzzling of dissent, all indicative of a sham democracy.

Disobeying SC judgments, particularly those regarding elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) has created a constitutional impasse. There are unelected governments in these two provinces since the last nine months as against the three mandated by the constitution and look set to defiantly continue till the ever-elusive elections take place.

The caretaker governments consisting of politicians and the overtly politically affiliated are being aided by what is perceived as a partisan bureaucracy. This has forced even the otherwise unruffled ECP to write to the PM office asking it for measures to alleviate the perception of being an extension of the PDM government.

There is an overwhelming perception that the state is working towards managing a certain governance outcome. Can this outcome ensure the crucially needed political stability and above all, the requisite moral authority? Our constant edge of the cliff position, ever-perilous as it is, demands the prudence to desist from enacting these implosive shenanigans yet again. What we need is free and fair elections and a truly representative and credible government.

The recent crackdown has seen a reduction in the dollar price. It took the collective will of all our high and mighty ones to go against dollar and sugar hoarders and power thieves. It manifests the nurtured administrative void as the same should have been thwarted at the most basic of regulatory levels. Thousands of ordinary people have been booked in this operation; a noble effort only if the omnipotent enablers had been targeted first with the same fervour.

Apart from the sound bite reprieve this is also the age of revelations. After the discovery of our $6.1 trillion mineral fortune, a recent IB report reveals that mafias are bleeding Pakistan. This outstanding intelligence is notwithstanding the decade-long common knowledge that patronized mafias and cartels have always ruled the roost here. This, plus political instability, corruption and the absence of rule of law are gross deterrents that have forced our own to live and invest abroad. Our appalling naivety expects foreign entities to invest billions here.

“Parents wonder” mused Locke “why the streams are bitter, when they themselves poison the fountain”. In a caring dispensation, rulers are parents to the people. Our power-elite, apathetic entities that they are, should understand that we face the bitter fallout of their ruinous policies. Our alarming dependence on loans even for our defence expenditure, the decrease of an annual 24 per cent in remittances and 13 per cent in exports, and a looming record debt servicing of Rs8 trillion need measures beyond mere sound-bites.

Judge Felix Frankfurter graduated first in his Harvard Law class and taught there till his appointment to the US Supreme Court. A brilliant judge, one of his reported judgments in 1947, the year Pakistan came into being, could well have been a prophecy about our unfortunate motherland.

He held: “There can be no free society without law administered through an independent judiciary. If one man can be allowed to determine for himself what is law, every man can. That means first chaos, then tyranny.” The latter is a scourge Pakistan has had enough to last for generations.

The writer is a freelance contributor and can be reached at: miradnanaziz@gmail.com