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Opinion

August 31, 2016

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Law, politics and governance

“Tell me”, said former prime minister of Singapore Lee Kwan Yew during a meeting with this write, “why has Pakistan not realised its potential, despite having several advantages?” Before I could reply, he went on to add “Look at Singapore; we don’t have even our own water to drink, but we created assets where none existed.”

Earlier, I had argued, as head of the Board of Investment, before a group of senior business and government leaders of Singapore about a portfolio of investment projects where Pakistan and Singapore could work together in the Central Asian markets. Although they agreed with the investment strategy, they advised me to get the green light from Lee Kwan Yew – then the senior minister and guide and guru of decision-making in Singapore. Hence this meeting.

So what reply can you (the reader) give to this candid contrast drawn by one of the most respected and successful leaders of Asia – who also told me at the time that while he had been to Pakistan, he had till then not visited India.

But isn’t the answer obvious? The difference between Singapore – with no assets – yet rising from the Third World to the first within 30 years and Pakistan – with several assets – still stuck up in the Third World after 70 years, lies in the quality and integrity of the leadership of the two countries.

It is not just a leader of government like Lee Kwan Yew who was frank in his comments about the country’s leadership. Another respected leader – this time from the corporate world – Warren Buffet also says the same thing. In his famous ‘letter to shareholders’, Buffet cautions them on electing/choosing leaders in the following words: “Three things are essential when you look for leadership qualities; integrity, intelligence and energy”. And here is the crux of the matter: Buffet warns them about leaders, saying “but if they (the leaders) don’t have the first quality (integrity) their other two will kill you”.

Which was proved when the intelligent but crooked leaders of Enron, WorldCom, Tyco – whose annual turnover was larger than the GDP of several countries – bankrupted these big multinationals and inflicted pain and suffering upon tens of thousands of their shareholders and employees.

Similarly, the ghettos of the Third World and the millions of their citizens who continue to merely exist in a ‘kingdom of darkness’ at the bottom of every index of human development – even after decades of governance by their ‘own indigenous leaders’ – are proof of exploitation and ‘native colonialism’ by their crooked and incompetent leaders.

Colonialism means acquiring political control to exploit the weak and transfer their wealth into pockets and accounts of the rulers abroad. But for several countries foreign colonialism has merely been replaced by native colonialism. And in an eerie homage to East India Company practices in the Subcontinent, important decisions are handed down from foreign bases of the ‘leaders’, something Pakistanis have been painfully exposed to. In fact, native colonialism is more cunning as native leaders exploit empathies of same faith, colour, language and culture much more shrewdly. (See ‘Native nightmares’ by the writer in these pages – Dec 27, 2014).

So the real difference between the First World and the Third is not the gap between their per capita GDP or export earnings, but in the quality and integrity of their leadership. Which brings us to ask why our system of governance has been allowing, protecting, promoting and imposing leaders of questionable competence and integrity upon the people of Pakistan.

Our politics is often reminiscent of what Ian Smith used to say about leaders of African democracies: that they believe in democracy only to the extent of ‘one man one vote, once in a lifetime.’ Meaning thereby, that once people have voted for a leader or a party in the context of certain circumstances, then these leaders use every undemocratic, unlawful and criminal means to stay in power, never allowing anything change their position.

In Pakistan, a plethora of media reports have been filling up time and space with public complaints of riggings, violations of electoral, financial and penal laws and even of constitutional provisions by those who want to hang on – by hook or by crook – to their positions.

That is where crime and politics come together. And it happens because the law has been made subservient to politics and governance and not the other way around.

Nowhere in the world do people give eternal mandate to politicians to rule the roost and keep them poor, illiterate, unemployed, without peace and dignity, eking out a miserable living – and still suffer their leadership. More often, it is used as a shield for ‘leaders’ who abuse the trust of the people – the mandate – and bask in the glory of their stolen wealth abroad.

As for the argument that they still get people’s mandate despite shady, questionable and even criminal activities, the fact is that when a system of governance refuses to fulfil its responsibilities, while the laws are trampled, public peace and order disturbed, heinous crimes committed and the state is ridiculed, then it is no more the people’s mandate but the mandate given by the system of governance. This mandate is given so they can still rule the roost even as termites eat away the potential of the state and people of Pakistan.

But this passing the buck of bad politics and governance on to the weakest section of society – the people – stands exposed. People may be poor but they are neither blind nor brainless. They see everyday examples of how those in control of systems of governance allow marriage of crime and politics gain more ground, spread tentacles, create ‘new ground realities’ and pile up more problems for law-abiding citizens.

We would do well to remember that things we aspire for – public order, private safety, social and economic stability and prosperity and respect in the comity of nations – did not exist in the Hobbesian state of nature, nor are these created by hot air balloons of mindless rhetoric.

These are achieved by the dedicated hard work of a competent and honest leadership with a vision and a strategy to realise these aspirations. A big part of that vision is to admit that politics and governance in Pakistan must be conducted according to the law and not above and beyond it.

For that to happen, the equation between the state and government must be restored to that which exists in every civilised and democratic society. This means that the government be subservient to the laws and interests of the state and not above them all. And it must realise that the system of governance cannot give mandate to anyone in violation of the laws and constitution of the country.

So the answer to Lee Kwan Yew’s original question is that politics and governance in Pakistan is conducted according to the law and not above and beyond it, the state and people of Pakistan would be on their way to realising their great potential.

The writer designed the Board of Investment and the First Women’s Bank. Email: [email protected]

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