Tuesday January 18, 2022

Systemic reform

January 07, 2022

When I first read Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ many moons ago as an impressionable young mind, it was embedded in my subconscious as a rare prospect. But, as time passed and I was exposed more broadly, I realised that it may not be such a rare phenomenon after all. Still later in life, I was convinced that it could actually be probable. This transition may be owed to a number of developments. Zigzagging through myriad ups and downs, one inevitably ends up confronting this daunting challenge: how to get things moving?

Having weathered countless stages of collapse and repair, the prevalent system has rusted to a point of dysfunction. All its constituents, the so-called three pillars of the state and the one that claims to be the fourth, a host of institutions and ancillary departments have lost their bite, direction and relevance. Their operations are predominantly guided counter to the ideals and objectives set forth by the government. At times it appears they are almost running a parallel administration bearing their own signatures. This is the bitter truth and unless we realise it no improvement can be envisioned, much less implemented.

One of the cardinal sources of the malady resides in the disdain with which the bureaucracy operates to attain targets which suit only its personalised agendas. Having been shaped in the ‘gora sahib’ culture to control a restive population, there has been no change in their attitude even after the exit of the colonisers. In fact, further arrogance has increasingly filtered into their functioning where human beings remain but serfs to serve, no better than animals. There is a scathing animus for character and integrity.

Their behaviour has been particularly abominable during the tenure of the present government because they were denied the freedom to indulge in the plunder and nepotism they were used to during the regimes of the Sharif and Bhutto/Zardari clans. They have consistently sabotaged the working of the government from within by employing sordid stratagems including violating rules, distorting them, even coining new ones to suit their convenience. If this bureaucracy were to continue calling the shots without fear of accountability, there is virtually no hope to get things going.

Legislators, too, have been tainted in the methods of the previous rulers where they merely acted to give their assent to decisions which were taken elsewhere in the ruling chambers. They were meant to put their signatures to papers which they were mostly not able to read, and never quite understood. They remained interested in their entitled and non-entitled funds which they would use at their exclusive discretion, or not use them at all by simply putting them away in their personal accounts. They remained subservient to the diktat of corrupt family oligarchs and military dictators but would instantly change their allegiance even at the hint of a new government taking shape. There was no pricking of conscience, just the din of coins they were eternally attracted to. But for a few honourable exceptions, there has been little change in this culture of trading of loyalties.

Of the judiciary, the less said the better. To stymie criticism, the institution fabricated the sword of contempt to hang over the heads of those who may dare speak the truth. The original inventors of the damning ‘doctrine of necessity’, this is the institution that repeatedly legitimised military take-overs. During the times of so-called democratic rulers, they remained wedded to taking dictation over telephone to miscarry justice, thus depriving the state of maturing into a credible polity and the institutions moulding into transparent and accountable entities. The institution has earned notoriety for throwing out cases like the Hudaibiya Papers Mills, protecting their own kind, and giving reprieve to convicts and criminals, one of whom was even allowed to leave the country. He has since been declared an absconder with his younger brother who furnished the guarantee for his return, roaming free, delivering lectures on morality and rule of law.

Now to the institution which vociferously claims to be the fourth pillar of the state. Over the years, the media has climbed many a stair, but fallen even more. The media having been accustomed to surviving on state largesse distributed with crass abandon by the stalwarts of the previous regimes, the present government has never been a favourite because it stopped the flow of political advertising. This resulted in a hostile approach towards the incumbent executive. Even stellar achievements which are acclaimed internationally are denied, whereas an unending but totally unsubstantiated and venomous propaganda pours out ceaselessly.

Concurrently, convicts and absconders are sheltered behind a deceitful web of the spoken and written word and their black deeds misrepresented as ‘achievements’. While this attitude is contemptuously dishonest in essence, it is also contrary to the universally accepted norms of professional journalism. It is only here that we see partisan anchors masquerading nonchalantly as mouthpieces of political parties of the opposition, aggressively echoing the fraudulent viewpoint of convicts and criminals, completely unmindful of the absence of ethics and professional requisites in their discourse.

This cumulative culture has germinated the working of virtually all institutions and affiliate organisations. People associated with these bodies are using their positions as means for extra profits, mostly of the illegitimate variety. This malady permeates the entire spectrum of these institutions, top to bottom, thus crippling their efficiency and output and retarding the growth of the state and its people. Over the years, it has taken the shape of well dug-out mafias. It is extremely difficult to unhinge this phenomenon by employing traditional methods. The spectre is likely to dig in deeper, embedding its vicious footprints for the progeny to exploit.

Such are not the foundations the state can rest on. They have been corrupted, thus rendered wobbly over time. This is the wreck which Prime Minister Khan inherited from his predecessors. Obviously, over time, these fault lines have penetrated the foundations of the state which are difficult to be eliminated, particularly when those responsible for this sordid state, who are under investigation for their grievous crimes, are busy corrupting it further by invoking the loyalties of their paid cronies.

The only viable method to eliminate this malady is by incorporating foundational changes in the systemic structure to depoliticise these institutions and ensure that the bureaucracy implements the government programmes honestly, efficiently and expeditiously; the legislature chips in with sound and judicious advice; and the judiciary delivers prompt justice to all, with the media imbibing the values of professionalism to provide non-partisan oversight.

This is no easy task, but there are no short-cuts either. Continued patronage of these decrepit outfits for improved results may be tantamount to waiting for Godot.

The writer is the special assistant to the PM on information, a political and

security strategist, and the founder of the Regional Peace Institute. He tweets @RaoofHasan