Ancient philosophers told us about the need for the law and the order it brings to any state. The extent to which law is to be imposed on citizens may vary, but it is a vital prerequisite for running a society and a state which has balance and where things can be managed with ease and without threat to the lives of citizens. In Pakistan, somewhere in the not-so-distant distance, it has slipped away from us and disappeared deep into the wilderness.
The scenes witnessed in the Punjab Assembly last Saturday simply confirm this. It would be unfortunate to compare the lawmakers, who attacked each other with so much venom and so much violence, with animals. Animals do not behave in this fashion. But the degree of violence marks also the hatred and dichotomy that has been created over the past four years. The manner in which initially Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari was treated and later the injuries CM-candidate Pervaiz Elahi said he suffered are simply symbols of all that went on. In the previous session of the assembly, women MPAs had also attacked each other and made it impossible for the initial session to go ahead.
The ugliness of what happened on Saturday, ahead of the election of Punjab chief minister which was eventually easily won by Hamza Shehbaz since the PTI and its allied parties staged a walkout, is virtually beyond words.
We have seen signs of this before. The breakdown of law came also to the National Assembly a few days earlier, when former speaker Asad Qaiser simply prolonged the session hour after hour until the clock reached close to midnight, simply to avoid the vote of no-confidence against former prime minister Imran Khan. The fact that the vote took place is a result of judicial intervention. Whatever the reasons, the fact is that some of those who sat on the floor of the assembly were not willing to accept the existence of a constitution.
We have lost contact with the law and all that it entails. This creates for us a state where there is no order and no rule of law. Essentially, as all those who have read even basic politics or philosophy will understand, there can be no governance. And yet, despite all that has happened, we continue to see our former prime minister spread more and more dichotomy and division through the land by sticking to his narrative on ‘letter gate’ as it has been dubbed, and also bizarre attacks on the judiciary.
The ‘letter’ which spoke apparently of a conspiracy to overthrow the government and reward for those who succeeded in doing so has already been fervently denied by the ISPR whose DG Major General Babar Iftikhar stated undiplomatic language was used in the communication between a representative of another government and our Foreign Office official. But undiplomatic language does not make for a conspiracy. Certainly, the cable that is being branded about and should now be made public does not suggest that the US, caught up in a state of the problems of its own, including keeping the Biden government operative, managing the problem in the Ukraine, managing the Covid crisis which still continues, and dealing with other home based problems such as the economy is not likely to put all its force into overthrowing Imran Khan and his team.
We also need to understand what our status is in the world and that for many countries we simply do not matter at all. Imran Khan’s insistence that the US wishes to overthrow his government because he has spoken for Afghanistan and met with the Russian president is ludicrous.
The breakdown in law is a dangerous affair. The speeches given by Imran Khan in Peshawar and in Karachi will simply incite more violence and lead more people to behave as if they were part of a mob rather than part of a society that must learn to live together, no matter what its differences may be. This is the lesson we need to impart to our youth. The process should start early, at the school level, so that tolerance can be built, and wild stories are not believed as truthful conspiracies by so many. The fact that this has happened itself lays open the question of what we actually teach our students in colleges and our children at schools, and why they are so unable to discern between what could we true and what is clearly a figment of some people’s imagination.
The Punjab Assembly, of course, threw all civilization to the winds, with lotas being hurled round, and all kinds of other mayhem. The failure of the Punjab Assembly’s security team to cope with the problem is even more alarming. Rather than dealing rationally and in trained fashion with the problem, they were seen themselves beating MPAs and worsening the situation. Such behaviour has to be curbed.
We call for the need for democracy in our country and for a situation in which it is followed year after year, decade after decade so that eventually we can have governance that belongs to the people and is loyal to their wishes. This is not easy to achieve but it certainly cannot happen if democracy is disrupted again and again. We need new leaders to come up and dynastic politics to end. This cannot happen in the current state of affairs. At the same time, we need to press home to people that lawlessness is not acceptable outside the assembly either.
The example set in our highest places of lawmaking is not good for people in general. Children now believe that in parliaments people fight rather than debate and discuss matters in a fashion that is acceptable to all and can bring forward positive change. This needs to be altered. And yet we had a former minister tweeting out a message on the morning of last Saturday, which suggested that chaos and a breakdown of rule could follow next as the vote for election of CM took place in the Punjab Assembly. Things may not have been so clearly spelled out in the message, but the content and the meaning were clear.
The top lawyers of a major political party and perhaps others allied to them or connected to them in some way should be finding a way to bring democracy and calm change to our society, making it a tolerant and better place. They are doing just the opposite through the chaos we see in the assemblies, and which has already spilled over into our streets and will soon reach our homes.
The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor. She can be reached at:
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