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  • Writer's pictureSaleem Qamar Butt

Magna Carta needed for Pakistan

The creation of Pakistan on August 14th, 1947, to form the largest Muslim state in the world at that time was a catalyst to the largest demographic movement in recorded history. Nearly seventeen million people-Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs-are reported to have moved in both directions between India and the two wings of Pakistan (the eastern wing is now Bangladesh). Sixty million of the ninety-five million Muslims on the Indian subcontinent became citizens of Pakistan at the time of its creation. Subsequently, thirty-five million Muslims remained inside India making it the largest Muslim minority in a non-Muslim state. Notwithstanding the common religion of its overwhelmingly Muslim population, Pakistan has been engaged in a precarious struggle to define a national identity and evolve a political system for its linguistically diverse population. Pakistan is known to have over twenty languages and over 300 distinct dialects, Urdu and English are the official languages but Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashtu, Balochi and Saraiki are considered main languages. This diversity presents both challenges as well as greater opportunities for the country. Pakistan has also been burdened by full-scale wars with India, and strategically exposed and disturbed borders along the northwest and South.

Since inception, Pakistan has had an asymmetric federal government, with elected officials at the national (federal), provincial, and local levels. In its 75 years history, Pakistan has seen democratic governments with tinge of socialism, communism and hue of dynastic monarchy and conversely, autocracy under military rule with shades of democracy. Nevertheless, with only a few changes of faces necessitated due to natural fade away, the ruling elite in all experiments remained a constant including the movers and shakers. The other commons in all types of tried governments include consistently missing or bad governance, rampant corruption, political victimization, addiction with foreign loans by accepting some compromises on national sovereignty and decision making, adjusting to foreign influence or even interference, wasteful and shameless extravagance on public funds, lack of accountability, weak writ of the law, desperately slow judicial system, suffocating unbridled inflation, unstoppable slide down of economy and pitiable decline in the value of Pak Rupee. Consequently, irrespective of the type of government, the public at large has mostly remained deprived, ignored and barely surviving under a humiliating environment.

In his ‘The Republic’, Plato made his mouthpiece, Socrates, “condemn the triumphant democracy of Athens as a chaos of class violence, cultural decadence, and moral degeneration. The democrats contemptuously rejected temperance as unmanliness…The excessive increase of anything causes a reaction in the opposite direction…dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme form of liberty”. Besides some or most of the above mentioned commons, this explains the alternate trials of civil and military governments in Pakistan to quite an extent.

Alexander Pope (21 May 1688 – 30 May 1744) thought that ‘only a fool would dispute over forms of government”. History has a good word to say for all of them, and for governments in general. Since men love freedom, and the freedom of individuals in a society requires some regulation of conduct, the first condition of freedom is its limitation; make it absolute and it dies in chaos. Therefore, the prime function of the government is to establish order. A big lesson from history teaches us that the only real revolution is in the enlightenment of the mind and the improvement of character, the only real emancipation is the individual, and the only real revolutions are philosophers and saints. Thus far tried governments in Pakistan have largely failed on both these counts i.e. failure to maintain good order due to incompetence and letdown on real emancipation by well-orchestrated political strategy. Democracy is the most difficult of all forms of government, since it requires the wider spread of intelligence through comprehensive and uniform education for all. A cynic remarked, “You must not enthrone ignorance just because there is so much of it”. However, ignorance is not enthroned for long, for it lends itself to manipulation by the forces that mold public opinion. It may be true, as Abraham Lincoln supposed, that “you can’t fool all the people all the times,” but you can fool enough of them to rule a large country. The plight of poor masses more than seven decades after independence, proves that it has mostly remained valid for Pakistan. Alas!

The word democracy remains the most abused expression in Pakistan by the ruling elite. In America being the main proponent, democracy had a wider base. It began with the advantage of a British heritage: Anglo-Saxon law, which, from Magna-Carta (issued in June 1215 and was the first document to put into writing the principle that the king and his government was not above the law. It sought to prevent the king from exploiting his power, and placed limits of royal authority by establishing law as a power in itself) onward, had defended citizens against the state. And Protestantism, which had opened the way to religious and mental liberty. The American Revolution was not only a revolt of colonials against a distant government; it was also an uprising of a native middle class against an imported aristocracy. The rebellion was eased and quickened by an abundance of free land and minimum legislation. Men who owned the soil they tilled and controlled the conditions under which they lived, had an economic footing for political freedom; their personalities and character were rooted in the earth.

Perhaps learning from American history, in 1951 India went ahead with four important components of land reforms, which were thought of as major policy interventions in building the land policy. These included: the abolition of intermediaries; tenancy reforms; fixing ceilings on land holdings; and consolidation of landholdings. Indian rural society was symbolised by a rich landowning minority (zamindars/landlords) and an impoverished landless majority (peasants). Therefore, land reforms were a vital step towards economic and social equality. Moreover, the decline of semi-feudalistic relations had led to agriculture on commercial lines. On the contrary, in Pakistan, despite some cosmetics, nothing changed and the hold of the landlords has got further strengthened in the national politics in the last seven decades keeping the poor farmers dependent, deprived and in deplorable state. To add more salt to the wounds of the hapless public, the ruling elite has successfully spread its fangs in industries, energy and food production, control on supply chains, land/ infrastructure development and housing schemes, banking, transport and so on so forth in connivance with the mutually serving mafia and bureaucracy. Therefore, a few thousand people quite visibly continue to play with the present and future of the 240 million people gasping for daily survival with bleak chances of betterment. Since people of Pakistan have repeatedly seen the change of governments overnight, murder, rape, arson, kidnapping, drugs, narcotics smuggling and NAB cases involving billions of rupee fraud written off in hours, and yesterday’s villain becoming today’s rulers and vice versa; therefore, Pakistan badly needs Magna Carta of its own, which guarantees rule of law and dispensation of timely justice to all and sundry.

If territorial, ideological, economic, race or class wars continue to divide us into hostile camps internally and externally, changing political arguments into blind hate, one side or the other may overturn the hustings with the rule of the sword, as being witnessed in the current political situation in Pakistan. If our national economy fails to distribute and spend the wealth as ably as it has created or accumulated it, the road to dictatorship will always be open to any man who can persuasively promise security to all. If the people of Pakistan wish to take their destiny in their own hands through a democratic process, they will have to elect people who are conscious of the painful reality that this country survives a great deal on the sacrifices and sacred blood of the martyrs who give their today for the Nation's tomorrow. Hence, it is incumbent upon the truly elected representatives and the state institutions in Pakistan to ensure, “that these dead shall not have died in vain– that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth” ~ (U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863)

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