By: S Khalid Husain
The country’s destiny at independence was in the hands of politicians who formed the first governments of Pakistan. They were all indirectly elected members of the first Constituent Assembly which was to frame the new country’s constitution, and hold general elections after its passage.
But they failed to produce a constitution for more than eight years.
Their Indian counterparts, who faced a far more complex challenge, produced a constitution in less than three. The completion of Pakistan’s first constitution in 1956 came from a prime minister who took office in 1955, and who was not from among politicians but was a former bureaucrat. Pakistani politicians’ failure to give a constitution to the country in the first few years, which would have led to general elections, was a bad beginning for democracy.
When someone fails to measure up to a task, others have to move in to “complete” it. To make up for the failure of the politicians of that time, many of whose descendents grace the present parliament, the bureaucracy got dragged in, particularly after the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan in October 1951.
In 1947, there was none capable among the politicians to be the country’s finance minister, and there has not been one to this day. The Quaid-e-Azam brought in Ghulam Mohammed, who was in the Nizam’s service in Hyderabad, to make him the first finance minister of the new state. The politicians’ ineffectiveness paved the way for him to become an all-powerful governor general in October 1951. He was followed by another bureaucrat, Iskander Mirza.
All the above is a dismal reflection on the calibre and character of politicians. If the politicians had been equal to handling the challenges of leadership, with minds that could grasp issues and with commitment less to their own interests and more to the country’s, the bureaucrats’ entry into politics would have been precluded, and the army would have remained in the barracks.
In their roles as rulers, the bureaucrats, and subsequently the army, proved to be less corrupt and less ineffective than politicians.
However, ruling the country is not the role of the bureaucracy or the army and, in time, both floundered. It was back to the politicians then, who continued their merry ways and, as a result, it got back to the army. The politicians/army seesaw since 1958 has become as popular in the country’s political park as the seesaw itself is in a children’s park.
The politicians must enjoy seesawing with the army. If they didn’t, they would not create conditions which invite army intervention. The way to prevent this is not to bite, but take care of, the hand that feeds: the voters.
Once in power, the politicians abandon the people and embark upon an agenda of personal gains and self-preservation.
The personal gains-agenda of politicians has consistently earned Pakistan a position of honour in the list of the most corrupt countries in the world. It has also reduced a country of great potential to a state of penury. Self-preservation for politicians is not banking on the support of the people, whom the politicians regard as spent cartridges once the voters have voted.
Self-preservation for politicians is to achieve control over all that they survey – institutions, the opposition, the media, and any others that can be a threat to their rule. There has been no letup in this fixation of the politicians, despite the number of times they have had to bite the dust because of it.
A sad example of all the above is the first PPP government, which came to power in December 1971. It is rightly credited for the 1973 Constitution promulgated on Aug 14 of that year.
However, on the same day, and within hours of its promulgation, the PPP government orchestrated the issuance of a gazette notification by President Fazal Ilahi Chaudhry. The notification validated the continuation of the emergency declared by a military dictator on Nov 23, 1971, when the country was at war, under which all fundamental rights had been suspended and made non-justiciable in any court. The state of emergency continued to the last day in office of the PPP government. The country, from living under martial law, moved to living under the equally abhorrent state of emergency. It was then back again to martial law.
Through several amendments in the constitution within a year of the document’s coming into force, which set a record for the number of amendments in such a short period, the press was muzzled, the judiciary enfeebled, preventive detention made easier, and the Quaid-e-Azam’s guidelines on state and religion discarded.
The Federal Security Force raised by the PPP government protected the interests of the government and the ruling party, like the National Guards in Saudi Arabia which protect the Royal family’s interests.
“Special treatment” was meted out not only to opponents but also to critics within the party, like former foreign secretary J A Rahim, a party stalwart and author of the PPP manifesto. In the end this bungling force led by devious police officers and the enfeebled judiciary, which promptly legitimised the PPP government’s overthrow by a military dictator, became the root of the tragedy that overtook the party’s leader and his family.
As in 1947, the country’s destiny today is in the hands of its politicians. They have to lead the country out of the swamp into which it has been led; of this they have been the prime cause. The present situation is despairing. There are radicals knocking at the door, while the politicians indulge in talks on mergers and alliances, which is all old brew, and not even in a new bottle.
In the meanwhile, the “spent cartridges” persevere with their wretched lives. A hundred and eighty million people buying and selling whatever for a day to day survival, or begging and spending, creates enough economic activity to keep the country plodding.
The write is a former corporate executive. Email: husainsk@cyber. net.pk