By Dr. Haider Mehdi

It would be an understatement to say that Pakistan’s reborn 2008 nascent democracy has failed completely in its mission to democratize this nation. Come to think of it – it was obvious that it would have happened this way. After all, rotten eggs do not smell of roses nor can they make scrumptious meals.

There were massive inherent flaws and disingenuous political faults in the foreign- supported NRO democracy that was imposed upon this nation from the outside with a political agenda antagonistic to the development of a democratic policy and incompatible with the national self-interests of this country.

The repercussions have been disastrous: it put in place a team of national affairs managers and political actors who lack democratic credentials, have very little credibility, are of questionable personal integrity and who, right from the start, supported the structure of political-economic and foreign policy “status quo”. Much-needed democratic political economic transformation and reform has never even been a consideration of the incumbent political regime in present-day Pakistan. In fact, the PPP and much of the traditional ruling elite leadership, inclusive of the major opposition party and Zardari’s allies, have demonstrated a conspicuous absence of political vision suitable to the needs of a social-democratic welfare state in Pakistan. The entire focus, in the last four years, has been on the management of political power and how to maintain it for an indefinite future – and the game plan continues endlessly.

Daniel A. Bell, professor of comparative political philosophy at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, has developed a three-tier framework to judge the legitimacy, political correctness, philosophical vision and management capabilities of a national political leadership. I have adapted this conceptual framework to evaluate the legitimacy of Pakistan’s incumbent so-called democratic regime.

The first determining factor in Bell’s framework is a government’s “performance legitimacy.” Performance legitimacy means that “the government’s first priority should be the material well-being of the people.” Is poverty alleviation at the top of the government’s political agenda? Has the government justified its public mandate by its planning and management capabilities to provide for the material welfare of its people? Has the public-mandated government made impressive verifiable poverty alleviation achievements in a specified amount of time? Does the government continue to hold the confidence and trust of the people on the basis of its performance (skillful, competent and dedicated political managers) in resolving economic problematics and other fundamental national issues?

The second source of political legitimacy of a government is its leadership’s “political meritocracy,” the idea that “political leaders should have above average ability to make morally informed political judgments.” Has the Zardari regime been able to initiate morally-ethically justified political decision-making? Has it cared for the people’s needs more than focus on “procedural arrangements” to ensure its hold on political power? Has the “procedural arrangements” of Zardari’s political management team contributed in any way in furthering the cause of democratic governance in the country?

The third factor in the political legitimacy of a government and its leadership is the legitimacy of nationalism. Bell prefers to term it as “ideological legitimacy”: “The regime seeks to be seen as morally justified in the eyes of the people by virtue of certain ideas that it expresses in its educational system, political speeches and public policies.” Is the incumbent regime in Pakistan viewed by common citizens as politically-ideologically sound and in its public policies morally or ethically inclined?

It would be an extremely difficult task to provide any kind of evidence to support the political legitimacy of Zardari’s incumbent regime other than on the “procedural arrangements” in which the government continues to shift its tactics on a daily basis to remain in power. This so-called democratic administration has fallen flat on its face on “performance legitimacy”. It needs not to be repeated that poverty has increased manifold, prices have sky-rocketed, public deprivations have increased, power, gas, and petrol are unavailable, businesses and industries are closing down and life for common citizens has never been so difficult as it is in present-day democratic Pakistan.

Political meritocracy is virtually absent as the Pakistani leadership derives no strength in its political decision-making from moral-ethical sources. Corruption at the highest levels of the government organization is rampant. The concept of “conflict of interests,” an important and fundamental principal in the ethical conduct of democratic governance, has been side-stepped by the incumbent regime. The government is at logger-heads with other important state institutions such as the judiciary and the military institutions – and the entire state machinery is in a free fall.

As for ideological legitimacy, this government has completely abandoned it: the country’s sovereignty has been relinquished under the demands and pressures of foreign powers, the so- called “war on terrorism” continues, drone-attacks on its civilian population and territory are accelerating and public sentiments on these issues are totally disregarded. Political speeches are promoting internal political and intra-institutional conflicts and public policies are contrary to the interests of common citizens. All in all, Pakistan is in a state of gradual political collapse.

What is required in today’s Pakistan is to develop a general theory of linking the moral-ethical principles of political-economic concepts, ideological beliefs and a realistic approach to the applications of this paradigm. A revolutionary political management structure needs to be created at the highest level of political management of the nation. A moderate political environment needs to be developed to create the proper climate for freedom, dialogue and tolerance between different political forces in the country. And all of the above are dependent on the development of a political leadership that can command “performance legitimacy,” “political meritocracy” and “ideological legitimacy” – all in a strong combination of the three concepts. I have termed this entire process as “Project For A Just And Safe Society”.

The real issue in contemporary Pakistan is not who ascends to top political power, but who can command the people’s confidence. Who can rid society of corruption? Given the poor distribution of income at all levels of society, who can combine economic efficiency and a moral-ethical conceptual approach to a just society coupled with the optimal distribution of wealth?

That is a tall order!

And now the vital question: Will the Supreme Court – with the military’s institutional backing and constitutional responsibility –  help liberate this nation to begin the “Project for a Just and Safe Society”?

I ask this question because the Supreme Court today commands people’s confidence, performance legitimacy, meritocracy and ideological legitimacy!

We, as a nation, should be prepared to embark on a discourse of the “Project for a Just and Safe Society.”