By Dr. Haider Mehdi

“Live on the great promise? Well, you can believe it;

I’d have died of joy had The Great One proved the word!”
                                                            Mirza Ghalib – translation by William Stafford

For how long can a nation can live on false promises and on the pretext of a government “of the people, by the people, for the people”? Indeed, the flawed democracy in Pakistan begs the nation to ask hard and puzzling questions as to why we are where we are today – at the brink of social, cultural, economic, political and spiritual decay.

In today’s volatile Pakistan, every citizen needs to ask herself/himself a fundamental question: “Who Am I?” For without a thorough self-reflection, a sense of self-awareness and a conscientious effort on the part of each citizen, the speedy decline of our civilization will continue unabated.

For instance, I wish to be a “Political Moralist” – that is “Who I am.” It is in this context of a “Political Moralist” that I wish to participate in the making of a civil society and in the development of a democratic polity in the country.

“Political Moralism” is an intellectual-behavioral development within the parameters of social-civil-moral values and humanitarian ethical standards. It is a mindset, a perspective on civil society’s rules and a community’s ideological beliefs on governance, self-rule, democracy and the political management of the nation. It is a process of defining what is right and wrong, differentiating between political correctness and incorrectness, determining what is fair and what is unfair, choosing what is permissible and what cannot be permitted, ascertaining the standards of the political behavior of the political actors and managers at the helm of national affairs, and finding the resolve and the determination to act and judge “morally” in national decision-making.

Given this kind of ideological framework of “Political Moralism”, rather than the factual absence of it, explains why Pakistani democracy is falling apart and why democratic institutions have failed to consolidate in this country.

Let me illustrate the point with a few examples: Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was morally and politically incorrect in denying the Prime Ministership of Pakistan to legitimately-elected Mujibur Rahman. Consequently, East Pakistan was lost. Benazir Bhutto’s politically and morally flawed compromise with General Pervez Musharraf at the urging of the US and Britain resulted in the most obviously illegitimate and injudicious NRO. Hence, the outcome is the present-day failed democracy in Pakistan. The incumbent PPP Prime Minister’s refusal to obey the Supreme Court’s instructions to write to the Swiss authorities regarding the $60 million bank account case and the PM’s defiance against the SC’s verdict in the contempt of court case are examples of the moral-political bankruptcy of the Zardari-Gillani regime and a serious setback to the parliamentary norms of democracy. In both of these political acts, the convicted PM’s conduct has been politically-morally incorrect and democratically flawed.

At the root of Pakistan’s ruling-elite’s consistent political-moral incorrectness is the violation of  the “conflict of interest” paradigm. The Pakistani ruling elite, both in the actual governance and outside of it, maintain such enormous personal interests that political power has become an instrument of managing and acquiring wealth, prestige, internal and external sources of support and maintenance of their economic and financial power. The Pakistani ruling elite has become a part of the international “mafia” of corporate capitalism in cahoots with the powerful nations of the West that seek to maintain “puppet” regimes in this country so that their geo-political objectives can be facilitated.

In this process of undermining democracy in the pursuit of vested interests, the ruling elite in Pakistan has formed a princely outlook on the political governance of the country. They have formed powerful interest groups resembling political aristocracy; as a result, they are determined to exert decisive influence on Pakistan’s political system to consolidate their hold on power and personal wealth. The corruption of these vested interest groups in today’s Pakistan is enormous, sapping away the country’s national strength. This vested-interest leadership is even claiming privileges of birth (no wonder Asif Ali Zardari has claimed hereditary leadership of the Pakistan People’s Party and many of the present leadership wish to pass their political power on to family members).  As a consequence, they are undermining and destabilizing Pakistan’s society as a whole. Indeed, in any society, such outlandish abuse of political power and privilege would breed anger, frustration, and deprivations , and present-day Pakistan is no exception. The contemporary chaos in the country is nothing more than a blatant violation of the “Political-Moralism” doctrine and its intrinsic linkage to the “conflict of interest” syndrome – undermining  national democratic interests and institutions.

Let me illustrate my point further with a few more examples: the PML-N leader Mian Nawaz Sharif was morally wrong and politically incorrect when he said that if a doctor’s son can be a doctor, why can’t a Prime Minister’s son be a politician? A doctor’s son becoming a doctor poses no “conflict of interest” to anyone, let alone to the entire nation – but, political power can exert tremendous influence and falls within the moral dimensions of “conflict of interest” principles. It is for this reason that Sharif’s argument is flawed.  Similarity, Asif Ali Zardari’s decision to nominate his son to the party’s leadership is morally wrong, ethically flawed and politically incorrect. Needless to say, the Prime Minister son should never have taken part in the by-election in Multan – obviously, it was an act of political immoralism and incorrectness. The Prime Minister and his son have been accused of massive corruption:  the PM and his son should resign from their political offices – that would be an appropriate course of political moralism and political correctness. Flouting the Supreme Court’s judgments are acts of political immoralism as well as acts of political incorrectness: Baber Awan should be in jail, Hussain Haqqani should be tried in a court of law and the unlawful influence and nepotism of all ministers, bureaucrats and parliamentarians should be subjected to due course of law and appropriate legal actions.

Pakistan’s future existence is tied up with its common citizen’s determination and willingness to participate and exert themselves in the fundamental transformation of its present political culture. “The ruling class (has) failed to see the naked contradiction(s) that they (have) created (in Pakistan). They (have) expected that… (the masses can) be forcibly drafted to fight a dirty war against popular self-determination… thus we have to look for the crack(s) in the political-culture that will eventually help and encourage us to look at ourselves,” wrote an eminent political philosopher recently.

But it is scary to think where we might be in the near future in Pakistan if a counter-culture against the present political system and structure never transpires or materializes.

It’s time for every citizen to ask: “Who Am I”? “What do I stand for”?

Is “Political Moralism” meaningless in today’s Pakistan? Will it remain irrelevant in tomorrow’s Pakistan? That is the vital question.