More is less
The government of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani is enjoying power. This cannot be said for the people whom he governs.
Power is what this government has been all about from the day it came into power. President Zardari is often heard talking about the strength of his government in terms of the number of high offices bagged by PPP. As he says, it is for the first time that PPP has its president, prime minister, speaker of the National Assembly, Chairman Senate. Power flows through these offices, goes the argument, and such power becomes a conduit for the accumulation of further power. The logic is linear while being circular: keep the reins of power in your hands, and use it to consolidate the power base through the use of – well – official power.
Hence the PPP's desperation to control the Senate. Such a control would enable them to control legislation, thereby giving the PPP the power over lawmaking. Extend the argument further, and the next obvious power is the power over the constitution. While the PPP may not be able to amend the constitution, it would have acquired the power to block any constitutional amendments. That is still a lot of power to wield in a political system welded to the naked use and abuse of official power as a means to get more power.
While all this may be great for the PPP, it is terrible for Pakistan.
Here's why: Machiavellian politicking is as old as Nicolo Machiavelli. The principles may still hold true after all these centuries, but the times have changed. Pursuit of naked power was an acceptable goal in itself in an era when men reigned supreme over institutions, and a king's word was law. Losing power usually meant losing your head – literally. But then a strange thing happened. The art of politics evolved into the science of governance. Societies – especially in the West – matured as they passed through stages like the Reformation, Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution. Through war and revolution, and bloodletting and fratricides and through a ferocious battle of ideas, Western societies began to learn lessons and frame new rules of governing themselves. National and international institutions and structures began to take shape, giving birth to material and intellectual progress.
The pursuit of naked power as an end in itself began to be frowned upon.
But here in Pakistan we seemed to have missed out on these changes. The concept of power remains a medieval one. Zardari would have felt right at home in the court of Loius XVI of France or Henry VIII of England.
The result is painfully obvious. The PPP has a whole lot of power but precious little of governance. The party will succeed in controlling the Senate, but fail in controlling a sinking economy. Zardari and Gilani have succeeded in stitching together a solid parliamentary majority, but have failed in welding together a broken bureaucratic structure. They are able to stare down the military and judiciary, but still cannot put an end to torture and killing in police lockups.
Do they care? Is their vote bank threatened? Are you kidding?
It's not really hard to guess why. The PPP power players will not suddenly turn into radical ideologues. They are hard-nosed realists who know very well what happens when they are on the receiving end of other power players. They get bludgeoned because naked power is best used as a blunt-edged weapon. They have swum through a river of fire to reach where they are, and the last thing they want is to be thrown back into the fiery waves.
Good for them. Bad for us.
The entire power paradigm in Pakistan is skewed. But power players are so firmly locked into it that no one dare tinker with it for fear of being devoured by it. And perhaps the requisite pressure to do so is also not there – yet. Such pressure is normally a result of an avalanche of ideas which in turn sketch out broad parameters for a new paradigm. Put simply, you need a Rousseau or a Voltaire to prepare the ground for a French revolution.
Is the groundswell there for a new paradigm in Pakistan? Anecdotal evidence may suggest so, but such evidence is usually flimsy. PPP is certainly not the lone player that pursues naked power. The land of ours is littered with big and little Caesars waiting to pounce on any opportunity for power play. The concept of power for public good remains a concept in Pakistan, finding mention in books and official documents. It has to take root in the public consciousness before it can translate into genuine pressure for reform.
Political change may happen overnight, but historical transformations take time.
The writer hosts a primetime talk show on ARY News. He has worked as Director News of Express News and Dunya News and Editor The News, Islamabad. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @fahdhusain