Pakistani Governance and National Security

Commentary | March 07, 2013

Writing for Pakistan's The News International, EWI Board Member Ikram Sehgal considers the state of Pakistan's democracy.

National security can be undermined because of the socio-political environment prevailing. The critical elements are: (1) the state and the political system, representative democracy, basic values, ideology, economy and the decision-making process. Because they impact beyond the boundaries of a single society, socio-political issues require ethical and responsible solutions.

However, if the aim of the rulers is only to make money for themselves and manipulate the system to enhance their own rule, the resultant endemic bad governance endangers the state as well as the safety, comfort and welfare of the people.

Nations seldom abide by moral codes when their national security is threatened. Consider the debate within the US about the legality of drone strikes in the territory of another sovereign nation, well knowing that innocents will be killed along with militants. Such a ‘doctrine of necessity’ glosses over the public conscience about ‘collateral damage’ in a country where normally it would be condemned as morally repugnant.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry very rightly maintains that national security in modern times cannot be confined to aggression or external threat. Conversing with a study group from the National Management Course in Islamabad, he said: “Gone are the days when stability and security of the country was defined in terms of missiles, tanks and armoury as a manifestation of hard power available to the state.”

He went on: “States are now bound to provide its citizens security and protect their civil rights at all costs. Progress of the state is impossible without eliminating anarchy from the system. Failure of administration and implementation structure is visible everywhere, steps against the law and the constitution will push society and the environment towards turmoil and unrest.”

Bemoaning the present state of governance in Pakistan, Justice Chaudhry posed the following questions: “Do we reward merit and hard work? Are the term principles of rule of law and the supremacy of the constitution being strictly enforced? Do the citizens of the country trust the system and think it provides them fair opportunity to realise their driven in a transparent manner?

“Does the present system have the capacity to discourage the corrupt? Do we have a system where civil and property rights are protected and contracts are fully enforced?” He added: “Unfortunately, the answer to the above questions is no, the system is distorted and does not provide a level playing field for the people to achieve in life whatever they are capable of.”

The chief justice’s concerns about threats to national security are very much commensurate with the remedy given in the First Amendment to the 1789 U.S. constitution derived from the 1776 U.S. Declaration of Independence (holding true for all democracies everywhere): “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organising its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

The armed forces cannot remain blind to the deliberate mis-governance, but this must not be misconstrued as an exhortation for military intervention. Armies have no business to be in the business of running the country, nor are they capable of that, at least not for an extended period. Power is only handed over under judicial cover in ‘aid to civil power’ when it becomes impossible for civilian rule to function. This extreme stopgap short-time measure resorted to restore civilian authority is to enforce rule of law and avoid anarchy.

How does one balance the equation between avoiding military intervention, while ensuring that the rulers do not use the convenient cover of democracy and the constitution to deliberately criminalise society? Can the armed forces remain oblivious if national security linkages with the social-political environment erode the basic foundations of society? When it is threatened, it becomes not only the moral duty but an obligation for the men in khaki to act in the spirit in which the constitution evolved.

Precedents in Pakistan exist for such recourse under judicial cover, successfully implemented for a short period in Karachi in 2010 when the Rangers, armed with police powers and acting under the direct authority of the Supreme Court, caught many target killers across the political divide. By preventing them from laughing their way out of the police stations within hours due to the inordinate influence of their political handlers, the Rangers brought a modicum of peace and harmony to Karachi for a short period.

After years of heaping insults and hurling dire threats at each other, the PML-N and the PPP are clearly in cahoots as partners manipulating the electoral process to remain in power, as Imran Khan has been claiming for years. Can this country survive five more years of misrule and bad governance?

Without resorting to overthrowing the government, what modus operandi must the army employ to ensure that the system does not dissolve into anarchy? The correct way is to give quiet counsel to the rulers to rectify the wrongs themselves. To his credit, Kayani has done just that for the last five years. Unfortunately, it has been effective only selectively when the rulers felt their hold on power was threatened. This had no effect on the government’s transgressions vis-a-vis nepotism and corruption.

Because these impact on national security, whenever hard evidence comes before the COAS he is duty-bound to refer it to the heads of state and government, verbally at first and, if that does not evoke remedial measures, in writing. Whether the COAS has raised his concerns strongly enough with the rulers one does not know, but the rulers have certainly shown no inclination to correct their blatant wrongdoing.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘redress’ means to “remedy or set right (an undesirable or unfair situation).” A petition for ‘redress of grievances’ is to “make or present a formal request (petition) for such to (an authority) with respect to a particular cause.” Ruling only by the consent of the people, the government has a constitutional obligation to correct such wrongs.

Petitioning for “redress of grievances” means that when the people find either the federal and/or provincial governments exceeding the authority granted to them under the constitution, and not inclined to listen to their grievances affecting their fundamental rights, they have the right to approach the Supreme Court for redress (remedy) of the constitutional wrongdoing. Such a petition of public importance relating to the enforcement of fundamental rights guaranteed under the constitution can be filed virtue of Article 187 (I).

If the government continues to ignore his submissions about bad governance, the COAS has an obligation like any other citizen to bring this before the Supreme Court in the form of a petition. Given the chief justice’s deep concern about the impact of bad governance on national security, why not use the given constitutional ways of seeking "redress of grievances?"

Democracy’s fail-safe line is the legal barrier of the Supreme Court, but when bad governance makes democracy delusional, do we have the moral courage to cross that line to save the country from the predators in control?

Click here to read this piece at The News International.