Whether the lack of rule of law pushed the Pakistani state towards corruption or the latter ruined the former would likely end up as a chicken or egg debate. It is, though, common sense that rule of law provides a bedrock for good governance. Financial indiscipline or financial embezzlement is only one knock-on effect of the absence of good governance.
Therefore, in the case of Pakistan, one needs to stretch the definition of corruption beyond the narrow premises of financial misappropriation and let the light fall on the entire spectrum of the political and social system.
A significant point of analysis should be whether it is the individual or the system enabling corruption. Is it a few unscrupulous individuals who abuse and manipulate the system for personal gains? Or is it the system that manipulates and co-opts the individuals to perpetuate a specific power pyramid for which financial corruption is employed as an incentive for toeing the line?
While no political system is completely immune to abuse and corruption, it is also a known fact that in the presence of rule of law corruption cannot cloud the entire system. In my wilder political imagination, rule of law is the sine qua non for checking corrupt practices and abuse of political power or authority. And a simple barometer of rule of law in any given civilised state system is the sanctity of, and adherence to, the ‘basic law’ (consolidated in the form of the constitution).
In Pakistan the basic law, ‘the constitution’, has been abrogated and put in abeyance not less than four times. Each time the abrogation or abeyance of the constitution required a justification and legitimisation for the surrogate political system.
It doesn’t take rocket science to understand that the process of extracting legitimacy for the post-abrogation dispensation requires extraordinary incentives that make rule of law the first casualty. And so the superior judiciary had to coin new legal terminologies – ‘doctrine of necessity’ – to be able to provide legal cover to the act of abrogation.
After every coup, a new coterie of rented political characters were groomed to act as politicians and provide a civilian political face to the regime at the cost of the process of democratic evolution and norms. Those emboldened by the intoxicant of the concept of civilian and parliamentary supremacy were put on the altar of accountability.
The current mayhem regarding the Panama leaks and the ensuing feverish JIT’s melodrama – taking strange twists and turns – seems to convey that the scandal is financial or corruption specific in the land of the pure, making it difficult for the inhabitants of an otherwise deeply corrupt system to digest the fact.
The corruption charges against PM Nawaz Sharif are not related to his current tenure as prime minister but go back to another era – when he was eager to follow in the footsteps of his mentor, General Ziaul Haq. But, as the saying goes, time really is the best mentor and when he could not continue on that mission, it ended in conferring him with the title of the ‘Godfather’.
Today, a peculiar atmosphere is being created, one in which it is said that only the prime minister’s immediate family members are symbols of corruption in this country, and his disqualification and removal from office is the only way to eradicate corruption.
Recall that in the last four decades four civilian governments have been dismissed for being corrupt, but after installing a new government nobody even remembers corruption and its eradication. In the presence of such treacherous political history how and why should we trust that the ongoing mayhem is about, borrowing the words from Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the ‘eradication of corruption’ – or the elimination of an elected prime minister’?
My lords, currently in the vanguard of eliminating the corrupt, should first ponder over whether corruption emanates from certain individuals, families, classes or if it is the system that breeds it. If their lordships are genuinely convinced that the removal of an elected prime minister for alleged past financial wrongdoings can ward off corruption from the state and society, as well as ensure good governance and true democracy, then it is a paramount service their lordship can render. And for that we will be eternally indebted to their lordships’ discernment and sagacity of judgement.
But if the problem lies with the system that hamstrings rule of law then their lordships must look into the system. In a polity where abrogation of the constitution is easier than the violation of a section of the penal code, rule of law remains a far cry. If there are no more abrogations and violations of the constitution, if there is no rented political legitimacy after every decade, if there is no manufacturing of political characters after every decade, if there are no dark spots of public scrutiny, then the ultimate result will be greater and ruthless accountability witnessed in the streets of this country. Perhaps those who relegated our basic law to oblivion also need to be the ones facing justice.