By Ahmad Raza
16 Sep, 2011
OUR society today exhibits all signs of decline. The institutional structures of a post-colonial administration have become redundant. They do not respond to the needs of a modern and free democratic polity of the information age.
The state which is a declared nuclear power is run like a mediaeval principality. We find ourselves in a state of social abandonment and political chaos. If you are not part of the patronage culture, you will be killed by the anonymous ‘target killers’ and your body will litter the street.
Whenever an innocent person is killed, tortured or raped, a part of our Pakistani self is scared and mutilated. A shameful silence and withdrawal from the painful reality of social and political breakdown follows. We need to reverse the public discourse on this ever-increasing sense of despair, insanity and abandonment. We have got to work on public ethics in order to reverse the decline in governance.
Let us face the reality squarely. What is the most fundamental task of a government besides tax collection, appointments of diplomats and ministers? In my humble opinion, it’s the maintenance of a just and peaceful social and political order. If a government cannot protect its harmless and armless citizens, then it must engage in deep soul-searching. It must reassess the ethical grounds of its being a government.
If government functionaries are not accountable to moral and legal imperatives, how then can we expect it’s just functioning?
What we find instead is a differential application of both law and ethics in society. If you are part of the culture of patronage then you have access to every resource. If you are not part of this fabulous system of reciprocal favouritism, you are simply doomed. You have no respect and self-esteem. You will always be at the lowest ebb of the food chain.
We inherited the mantle of an elitist-driven colonial administrative system from the British Raj. That system evolved from the ashes of a decadent Mughal, darbar-centered administration. The British-added civil service, military organisation and legal institutions were designed to meet the needs of the foreign rulers. The police system which was put in place also perpetuated fear and domination of the same privileged classes in the post-colonial era. We have continued with that legacy of fear and domination.
The post-colonial Pakistani Nawabs have continued that decadent Raj tradition of mass slavery and misuse of state resources.
The logic of this decadent governance system was simple: divide the people through fear of state power and rule as you wish.
This kind of governance style cannot continue anymore in the historical context of the information age.
The historical moment has arrived for us to decide whether we desire to live as free, just and morally aware people or we like to be remembered as a herd of sheep that lost their way in the battleground of history and civilisation. In order to exist as a morally aware people, we need to rebuild a new public morality which is driven by self-accountability and self-responsibility.
Each one of us in different social roles has to be self-conscious as a citizen of a democratic state, which is geared towards the creation of a cohesive and just society of self-conscious individuals. By protecting the autonomy and self-respect of each individual, our state shall be able to protect its autonomy and national respect. We need to shed the cloak of a Machiavellian rogue state and rebuild a republic of spiritual democracy of Iqbal based on the principles of freedom, autonomy and honour for all citizens.
We have to dismantle the present culture of patronage rooted in a decadent tradition of mass slavery inherited from the Raj.
This can be accomplished by changing our moral attitude to governance practices and state resources. There is no denying the fact that man is socially programmed from childhood to rely on and trust one’s kith and kin, one’s close friends and later on, one’s peers. But when it comes to public responsibilities, we need to draw a boundary line between blood, friendship and the public good.
Why should I promote my incompetent nephew or niece over a competent Pakistani? Should I favour my inefficient uncle over an efficient citizen? Should I appoint my corrupt son-in-law as a public official when I have the choice of putting one honest man in his place? The public circle of incompetence, inefficiency and corruption is perpetuated by me and none else.
Thus, decline in personal ethics has a direct bearing on management of organisations, society and state institutions. We have to learn again to say ‘no’ at home so that we can save the state from further chaos.
There is also an external component which threatens our state, society and way of life. This is the result of our cumulative strategic misadventures in the region. The Afghan syndrome has left us divided as a society and state. Where to go from here?
Why should we sit quietly over our past mistakes? We should learn from them and redress the wrongs done, and heal the suffering of our people. The external threat can aggravate our social disorder if we do not respond to the internal lack of will to act, and live as a morally self-aware people. History will judge us by how we react now and not on the basis of what our ancestors did in their golden age.
The writer is a social scientist at the University of Management and Technology, Lahore.
Source: The Dawn, Karachi