There is no doubt that the on-going lockdown is affecting the poorest segment of society hardest. But those who happen to be in safe heavens can put their super-intellect to the service of mankind. The lockdown provides an opportunity to reflect on issues of national importance that seem to have been ignored so far. Those who can sustain themselves in these challenging times may look into the past and advise a way forward to the nation.
The COVID-19 has brought Pakistan at crossroads. Weak leadership, ceremonial statements, hollow slogans, cosmetic reforms, vague policies, selective accountability, suppression of freedoms, and denial of reality may not help the nation. On the one hand, the coronavirus has exposed the gaps in our policymaking and institutional capacity. On the other hand, it has provided us with an opportunity to rethink and reframe our national priorities.
The extent of the capacity and the hollowness of the political decision-making at the highest echelons has become abundantly clear during this crisis. The executive branch of the government seems to have an abstract faith without having proper appreciation for national unity and the necessity of discipline. Self-serving politics, rigidity and ego appear to supersede occasionally over national interest. Confusion, inconsistency and poor understanding of reality appear to be the hallmarks of our political leadership. Had a few experts and institutions not helped our government timely, we would have seen a widespread disaster and ugly death. This state of affairs raises important questions for the consideration of our policymakers and the state institutions.
The legislature has lost institutional prestige as it has failed to perform its primary function, that is, law-making through acts of the parliament, not ordinances. One may ask: is a democracy without a functional parliament not a farce? Is a parliament without being a forum of meaningful discussion and a source of the law not a sham? Can the basic rights of the people such as the freedom of expression be denied in a democratic government? Should the legislature not criticize flawed and out-dated laws and get them amended or repealed through parliament? Should the parliament be not engaged in discussing and formulating our national policy? The parliamentarians must debate and oppose any law which is passed without their ‘meaningful’ consultation. They should ignore short-term and subjective political interest in the times of crisis and in the process of nation-building.
The legislature has lost institutional prestige as it has failed to perform its primary function
The emergence of coronavirus can help us redefine the parameters of our national security. It may be appreciated that health security, education, environment and economic prosperity is inextricably linked to national security. Therefore, our national security policymakers should deliberate on these aspects: should national security be not redefined with the consultation of key institutions of the state and experts from other fields i.e., health, economics and technology. Should the governance be not left to the chosen representatives of the people, allowing the growth and maturity of the political process in the country? It may be examined that have different models of governance such as ‘basic,’ ‘Islamic,’ ‘real’ or ‘controlled’ democracy helped our institutions to become stronger in the past? History shows otherwise. It informs that only those nations have survived who constantly reviewed their perception of national security. Only those countries make progress who uphold the constitution and provide justice to citizens.
With respect, the indulgence of our judiciary may also be sought to the following matters: Does having validated non-civilian regimes in the past promote constitutionalism and independence of the judiciary? Does our judiciary not need to demonstrate that judicial independence is not a theoretical myth but a reality? Should judicial appointments be not made more transparently to enhance the competence and integrity of our justice system? Should flaws in our justice system be not addressed more vigorously? Should the legal profession be not upgraded? Should Pakistan’s judicial system be not reformed with a broader consultation of judges, lawyers, and other experts? Should suo-motu action be not avoided in the policymaking domain of the government? Study of other justice system suggests that merit and accountability, within the justice system, enable the judiciary to work more effectively.
Briefly, do we not need to introspect and see where we have lapsed, as a nation, and why? Have we not left behind the ideals that we have outlined in the preamble of our constitution i.e., social, economic, political justice? Does our constitution not provide and protect the freedom of thought, expression and religion etc. These questions may spur policy reforms in all institutions of the State. It may show us a way forward for national security, good governance, and justice.
In short, institutional reform would help not only to meet the challenges like the coronavirus but it would also help to make us stronger. Our nation has a huge potential, indeed. With faith, unity, and discipline, once again, Pakistan can become a modern progressive country.
The writer is an advocate in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.