As the world welcomes 2023, Pakistanis begin the new year with the same question in mind. It is neither a new question nor an optimistic one:
When will things change?
The beginning of something new often allows us the opportunity to reflect on the past. We may take this opportunity to reflect on the previous year, even the previous decade. Or we may ignore the past and move on. By doing the latter, we ignore the mistakes that we and those before us have made. Reflection and acceptance can often result in positive change.
My intention is to take you back further than a decade, to take you back to the start. This article is an attempt to understand how we got here, where we are as a nation and what we can possibly do in order to improve the status quo.
Political instability is a familiar concept for most Pakistanis. Often, a vicious cycle of attaching blame to one another is in operation. The people blame the politicians, the latter blame their counterparts, or we all combine to blame those before us. Accountability is never accepted, rather transferred.
However, instead of blaming those before us, what if we had followed their advice?
In May 1930, the Simon Commission published its report. The report was issued by a commission of Parliament consisting of two peers and four commoners under the chairmanship of Sir John Simon, who visited India over a two-year period. The Simon Report was an extraordinary document, published after two years of fact-finding tours within India. The report highlighted an extremely important issue which the Muslim leaders should have taken into consideration 17 years after the Simon Report was published.
The Simon Report repeated the old refrain that the parliamentary institutions that worked so well in Britain carried no guarantee of suitability in India. It supported this assertion by the admonition that Britain’s institutions had developed because of conditions hardly found outside Britain. The reality was that the smallness of Great Britain had fostered a cohesiveness among the electorate. The report further asserted that it seemed unlikely to them that had Britain been subjected to similar conditions that were in play within India, if communal and religious divisions so largely governed its policies, and if minorities had as little confidence in the rule of others as they did in India, a parliamentary system would never have worked in Britain either.
This was a reality very few were aware of and even fewer had accepted. The polarisation within India demanded that a political system based on what suited the population best must be adopted. Pakistan’s polarised present forces us to go back to that moment.
Instead, we inherited what was conveniently given to us by the masters we were so eager to gain freedom from. Even more appalling is the fact that after inception, Pakistan relied on the Government of India Act 1935 as its constitution and the instrument that governed it. This was the same legislation that was in force in British India prior to the 1947 Partition and the process of gaining independence.
The issue seems to be that Pakistanis and those who governed our Pakistan never made the effort of developing a system which suited the masses. The parliamentary system has been tried and tested and seems to fail each time. The best and most basic example to support this assertion is the fact that no government elected through the parliamentary system has ever completed its tenure in Pakistan. There are two major reasons for this. Firstly, those who are eligible to cast votes are simply not aware of the value of their vote and the power it holds. Secondly, voters are highly manipulated.
Our constitution does not make things easier either. It seems beyond logic that the premier of a party has done enough to earn the position of Leader of the House and the country, yet he or she needs to convince two thirds of the house in order to legislate freely. This system is designed to fail. It is designed to block any progress that a premier may even want to make, as it allows those opposing him or her to hijack any work that he or she may attempt, whether it benefits the nation or not. Achieving a two-thirds majority is perhaps the most arduous and unrealistic task a politician can undertake. In a country so large and diverse as Pakistan, this is simply unachievable.
This is something the father of our nation recognised.
Allen McGrath in his book titled The Destruction of Pakistan’s Democracy makes an astounding revelation. In July 1947, while engaged in negotiations for dominion status, Jinnah jotted a note to himself. He titled this note as “Danger of Parliamentary form of Government.” Firstly, Jinnah noted that the parliamentary system has only worked in England and nowhere else. Secondly, he expressly wrote that Presidential form of Government would suit Pakistan better. Perhaps Mr. Jinnah should have made his thought more widely known.
We find ourselves where we are because we inherited a system that simply did not suit us. The solution is effort, hard work and sincerity towards our country. Whether it be a Presidential or Parliamentary system – it can never work unless we want it to work, and unless we allow it to work.
The situation demands that we must give an opportunity to the educated, the experts, and those who can sincerely and honestly communicate with the masses. Instead of dynasties and families who hold popularity and influence in their constituencies, we must choose individuals who are competent in their respective fields. We must divide responsibility and let accountability prevail.
Despite where we find ourselves, let us start this year with optimism. For we live by faith, not by sight.