Hierocracy of the Buffoons


Picayune squabbling among the political elites of Pakistan is a requiem for democracy.

It is hard to know whether one should feel pity or contempt towards the participants in this macabre play. Watching the recent spectacle of strife between the political parties, one has to conclude that the greatest danger to democracy in Pakistan comes from within, that is, from the politicians themselves, a group of self-serving plutocrats who dance purposelessly to their own ghoulish tunes. We all led to believe that democracy in its present from is the final human endeavor at designing a system of self-governance, a rule of the people by the people and for the people. Can this menagerie for the fools that we see on display on our television screens be cast in those terms? For sure the people do vote the politicians into office and possibly, this vote is fair. But for populace mired in the vortex of illiteracy and poverty, is casting the vote a meaningful act? This leads us to question the very Holy Grail on which the edifice of representative democracy rests. What purpose do we ask does this spectacle to democracy serves?

To repeat the same action and expect a different result is to epitomize foolishness. If civil rule has to perpetuate then it may be time to look at the mo el itself a d determine how the country can be governed anew. Dysfunctional organizations, management consultants tell us, generally have either a 'peoples' problem or a 'process' problem and mostly a combination of both. To put the very best one has to offer in a flawed process is a recipe to perpetuate disaster. To continue to let the country be governed by the lowest common denominator is at the peril of loosing the very structure we purport to uphold.

Power follows many gradients; one of them is a 'competency gradient'. When encountering incompetence, perpetual mismanagement, perennial corruption, inept civil service, an ineffectual, hapless civil society and a culture of blame it on the other, power will flow in the opposing direction. Contrast this with the military, which even the skeptics would say, is a meritocracy, a learning organization where process trumps people with a premium on planning. Leadership is earned and not bestowed by a will or decree. Welfare of the led is paramount and corruption has been successfully minimized. Given these opposing gradients between plutocratic rule versus military rule, power in Pakistan has flown towards the latter. It is no wonder that since independence the military has led the country for at least fifty percent of the time.

One marvels then why periods of military rule have been unmitigated disasters or the country? He answer is complex, but in simple terms, governing a country is not the military’s core competence and results in an organizational over reach that leads to inevitable overload requiring a system reset. We are currently going through such a period of reset and our military leadership is well aware of the pitfalls of such over reach. Even while facing formidable challenges to national security, they have show exemplary restrain.

We the people need to get our act together and become participants rather an spectators and work towards real change. The status quo is not an option. What would this real change look like? Real change would foremost address the 'process' issue; the 'people' problem would eventually solve itself. The fundamental change in process requires a step but radical reorientation of direction. The strategy of cha is not easy and is difficult to encapsulate, some of its contours are outlined below:

1. Back to the future: Any society that seeks transformational change must understand the raison d’etre of its existence, or what the Germans would call its zeitgeist. This is he societal edifice is built. For Pakistan, it is rooted in its foundational ideology, Islam. Secularists, modernists and many of other elk may say otherwise but the simple truth is that without Islam, Pakistan makes no sense. The people must renew this covenant. This will require a systematic and a multi-tiered approach towards its understanding and developing a normative model that frames the minimum common agenda which bridge's the sectarian divide.

2. Centripetal power and centrifugal control: Real power must be divested to the smallest societal denominator. The country is a federation of different linguistic and ethnic units bound in a common ideological bond. Trivialize this bond or dilute it and you encourage the centripetal forces of dissent and tribalism. Strengthen the bond and you empower the units and bind them together. Real power must be vested in the constituting parts and transferred to the smallest workable units. These units may be reframed to ease administrative concerns. The center maintains the minimum portfolios of defense, monetary policy, finance and foreign policy while the rest is vested with the federating units.

3. Democracy vs Shuracracy: Empowering the people requires a fundamental change in direction form representative government to participatory government, a pyramidal structure where the people participate at every level. This entails a system of self-governance through a mechanism of directly elected bodies (Shurah Councils) of five to seven people for every two to three thousand people. Representatives from these directly governable units percolate up to larger regional and national bodies. The elected are those that have the most to offer and do not seek the position. The Shurah Councils appoint governing bodies at each level that form the executive and report to the respective councils. The governing bodies then are free to choose the best and the brightest to exercise their mandate.

4. Justice at the core: the fundamental of any society has to be governance by law. The Islamic concept of rule of the 'faqihi' (the law giver) is at the core of what we call 'Shurahcracy'. This emanates from the formulation of law by the highest Figh Council and permeates down to the level of the regional and community 'qazi' courts' that dispense justice, based on trials by a jury of peers (Jirga/panchyat). Justice is fair and speedy, a quick appeal process with swift dispensations of punishment. Contrary to popular perception, the punishments prescribed in 'shariah, law are more humane and effective than the current dehumanizing system of incarceration that turns petty thieves into hardened criminals.

5. Economic Equity: Neoclassical and neo-liberal economics, a 19th century construct, is no longer relevant and has failed. Islam envisages an economic system that allows for private enterprise. However, the fundamental economic principal is not maximizing of production (GDP), but equitable distribution of wealth and public welfare. It realizes that perpetual growth; supported by ever increasing consumption is not a sustainable option. It places premium on a mechanism where labor and capital must be integrated and 'need' not 'greed' determines economic growth. As such, growth by itself does not become the primary end for the economy. Money without interest becomes a true means of transaction, reflective of the value of goods and services and is not commoditized. The concept of 'Usher' an approximate ten percent fixed tax on production is not just limited to agriculture production, but is extrapolated to all goods and services produced by a modern society. 'Zakat' a wealth tax of about two and a half percentage points creates equity by taxing the wealthy without strenuous burden. In such a model the 'cooperatives' replace the 'corporation. These cooperatives operate on vertically integrated models with stock ownership by the participants, so that all may benefit from their labor.

6. National Service: The forte of an Islamic polity is for all able-bodied personnel to serve either in the defense of the country or in public service. A system of universal public service is made mandatory for two years for all, on completion of education in their respective fields. This would make available vast human resources of young professionals, teachers, doctors, agricultural experts, etc. working in the 'cooperatives' and other venues of public service. Additionally, it would bridge the rural urban divide and help galvanize the youth, preparing them for joining the work force.

7. Compulsory education for the masses: The control of schools is transferred to communities. It would rest with local independent governing boards comprising of educationists and community members. Such boards would be responsible for their respective school districts. The schools would be financed by local property taxes with matching federal and provincial grants to level the playing field for economically depressed districts. The curriculum should follow an integrated model, stemming from the understanding that all knowledge emanates from the creator and the distinction between the religious and the secular is arbitrary at best and pernicious at worst.

8. Healthcare as a fundamental right: The delivery of sustainable, modern health care in an underdeveloped country with a large predominantly rural and mostly uneducated population poses formidable challenges. They include provider shortage, isolation, long travel distances, scarcity of specialty care, under-resourced infrastructure, and challenges of managing communicable disease and multiple chronic conditions in the older population. Add to these high poverty levels with inability of population to pay and absence of any governmental social security or universal health coverage. This makes it essential to be innovative and come up with out of the box solutions in order to provide comprehensive and coordinated health care. It will require a paradigm shift as to how wellness and disease is visualized; with community-based clinics responsible for the total health of the populace they serve, a home based rather than a hospital centric system with focus on prevention and wellness.

9. Self-reliance and solidarity of the people: In order to be able to maintain true independence it is essential to foster a culture of self-reliance, with a 'can do' attitude. This is the only way to break the cycle of dependence on foreign assistance and create an indigenous sustainable economy with a sociopolitical super structure that underpins it. It would ultimately result in the pursuit of a foreign policy based on Islamic solidarity and regional cooperation. The aim clearly has to be towards a Union of Islamic States on the model of the European Union with a common currency and monetary policy as an endpoint. It will need a phased approach starting with smaller regional cooperative efforts.

10. Truth and Reconciliation: An independent truth and reconciliation commission would function to address past grievances at the state level such as political corruption and other misdemeanors. It would form the bedrock of the human rights agenda as enshrined in the 'Shariah' based on the 'Quran' and the 'Sunnah'. The 'maqasd' (objectives) of shari'ah should form the foundational principles of such restorative justice efforts.

This is an agenda of change, a radical departure from the status quo ante. Structured carefully in a phased manner, it could ground the country socio-politically and change the trajectory of current decline.

The critical question remains unanswered; can a nexus of ingenious elements comprising of members of the civil society and supported by the military be galvanized to get the country rid of the existing Kafkaesque political structure and its current hapless interlocutors?