Power overlaps lead to failing state of governance in Pakistan

Fakir Syed Aijazuddin
Fakir Syed Aijazuddin

Pakistan’s governance has become a pattern of overlapping circles of self-interest. Each is driven by an ambitious nucleus that searches for the path of least resistance.

Government departments take decisions on matters beyond their domain. Ministries overstep boundaries defined in the Rules of Business. Advisors and Special Assistants to the PM / CMs squabble with their counterpart Ministers over equivalence. Ministers battle over satrapies.

Courts trump each other over jurisdiction and superior authority. Serving civil servants cock a snook at district judges. NAB, the bloodhound that pursued its accused with ferocity, suddenly finds itself the quarry, hounded by the FIA.

A retired Supreme Court Chief Justice who, while bewigged, castigated hospital administrators, inspected mental institutions, unearthed unfilled graveyards, promoted dams, chastised innocent victims of his hubris, is being forced to defend himself. His lordship knows the adage: ‘A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.’

The prime minister announces that he will visit Karachi after a hiatus of many months to resolve its transport problems, leaving the political stand-off between the PTI-Centre and PPP-Sindh to simmer.

Governance is in free fall, a free for all in which everyone deems himself an expert in every job other than his own.

There was a time when our Constitution, our Laws and the Rules of Business were sacrosanct. Like Rider Haggard’s all-powerful heroine in his novel She, each had to be obeyed.

Today, the bureaucracy recognises no limits, no authority other than its own. The judiciary overflows into every domain and at every level. The legislature acts with one eye on the barrel and the other on the ballot box.

Because the PTI is determined not to be relegated to the opposition, it is coercing the ECP into becoming its handmaiden. It must know that world-wide every Election Commission is by definition polyandrous. It is there for all political parties.

The media which used to tiptoe within the bounds of defensible propriety, has become a barking Cerberus – the guardian dog of the Underworld – a beast with multiple heads, with ‘snakes protruding from every part of its body’.

A recent, blatant appropriation of purpose has been the flying 10-day visit made in October to various European capitals by a multi-national provincial governor. Accompanied by an upstart Advisor, he flew in and out of Brussels where he argued our case for the extension of GSP Plus preferential trade status without the Commerce ministry, to Austria and Rome where he raised the Kashmir issue and also exhorted Overseas Pakistanis to vote electronically for the PTI in the next general election.

He stopped overnight in Budapest to invite the Hungarian PM to attend the exhibition in Lahore of paintings of primarily Sikh personages by the 19th century Hungarian artist August Schoefft. (These have been restored with commendable effort and endurance by five young Hungarian specialists.) Neither the Foreign Office nor the Ministry of Culture nor the Dept. of Archaeology which owns the paintings was part of the Governor’s Hermes-winged troupe.

Over the past four years, assiduous efforts were made by concerned historians, the Bank of Punjab which funded the restoration project, and the Hungarian government (for whom Schoefft has become a national icon) to open the exhibition of Schoefft’s restored works on 14th November, the 180th anniversary of Schoefft’s arrival in the Punjab.

Instead, the project was hijacked by gubernatorial vanity. From a celebration of a talented Hungarian’s artistry, it was converted into a shoddy billboard of vainglorious publicity, aimed at humouring the Sikh diaspora and impressing Banigala. Schoefft would have understood. His career was similarly blighted by such philistines.

In Dubai, the Pakistan pavilion in Expo 2020 –  designed as a showcase of Pakistani culture –  promised panel discussions by experts. Scholars who had been invited by the Punjab Government waited for their visas. These arrived too late to permit travel. A zoom talk was hurriedly disorganised before a sparse rent-a-crowd audience. Bureaucrats and those with connections to the transmission lines of power experienced no difficulty in reaching Dubai, neither apparently did their shopaholic wives.

Their ingenuity reminds one of the advice given by a wise bureaucrat to a cub probationer: ‘One must so align one’s own interests with those of the institution one serves that they become practically indistinguishable.’

Whoever aspires to win the next election – whether aided, assisted or self-supported – should ask themselves whether they are really keen on governing the ungovernable. Do they really want to return to a can of worms content on remaining worms?

To some cynics, it is just a matter of time before the Edhi Foundation will be called upon to administer the last rites to the failing state of governance in Pakistan.

Fakir S Aijazuddin is a noted thinker and columnist of Pakistan