Venality
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Saeed Afridi |

THAT Pakistan

Since its very birth, in Pakistan’s political fraternity malleability, power politics and venality have ruled the roost. Whether the one yielding power or the ability to bribe was uniform or ‘sherwaanied’, the rules of the game were pretty clear and, in large part, adhered to. Apart from a few periodic glitches, the trajectory of Pakistan’s political progress has been one of near unambiguous prostitution for power and favor, masquerading as political realism; sometimes crass and uncouth while at other times refined and articulated, but a masquerade none the less.

Governance remained a tug of war between the military and the executive while the Civil-Military-Balance became the only prism to view Pakistan

If the largely elitist politicians were defined by venality they had by no means cornered the market. Pakistan’s courts have been akin to a judicial brothel where lady justice was prostituted, proportionate to the wealth, status, and power of the client. This is by no means unusual in post-colonial societies where inherited judiciaries were accustomed to give colonial extraction legal cover; a transactional ethos entrenched as the culture. Pakistan’s judiciary has been a defanged and domesticated pet, effectively ceding its sphere of influence to the dominant dictator, civilian or military.

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To be fair, the judiciary was not the only institution in such a state. The bureaucracy is all but a formality in the executive’s decision making. Its primary responsibility appears to be the blind, unquestionable and unobtrusive adherence to the executive’s whims and wishes; largely a glorified army of the executive’s servants. Here too the bureaucracy is not really to blame. Every government department irrespective of its remit was essentially rendered impotent before the executive by the 1973 Constitution drafted, not surprisingly, at the behest of an overbearing and ambitious executive.

The colonial executive relied on the rhetoric of a public mandate rather than true democratic legitimacy and the military relied on its institutional strength

There is an exception. The only institution that is constitutionally independent in its internal workings and has an effective structure largely immune from the executive’s interference is the military. In an institutional architecture that effectively reduces Pakistan to a Kingdom of the executive, the military is the odd one out; an institution that is cohesive, insular, disciplined and powerful, with a thirst to wield power.

Constitutionally brothelised, the bureaucracy and judiciary turned tricks for the executive during democratic governments and submissive to the military, under a spasmodic decade of direct military rule and two decades of indirect hybrid rule. Within the three decades of civilian democratic rule, the military’s footprint in choosing the government was unmistakeable.

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The military had been adept at electoral manipulation, in the name of national security, with elections delivered, signed and literally sealed for executives who were its ideological children. Manufacturing ‘heavy mandate’ governments contrary to perceived popularity had become a norm, adequately reflecting the military’s attitude towards the peoples’ right to vote.

The scales tilted towards whichever of two managed to yield their power, influence or sway over the judiciary and bureaucracy

In theory, the Constitution’s form affords the people the right to vote and choose their representatives. In practice, they have almost no say in governance. Pakistan’s parliamentarians are largely its elite; urban wealthy or colonialism’s feudal remnants. In substance, the public does not elect representatives but, in periodically interrupted and manipulated rituals, chooses their rulers.

Their will has little bearing on governance where patronage politics prevails. Pakistan’s middle class, co-opted into patronage and rent-seeking, has historically been an aloof spectator in the democratic process, voluntarily forgoing its right to vote and simply acquiescing to various Military or Civilian dictators.

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The judiciary, bureaucracy and middle class ceded their sphere of influence to either the executive or the military thus creating a governance binary referred to in Pakistan as the Civil- Balance

The judiciary, bureaucracy and middle class ceded their sphere of influence to either the executive or the military thus creating a governance binary referred to in Pakistan as the Civil- Balance. The scales tilted towards whichever of two managed to yield their power, influence or sway over the judiciary and bureaucracy.

The colonial executive relied on the rhetoric of a public mandate rather than true democratic legitimacy and the military relied on its institutional strength. Governance remained a tug of war between the military and the executive while the Civil-Military-Balance became the only prism to view Pakistan.

(This piece is the first part of series of articles under the same title)

The writer is a former management consultant focusing on the Energy Industry and writes on Energy Security and the Politics of Energy Resources. He is conducting research related to the role of Central Asia’s energy resources in China’s Energy Security at the University of Westminster, UK. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

Saeed Afridi is a former management consultant focusing on the Energy Industry and writes on Energy Security and the Politics of Energy Resources. He is conducting research related to the role of Central Asia’s energy resources in China’s Energy Security at the University of Westminster, UK.

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