Reconstructing the Pakistani political systemSeptember 18, 2009
by Asim Salahuddin
In light of the recent crisis in Swat, Buner and Dir it has been highlighted that the problem of militancy in Pakistan has political roots. These groups are demanding an end to the bombing of Pakistani territory by American and Pakistani armed forces and an end of Pakistani support for the American occupation in Afghanistan. If this does not occur then some groups want an end to interference from a Pakistani State which is seen as inept. The current Pakistani system has failed to successfully address these problems amongst others and as a result violence has ensued. There is an urgent need to identify, isolate and correct the flaws which have resulted in this cannibalistic system that is killing its own people if Pakistan is to have any chance of peace and stability.
It has become a cliché to say that Pakistan’s rulers are failures. For years Pakistanis have been seeking a saviour, a person to lead the country from whatever crisis it seems to find itself in at that particular time. Unfortunately for Pakistan the number of crises seems to be many yet the number of leaders able to solve the country’s problems has been precisely zero. The people have put their faith in one personality cult after another. Pakistanis have been big on families and have thrown their support behind these clans, turning the nation into an almost overblown mafia playground where the corrupt rulers plunder the nation’s wealth whilst the common man is reduced to even selling his children or committing suicide due to the desperate levels of poverty. Whilst the nation burns under the threat of militancy and the threat of an American attack, our rulers busy themselves by squabbling over power sharing ratios in Punjab and other petty disputes which paralyse the country.
This situation has come about due the political system in Pakistan establishing a body politic which is based on personality, rather than ideology. This political system, which has produced many of the world’s leading contenders for the most despicable politician, has failed to provide the people with a ruling class that contests elections based upon principles, ideas and values which are in line with the peoples desires and instead has provided politicians who race with each other to loot the country and please Western nations. As a result these political leaders are a law unto themselves and do as they please, caring only about negotiating or outmanoeuvring their rivals for the coveted ‘kursi’.
You have system which is dominated by the rich and corrupt ruling class. The political parties which this elite lead act as pseudo royal dynasties with no real elections taking place even within their own parties. No one for one second can imagine any of the popular parties having different heads unless the head passes away. There is a complete lack of transparency and accountability in these parties as, rather hypocritically, they promise to bring the nation representative and just rule. These ruling elite can count amongst their numbers career criminals and corrupt individuals who instead of being behind bars are occupying positions of high office.
The laws of the country are ostensibly made by parliament. This parliament is packed with a ruling elite that is comprised of industrialists and feudal land owners, as well as those from the religious parties. These groups shape laws and regulations according to their own interests and even the laws which do pass are not applied. You have a system where the head of state, the President, can issue pardons to whom he wills and can waive prosecution against suspected criminals, effectively suspending the rule of law. The system, by law, protects rulers from accountability. According to article 248 of the much vaunted 1973 constitution, the President, Governors and Ministers are exempted from any questioning before court about their responsibilities. Members of parliament are free to make any rule based on majority opinion, so they can make legislation to prevent their own accountability. The National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) is a prime example of this. Cases ranging from murder to looting billions of rupees are exempted from trial in court. As such, the idea of accountability in the present system is non-existent.
As a result, you have a situation where the State has no direction in terms of policy or ideology as its politicians make up whatever laws they want, whenever they want, as it suits their interests. Due to this corruption is rampant at the highest levels of the State, which means you a system that fails to provide for the needs of the masses. As the system fails to provide for the needs of the common man, this leads to some turning to corruption and bribery in order to get by in life. This has resulted in a Pakistan becoming a backward and dysfunctional State, unable to meet the needs of its citizens. Nobody trusts or relies upon the system to fulfil his or her needs. Pakistan has spent the last six decades following the colonial system that it adopted from the British Empire as it left India and has been unable to become a progressive nation. In these 60 years or so Pakistan’s colonially structured society consisting of a feudal class, powerful military and rich industrialists have attempted to establish an order using democracy but this has resulted in failure. Even the periods which were punctuated by military rule were effectively no different, as you had rulers who still made laws as they saw fit according to their own personal agendas. This is aside from the fact that you regularly have the political comedy show of trying to define what the powers of the President should be, such as the ability to appoint the army chief and dismiss parliament. This in itself is another factor which paralyses the state, as the power struggle between a Prime Minister and President serves as a distraction from tending to the real issues that matter to the people.
After understanding this reality, it would be very shallow to say that the problem in Pakistan is simply of corrupt politicians. It would also be incorrect to say that it simply the existence of a feudal class that prevents equitable progress being made by Pakistani society. Indeed corruption and feudalism plays a big role in preventing the State from serving the needs of the people. However it is the political system, with its undefined powers for the President and Prime Minister combined with the ability it affords these rulers to make and change laws as they please which is the true downfall of the nation. The paralysis caused by undefined powers and the ability of self serving interest groups to legislate allows the ruling class to exploit the people, oppress them and live quite literally as unaccountable overlords.
What is needed is a system that removes the ability of interest groups to legislate according to their whims and desires. What is needed is a system which provides clear avenues of accountability of the rulers and establishes for them a clearly set of defined powers which would allow good governance to flourish as power struggles between different rulers are banished. A model of ruling is required where the cult of personality around a ruler is stripped and the ruler is required to judge according to a clear criterion of right and wrong. This criterion should be something which cannot be changed according to his own wishes, those of any other interest group or indeed even an interfering foreign power. Such a system is offered by Islam, in the form of the Khilafah (Caliphate) State.
Islam has provided solutions to life’s problems, for both the individual and society. Whilst its rulings for individuals may be well known, due to the colonial attack of Western nations over the last century or so the societal or State aspect of Islam has become obscured. Indeed Islam has provided a solution as to how to organise the affairs of the State very clearly in the form of the Khilafah. Unlike the current system in operation in Pakistan, the Khilafah state suffers from none of the fundamental flaws that have been discussed so far. It uses a clear criterion of right and wrong, the Sharia, to establish order in society. It has defined powers for the executive and clear lines of accountability for all rulers. Laws cannot be legislated upon a whim, and the role of the ruler is to execute and implement the laws of the Sharia. This leaves the State with clear direction in terms of authority and free to establish the kind of good governance Pakistan desperately needs.
In the Khilafah system, the Khaleefah (Caliph) is the head of State and supreme executive authority. Though the Khaleefah is elected by the people, he is bound to rule by the confines of the Sharia. As such he is not like the current rulers and does not have the ability to create whatever laws he likes. This means that society is guided by a constant, incorruptible criterion which brings stability. There are certain areas where the Khaleefah may choose to adopt laws, but these are only those areas where the Sharia has not defined a ruling in a clear cut way. In situations such as this, the adoption of the Khalifah must be based upon a valid process of Islamic jurisprudence known as Ijtihad. On areas where difference of opinion (ikhtilaaf) is not allowed, and this is the majority of the Sharia, the Khaleefah must implement whatever laws are mandated. This means that the Khaleefah cannot do things like legalise adultery, approve the consumption of alcohol or allow interest based transactions.
On matters of public concern that are of a practical nature, where the Sharia has permitted a range of options to be considered and the public have awareness of the issue, the Khaleefah will be bound to follow the opinion of the majority. For example, if the Khaleefah asks the people of certain areas about whether a road should be made better or a university should be established in that area, then in this situation the Khaleefah will be bound to act upon the opinion of the majority. The precedence for this is from before the Battle of Uhud; the Prophet (saw) and the senior Sahaba (ra) were of the view that the Muslims should fight against the Quraish from within the walls of Madinah. However the majority of the young Sahabah were of the view that they should meet the Quraish in battle outside Madinah. The opinion of the majority was implemented, though it was contrary to that of the Prophet (saw) and senior Sahaba (ra) and the battle took place outside of Madinah, at Uhud.
In matters where only experts are aware, the Khaleefah will consult the experts rather than the general public. After consulting them, the Khaleefah will adopt the opinion based on the strongest evidences. In this the majority view of experts is not a consideration, because the strongest opinion may or may not be held by the majority. So, if there is a shortage of electricity, then after consultation with experts, the Khaleefah will have the right to give the final decision whether to generate electricity from nuclear energy, solar energy or coal-to-oil conversion, using coal to liquids technology. The divine evidence for this is that during the Battle of Badr, the Prophet (saw) relocated the army upon the consultation of only one military expert, Habab al-Mundhir (ra).
The Khaleefah shall only adopt laws that affect the public life, not private life. Hence the Khaleefah will not adopt laws affecting personal worship such as prayer or keeping a beard, as these are personal issues for the individual to decide upon and choose whichever Ijtihad they feel is strongest. In the areas where the Khaleefah has adopted, the adoption must be followed by all people regardless of their own personal opinion or status in society. Abu Bakr as Sadeeq (ra) had a differing view to that of Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra) on the issue of divorce, and during the time when Abu Bakr (ra) was Khaleefah Umar (ra) followed the adoption of Abu Bakr(ra). When Umar (ra) became Khaleefah he exercised his lawful powers to implement the opinion he held originally.
It can be seen then that it does not matter which individual is Khaleefah or what school of thought he belongs to, as for the sake of unity it is obligatory to follow the opinion of the Khaleefah. The Sharia thus ensures that the political system of the Khilafah looks after the needs of the people and ends the issue of personality cults which dominates Pakistan today.
Obedience to the Khaleefah is paramount and must be followed openly in public and in private. Conversely, due to the high level of obedience that is required the Khaleefah must be prepared for a strict level of accountability. The Khaleefah will be accounted not so that he follows any particular opinion on an area of ikthilaaf, but to ensure that whatever opinion he follows is based upon an understanding of Islam and not any other idea. As a mechanism of accountability, you have the Court of Injustices which holds the rulers, including the Khaleefah, to account. Here the common man is able to submit complaints against the rulers, including the Khaleefah, if it is felt that he is not ruling according to Islam. If the Khaleefah is found guilty the judge presiding over the court would be obliged to remove him from office. To ensure that such proceedings run smoothly, the Khaleefah is not allowed to remove the judge that is enacting proceedings against him. In addition to this, you have the elected members of the Consultative Assembly or Majlis-ul-Ummah, men and women of all schools of thought that will account the Khaleefah according to Islam. The Khaleefah would thus also be able to seek the advice of this body when making a decision or before adopting an opinion.
When you have a ruler who is bound to rule by Islam and is being closely monitored and accounted by both the people and state organs, you remove corruption at the highest level of the state and produce a system that is focused on meeting the needs of the people. As corruption at the top vanishes then you have a functioning and transparent system, where people put their faith in the system to solve their problems and follow legal routes to meet their needs. Also, as the powers of the executive are clearly defined, the leadership of the country is free to get on with the job of looking after the affairs of the people rather than engage in power play with rivals or any other struggle with the judiciary, military or civil society.
The Islamic Khilafah model is capable of solving the inherent flaws in the Pakistani political set up. Do the leaders of Pakistan, be they politicians, from the military or civil society, have the courage to put aside their differences and embrace such a model for the sake of the people and their own selves?