Politics of Pakistan

By: Abdul Rasool Syed

Where character does not matter

“How do we know who to chose?” This was a question posed to a great Greek philosopher and a political sage Plato. He answered that rulers should be chosen according to their character – their honesty, reliability, probity, disinterestedness, sense of justice and moral uprightness. “The community suffers nothing very terrible if its cobblers are bad and become degenerate and pretentious,” he wrote in his momentous book ‘The Republic’, “but if the guardians of the laws and the state, who alone have the opportunity to bring it good government and prosperity, became a mere sham, then clearly the community is completely ruined.”

“It is our character that supports the promise of future,” wrote another famous writer William Bennet, the author of the bestselling Book of Virtues, “far more than particular government programme or policies. The president is the symbol of who the people of the United States are. He is the person who stands for us in the eyes of the world and the eyes of our children.”

In a president character is everything,” Peggy Noonan wrote in her assessment of Ronald Reagan. “A president does not have to be brilliant. Harry Truman was not brilliant but he helped save Western Europe from Stalin. He does not have to be clever, you can hire clever … [b]ut you cannot rent a strong moral sense. You can’t acquire it in the presidency. You carry it with you.”

Islam also lays great emphasis on mastering the good character. Our beloved Prophet (PBUH) earned the title of sadiq (truthful) and ameen (trustworthy) owing to his exemplary character. He is reported to have said: “Allah the Sublime has sent me as an apostle so that I may demonstrate the perfection of character, refinement of manners and superiority of behaviour.” In another narration, he (PBUH) said: “The best among you are those who have the best manners and character.”

Moreover, the clauses of the Constitution of Pakistan, which pertain to the qualification of a candidate aspiring to be a legislator, require that such a person should be a person of good character. These clauses are reproduced hereunder:

Article 62(1)(d) he is of good character and is not commonly known as one who violates Islamic Injunctions;

Article 62(1)(e) he has adequate knowledge of Islamic teachings and practices obligatory duties prescribed by Islam as well as abstains from major sins;

Article 62(1)(f) he is sagacious, righteous, non-profligate, honest and ameen, there being no declaration to the contrary by a court of law;

Abovementioned clauses of the Constitution serve as a prime tool to purge the politics of evil forces and debar the corrupt, unscrupulous, unprincipled and characterless people to be part of the sacrosanct parliament of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Sadly, character in Pakistani politics seems to have no value. Our self-centred politicians have made it a non-issue. The campaign for General Election 2018 vividly suggests that character is no longer a touchstone here in Pakistan to be qualified as a member of a legislative assembly.

It was really a heart-wrenching experience to observe the mechanism of awarding tickets adopted by almost all mainstream political parties of Pakistan. In this process of paramount importance, the character of the candidate did not come under any question; only the ability to win the polls – no matter through fair or unfair means – became the sole criterion for selection. Consequently, the same clique of ugly and tainted faces begrimed with corruption and moral decadence ganged up to occupy their positions in the august house (parliament) yet again.

Surprisingly, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), a party that claims to be a flag-bearer of change, a strong opponent of the parties of status quo and a hope of desperate and underprivileged populace, following the footprints of its rivals (the status-quo parties) also surrendered to the so-called ‘electables’. PTI, with due apologies, has now turned into a garbage collection unit that is collecting the trash from all other political parties and that too without questioning their character and competence. Defectors, therefore, find in it a golden opportunity to conveniently get a clean chit of all their past wrongdoings.

There is a special phrase for these ‘lotas’ (political turncoats) in Serbian language. Such people are pigeonholed as “tumbler pigeons,” after a breed of pigeons that perform dazzling flips and somersaults while flying. The pigeons can’t help themselves. They are bred for this kind of behaviour over many generations. But when our politicians defect, they know exactly what they are doing and why they are doing it. It is quite disgusting. Unfortunately, we as a nation have accepted this defection as a norm of the day. No stigma is attached to it. That’s why there is hardly any hullabaloo in our country on this blatant shift of loyalties.

Imran Khan, the PTI chief, when questioned about his tilt toward the electables, brazenly said that it was a compulsion. His detractors now ask that if he had to carry this trash with him, then why he staged a mammoth 126-day sit-in in Islamabad and delivered lengthy sermons to sensitize the people about the importance of character in politics. Most people have now started to believe that Imran Khan has reneged on his words and like all of his other moves, has taken a U-turn once again.

His critics also question: how dirt can be cleansed with dirt? Suppose, the PTI carries the day on 25th July and holds the reins of the country, IK will have no option but to choose his cabinet from amongst the available pool of the so-called electables that are, undoubtedly, the manipulators of the ballot, and practitioners of the art of grand larceny and plunder. And, if it happens, the dream of a corruption-free Pakistan ruled by men of enviable character will remain elusive as ever and the hopes attached to PTI to bring about a change and reform the system would be swept away by the tsunami of the electables.

While embracing the electables, IK also failed to realize its repercussions at the constituency level. People viewed him as deus ex machina, a messiah who will help them get rid of the chronic rule of the feudal lords, peers and tribal chieftains who kept them subjugated since long and exploited them for their vested interests. But to their dismay, all their hopes were dashed since the same syndicate of oppressors, goons and exploiters have got the representation of the PTI, a party which many expected would redress their socioeconomic grievances and aid them to break the shackles of age-old slavery.

Besides, political cognoscenti in particular, and the public in general, also raised eyebrows on the value of assets as declared by various politicians. They, resorting to utter mendacity, have deliberately undervalued their assets to an extent that is, for sure, an antithesis to their lavish lifestyles. Some of them don’t own vehicles while some others are debtors to their siblings and other kith and kin. Isn’t it a joke with the nation? Certainly, it is! But, who cares? The nonchalance of the Election Commission of Pakistan and other concerned institutions is also questionable.

Furthermore, the voting turnout has never been impressive in the electoral history of Pakistan. The average voter turnout between the 1970 and 2013 elections has been around 47 percent. The highest average voter turnout of 64 percent was recorded during the first general elections in 1970. It reflects that nearly half of the eligible voters don’t turn up on polling day to exercise their right to vote. The principal reason behind this absenteeism is that people consider casting a ballot only a futile exercise; because of the belief that one person’s vote cannot make any considerable difference to the outcome. They further contend that the polls open the doors of the corridors of power for the same breed of tried-and-tested politicians who are the embodiment of financial and moral turpitude.

In the light of the above discussion, one can conclude that in the July 2018 election, the strategy to win by hook or by crook seemed more important for parties than the evaluation of the character of an aspirant. To them, the character does not matter but the ability of the candidate to marshal and manipulate the polls does. This electoral strategy employed by the so-called champions of change to win the election cannot be condoned. “Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character.” says H. Norman Schwarzkopf, “[b]ut if you must be without one, be without strategy”. Therefore, whatever the circumstances may be, the character should always be upheld.

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