Revisiting Our Social Contract

Revisiting Social Contract

The total fiasco of the existing order implicates the drawing up of a new “Social Contract” in Pakistan to guarantee the provision of the inviolable human rights in letter and spirit.

The theory of social contract first appeared during the 17th century when England, or to be more general, Europe was faced with the crisis of legitimacy of government to provide an answer to the question of authority of the ruler, redefine his relations with his subjects, and to reiterate his covenant to afford security to life, liberty and property of the latter.

Starting with the premise of the state of nature, the social contractualists like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and JJ Rousseau advanced their respective arguments, significantly at odds with one another, yet they all agreed upon the ultimate end of the contract, i.e., protection of person, respect and belongings of subjects.

Thus, the very idea of the state armed with the rod of authority is predicated on its vital function of ensuring peace and tranquillity, rule of law, equitable sources of livelihood, and liberties of life, property and initiative against any odds.

So, in our case, where does the social contract stand in its application?

The masses gathered under the leadership of Quaid-e-Azam toward the realization of a separate Muslim majority state to which they would pledge their allegiance, and which, in return, would measure up to their aspirations. Needless to say, laying the groundwork for the contract took our political elite as many as nine years until a constitution, albeit thin and fractured, was promulgated — only to vanish within a period of less than three years. Following it, the country saw the ushering in of a regime which, though superfluously wore the façade of being popular, was not amenable to the other party to the contract, i.e., the public, on which it magisterially thrust its contract, that is, the Constitution of 1962. Soon it lapsed into limbo with its master, and the country was plunged into a shambolic state of civil war which ultimately culminated in the secession of one wing of the country into the state of Bangladesh.

The dejected and demoralized people of the ‘New Pakistan’ were tied up anew to a fresh contract, viz. the Constitution of 1973 which provided, under a broad consensus, for the provisions the people of Pakistan had long longed for, that is, a charter of fundamental rights, place of Islam in statecraft, and the regional autonomy. However, the masses were left aghast at the futility of the contract on account of the lack of genuine will and selfishness on the part of the politicians to abide by it.

This prodded the country into the longest and the bleakest era of a political farce of which the fraud scheme of Islamisation, and intermittent pseudo-democratic regimes formed the glaring contours.

With disappearance of Musharraf’s one-man show of “Enlightened Moderation” regime, the passage of 18th Amendment restoring the Constitution to its pristine form, and democracy holding field, the people’s quest for an effective, and responsive political order is still on.

Among our failures galore as a state and a nation is our entanglement in the identity crisis; we have not been able even to tally our regional loyalties, ideological and national aspirations, and individual and national interests to work out a broad national identity. The laxity or unwillingness of the state to weld the units into a compact and cohesive federation is yet another instance of its ‘grand’ failure. Instead, the state’s unwarranted dabbling in imposing uniformity, and its own version of national narrative based on narrow outlook, disingenuous stories, and false assertions have left the country tottering.

Margaret Thatcher once remarked: “Democracy is not just setting up elections. It is a way of life. Only then is it irreversible.” Contrarily, in our case, democracy is deemed beginning and ending with the holding of polls and casting of ballots. Even the election melodrama staged after every five years is nothing but a dupe to switch over the reins of government from one dynasty or party to another in the absence of values of transparency, fair play, a stable and sound political culture, visionary leadership, democratic political parties, and a responsible electorate. Another technical dilemma rendering our democracy impotent is the ‘political capital’ which invariably resides in the land-owning class or business tycoons with big commercial enterprises. Therefore, the system affords no way to a common man to exercise his say in the mainstream decision-making process.

Creating conditions conducive to the safety of people’s life, liberty and property is the prime end a state is supposed to serve. However, our state has been impotent to achieve this end as well as to rid us of the scourge of terrorism and extremism. Moreover, over 50% of the Pakistanis are living a wretched life below the poverty line, unemployment is rampant than ever before, law and order situation has gone simply beyond the control of the state, economy is faltering, social sector is in a disarray, and the gulf between the haves and have-nots has widened like never before and political elites brazenly focus only the agenda of power and turf and remain oblivious to the sufferings of the ordinary Pakistanis. The prices of day-to-day commodities have gone beyond the reach of a working man to subsist. Electricity load-shedding now supplemented by gas outages has further added to the miseries of the masses.

Another factor necessitating the making up of the contract anew is the sorry state of rule of law in the country. It is a truism that while rule of law can exist without democracy, democracy devoid of the application of rule of law is meaningless. Our police and judicial system is alarmingly in a state of topsy-turvyness. The fact remains that the law, which puts the poor behind the bars for a minor breach, affords an easy passage to the rich to go scot free. To get justice, an average Pakistani has to pay through the nose besides lingering around courts for years to get litigations disposed of. Corruption has become so embedded in the innermost layers of our state institutions that for even getting one’s particulars attested, one is supposed to grease the palms of the concerned persons.

The social contract theory stipulated that upon the ruler’s breaking the covenant, that is, not bringing peace and conditions of life conducive to the contracting party, the latter would be completely within its rights to depose it at any time, and install another ruler. Since the change of rulers so often takes place in Pakistan, what we need is a fundamental overhaul of the extant order. We opted for the Westminster parliamentary setup after the fashion of our former master i.e. Great Britain, without taking stock of our internal conditions, feudal mode of society, values, political culture and tastes of people. What is important is not ‘what is best’, rather, what gets along with us best. It is high time our political elite readjusted the existing order, reassessed their priorities, and finally revisited the social contract to make it viable and responsive to live up to the popular aspirations instead of staying rosy on paper only.

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