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Pakistan’s Governance and the Agenda for Reform: A Critical Analysis

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Zohaib Tariq

The founders of Pakistan envisioned an Islamic democratic welfare state. After seventy-six years of independence, we are still categorized as a non-democratic and ungovernable state globally. Many aspects of democracy and democratic culture have to be materialized in this society. Things like decentralization, devolution, separation of power of institutions, accountability, transparency, right to information, and right to peaceful assembly are basic components of a functioning, vibrant democracy. At the same time, none of them are truly present today in our society. There are draconian laws, such as section 144, which is implemented at the will of the deputy commissioner to block peaceful assembly. 

Then, there are no mechanisms to protect whistleblowers in case of malpractices, abuse of power, or corruption. There is no or less legalization of white-collar crimes and tax evasion. The judiciary is unchecked and enjoys absolute power, as seen in the past few years with cases of judicial activism; then, there is religious and secular extremism in the society, which creates law and order situations every now and then. So, all of these matters need the attention of stakeholders. Starting with the devolution of power, the country needs to institutionalize a strong local government system. There needs to be a commitment of district nazims, tehsil nazims, and other intelligentsia of each tehsil and district, which should have the authority to write ACRs of DPOs, SDPOs, ACs, and DCs. This is how a public oversight committee on police will establish accountability and transparency and keep it under check, unlike today, where these ACRs are made by their own “patti bhai.” 

Similarly, coming judicial reforms are much needed. There should be a jury system in courts like the one in Western states. The jury should consist of religious scholars, journalists, and faculty of universities or colleges to keep judges under check. Moreover, the security of judges should be handed over to FIA or IB so there is no conflict of interest between the police department and the justice department in matters pertaining to criminal law. Coming toward civil liberties, the right to impose section 144 should be taken away from the deputy commissioner and should be at the discretion of district courts on the application of district administration, where the party seeking to peacefully assemble shall also be heard. This colonial legacy to impose section 144 to curb the right to peaceful assembly is unjustifiable and regressive. Moreover, to curb religious extremism, all stakeholders need to be taken on board to sign a charter of religion. The common religious figures should be promoted, and controversial ones should not. Similarly, there should be a consensus on what constitutes blasphemy and what not to control mob violence. 

Furthermore, it is a hadith of our beloved Prophet SAW; he said, “The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) cursed the one who gives a bribe and the one who takes it.” So, to control all sought institutional corruption, legislation of whistleblowers needs to be incorporated, and it should be financially compensated with the recovery of illegitimate assets or money. To make sure he/she is not coerced to change his/her statement regarding revelations of corruption practices, he should have a right to reveal it directly to the courts instead of in front of the police. 

Last but not least, electoral reforms are also in need of time. With the alleged discrepancies and irregularities in forms 45 and 47 in recent elections, a lot has to be done about it. With the consensus of all stakeholders, electronic voting and appointments of judicial officials as DROs and ROs are required. Election commission tribunals also need to be revisited. The period of cases on tribunals needs to be reconsidered to lessen the time. 

Critical Evaluation:

Pakistan, envisioned as an Islamic democratic welfare state at its inception, faces the challenge of living up to this ideal after 76 years of independence. Despite its categorization as a non-democratic state globally, there lies a path towards a more vibrant and functional democracy. This path requires addressing critical issues and implementing a comprehensive reform agenda.

Strengthening Democratic Institutions:

The cornerstones of a functioning democracy – decentralization, devolution of power, separation of powers, and robust checks and balances – are currently lacking in Pakistan. Centralized power, coupled with limited transparency and accountability, hinders the effectiveness of governance. Dismantling draconian laws like Section 144, which stifles peaceful assembly, and enacting mechanisms to protect whistleblowers are crucial steps toward fostering transparency and building public trust.

Enhancing Judicial System and Law Enforcement:

The unchecked power of the judiciary and lack of accountability within law enforcement raises concerns. Implementing a jury system involving scholars, journalists, and academicians alongside judges can provide a more balanced approach to decision-making. Additionally, entrusting judicial security to independent agencies like the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) or the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) can minimize potential conflicts of interest with the police.

Promoting Religious Harmony and Civil Liberties:

Religious extremism and its detrimental effects on law and order necessitate decisive action. Achieving consensus through a “charter of religion” involving respected religious figures can promote interfaith dialogue and moderate religious discourse. Moreover, establishing clear parameters for blasphemy can help curb mob violence and protect individual liberties.

Combating Corruption and Electoral Malpractices:

Corruption remains a significant roadblock to progress. Enacting comprehensive whistleblower legislation with financial incentives and guaranteed protection from coercion is essential to encourage individuals to report corruption. Additionally, addressing concerns raised regarding discrepancies in election forms like 45 and 47 necessitates electoral reform. Implementing electronic voting, appointing judicial officials to oversee elections, and reassessing the timeframe for resolving tribunal election disputes can contribute to a fairer and more transparent electoral process.

Concludingly, achieving the vision of a democratic and prosperous Pakistan demands a concerted effort toward comprehensive reform. Pakistan can embark on a brighter future by strengthening institutions, promoting transparency and accountability, and fostering religious harmony. This journey requires the active participation of all stakeholders, including the government, civil society, and the public, to implement these crucial reforms effectively.

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