Pakistan– a Machiavellian State?

November 22, 2017

Machiavellianism is a crucial political doctrine associated with the Sixteenth Century Italian political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli. Essentially based on the principle “the end justifies the means,” this doctrine strongly advocates employing any tactic or instrument while endeavouring to achieve a superior or higher objective. Therefore, the characteristic subordination of the means to an end is considered to be a hallmark of the Machiavellian art of statecraft. This Machiavellian principle has been instrumental in articulating and consolidating authoritarian and despotic regimes all over the world for a long time. At present, in Pakistan, this doctrine also seems to have deeply penetrated the body politic. People at the helm of state affairs are following the Machiavellian tactics. As a matter of fact, it has played a pivotal role in the entire formulation and evolution of the infamous ‘doctrine of necessity’ in the country.

Since independence, we have been artfully adding some political symbols to our national discourse. Amongst them, the ‘state’ and ‘democracy’ are the most significant. Military dictators have pretended to protect the former while the democratic leaders often tended to nourish the latter. Politicos have constantly been labeling the political systems like aristocracy, plutocracy, and oligarchy as democracy. In the absence of any healthy political culture, most of the political parties are being run in an authoritarian and arbitrary fashion. Similarly, on the pretext of ‘saving the state,’ all extra-constitutional steps have been validated and elected representatives repeatedly shown the door. Over a period, the domain of national security has significantly expanded in Pakistan. So, in the name of ‘national security,’ the military has been trying to exercise control over the matters that once were within the exclusive domain of the civilian government.

PTI Chairman Imran Khan entered politics by raising the slogan of ‘change.’ But he instantly fell prey to the preachings of Machiavelli. He has observably transformed from a democratic Fabian into a radical revolutionary. PTI has diligently identified the governance model of Sharif family a cause of all maladies in the democratic culture of Pakistan. It holds Nawaz Sharif responsible for the current miserable state of affairs in the country. Therefore, this political party looks convinced in removing Nawaz Sharif from the political landscape by hook or by crook. To achieve this ‘noble political goal,’ PTI considers itself justified to adopt any political strategy. Therefore, to make NS step down, it can join hands with PAT to hold a long march. It can attack Parliament and other premier state buildings. It can stage a 126-day sit-in in Islamabad. It can demand a resignation from the serving PM on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. It can ask the so-called Third Umpire to intervene. And finally, it can announce a plan to ‘lockdown’ Islamabad.

The PTI’s politics of agitation has somehow given rise to a culture of staging sit-in in the country. For the last two weeks, the activists of a religious movement, Tahreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR), has paralyzed Islamabad through holding a sit-in on the city’s arterial road on the pretext of preserving the honour of The Prophet (PBUH). They are demanding the removal of Federal Law Minister. Pakistan is predominantly a Muslim country where there is no ostensible threat to the Islamic culture and values. However, TLYR is currently skeptical about the incumbent government’s sincerity towards preserving the blasphemy laws in the country. Therefore, perceiving a potential threat to the ‘finality of prophet-hood,’ they are convinced to adopt any tactic to mount pressure on the government, including blocking the capital city’s most important entry point.

At present, primarily fueled by the Machiavellian tactics, there is also a tug of war among essential state institutions in Pakistan. At the moment, PML-N is seeing a nexus between the military establishment and the superior judiciary. The disgruntled Nawaz Sharif is publicly criticizing both institutions for hatching a conspiracy against him. Similarly, the mass media in Pakistan has also switched over to the ideological journalism’ after abandoning the recognized principles of media ethics, professionalism and objectivity. Thus, the media is divided between the pro-government and anti-government segments.

The embattled PML-N has actively evolved its new political strategy which just revolves around its leader Nawaz Sharif. It considers NS the sole political arbiter who only can promote democracy and democratic institutions in the country. Now, retaining the political relevance of NS in Pakistan is the most crucial task for PML-N. Therefore, to reach this superior goal, the ruling party looks determined to exploit all the potential state resources thoroughly. All the PML-N ministers, including the prime minister, are busy in establishing their unqualified loyalty towards its troubled leader. They still look towards NS for making crucial policy decisions. NS is still enjoying the security protocol reserved for the prime minister. The Parliament is also trying to introduce some constitutional and legal amendments to make NS politically active and relevant in the country once again.

Quite worryingly, now the country’s justice system is also not immune to the Machiavellian tendencies. Just like PTI, the superior judiciary, too, looks convinced that NS is responsible for Pakistan’s underlying political woes. Therefore, there is a perception that it is all set to punish the ‘godfather’ and his ‘Sicilian mafia.’ In the recent Panama case, we just saw how a civil petition resulted in initiating some lengthy criminal proceedings in the SC, making three generations of Sharif family accountable. The highest appellate court in the country instantly assumed the responsibility of a trial court and the ECP simultaneously. The SC bench chose to evolve a novel legal procedure to disqualify NS on flimsy legal grounds while relying on controversial constitutional provisions. While doing this, it also looked least bothered about the things like ‘fair trial’ and ‘due process.’ Moreover, an institution which is supposed to be a neutral judicial arbiter is now performing the executive function of monitoring the accountability process in the country. In fact, the framers of the Constitution incorporated the Article 184(3) to enable the SC to play a proactive role in protecting the fundamental rights of the citizens. But regrettably, this constitutional provision is now being used to disqualify the parliamentarians.

The apex court has concluded the Panama case, and its verdict has also largely been implemented. Therefore this case is now part of our politico-constitutional history. Now only time will show whether it would help establish the rule of law in Pakistan or it would simply be remembered as a ‘judicial coup.’ However, it is a bitter fact that our superior courts have been punishing the politicos for not acting by the book while allowing the military dictators to violate, suspend and even amend the ‘Supreme Book’- the Constitution.

At present, a considerable confrontation among the powerful institutions of the state can be observed. While Pakistan is facing some grave internal and external challenges, the authority and legitimacy of the federal government are continuously diluting. The state’s writ over its subjects and territories is also gradually fading. The plight and helplessness of the federal government in the wake of TLYR’s sit-in in Islamabad just speak volumes about it. It is quite unfortunate that at the time when a harmonious relationship among the country’s key institutions is desirable, state institutions are busy in trying to humiliate each through Bait Bazi (poetry).

Indeed, no one can deny the importance and a need for the accountability, electoral transparency, and democracy in the country. However, in the guise of achieving these ‘superior objectives,’ it is deplorable to articulate and pursue one’s selfish personal agenda. It is not always justifiable to let any premier objective whatsoever be the sole determiner of the means. There should indeed be some legal and moral considerations too. I believe no state or society can flourish while adhering to the Machiavellianism.