Machiavelli is a well known historical figure and his book The Prince written in 1513 but published 5 years after his death in 1532 is considered an all time classic. His whole life was spent in Florence, now in Italy, but then an independent principality, one of the many city states which were engaged in continuous intrigues within and conflicts without. The book, written for the Medici family, who were the rulers of Florence, was meant to be a guide for the Prince to maintain his power and to keep him in power. But in spite of the fact that it was written for an age of absolute power and unscrupulous rulers, its advice to the prince how to govern has been condemned as immoral and unethical. However, since our politics resembles that of the Florence of 16th century, it would be appropriate to reproduce some excerpts from The Prince to see the extent of similarities between the Florence of that time and Pakistan of today. The theories expounded in The Prince describe the methods that an aspiring prince can use to acquire the throne, or an existing prince can use to maintain his reign. Machiavelli advises, "...a wise prince should establish himself on that which is in his own control and not in that of others; he must endeavour to avoid is best to be both feared and loved; however, if one cannot be both it is better to be feared than loved." He also believes that "rule by force rather than by law" should be the way of the prince. Hence every action that is taken by the prince to attain that objective, whether lawful or not, is justified in the eyes of Machievelli. That is exactly what our last Prince believed in and practised during more than eight years of his rule. For example, whenever it suited him he abrogated, suspended or mutilated the constitution and then with as much ease retorted it. He made promises to the nation in public speeches then broke them. He tried to use his powers as the president and the COAS to unlawfully remove the CJP and when that attempt failed, he filed a reference and when that too failed, he declared an Emergency, suspended the constitution and deposed the CJ and all others who refused to take the oath under the PCO. Similarly, during his rule, more than 500 Pakistanis were unlawfully abducted and handed over to the US for a certain sum of money to be questioned in the Guantanamo Bay or for the purpose of "rendition". Concerning the behaviour of a prince toward his subjects, Machiavelli writes: since there are many possible qualities that a prince can be said to possess, he must not be overly concerned about having all the good ones. A prince may be perceived to be merciful, faithful, humane, frank, and religious, but he should only seem to have these qualities. A prince cannot truly have these qualities because at times it is necessary to act against them. "Although a bad reputation should be avoided, this is not crucial in maintaining power. The only ethic that matters is one that is beneficial to the prince in dealing with the concerns of his state." So it seems true of our many Princes, the only ethics that mattered to them was one that was beneficial to them in dealing with the concerns of the state. That being the case it is not very difficult to understand the meaning of what our Prince said about the sanctity of agreements, "They are not Holy Quran or Hadiths that they cannot changed." Now, as some of us have been born, brought up and are actually living in the 21st century, the following questions come to mind. Can agreements, especially when written, signed and sealed be changed unilaterally, without the consent of the other party? The Machavellian answer would be, yes of course, if it suits the purpose of the prince to do so. You may ask him, then what about the sanctity of the contracts, agreements etc which has always been and is still honoured universally by all nations and in all courts of law? Machiavelli's answer would be, "yes agreements have a certain sanctity but only if they serve the interest of the Prince." How can you say that? You may ask. His answer would be, well because the interest of the Prince and that of the state being the same, that of the former also becomes that of the latter, and since national interest takes precedence over all else, the interest of the prince takes precedence over all else. Those from the present day may ask, is it right to sign an agreement when there is no intention to honour it? Machiaveli's answer would perhaps be, "normally no, but if the prince is forced to accept the terms of an agreement which does not suit him, then it would not be wrong for him to sign the contract with the intention of not honouring it." But would that not be tantamount to lying? Machiavelli's answer would be, "well may be, but everything is fair in war and politics?" You may then ask, what will be the impact of such a norm of behaviour if every one began to follow the example of the prince? His answer would be that "everyone should not behave like a prince." What an irony that even in 2008 our leaders are allowed to behave like the Florentine princes of 1500 AD. A greater irony is that our Chaudhris, Khans and the Maulanas are always ready to aid and abet the Prince, military or civil, in ruling by force rather than by law. And that in spite of the fact that they have been repeatedly deceived by the Prince and have felt sorry afterwards for having fallen in his trap. It was the 17th Amendment passed with the support of the MMA in 2002 that kept our last military Prince in power for so many years. And it is again the same people who are about to elect a Machiavellian Prince as the President of Pakistan. One who would wield absolute power as the president, the prime minister, and the governor of all the four provinces of Pakistan. They do not seem to know or do not care to remember the dictum that "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." And that is the time when the military prince strikes and takes over. The people celebrate his departure and distribute sweets while he prepares to hang, to imprison, or to deport the civilian prince in disgrace. Will it be any different this time? It does not look like it unless the Khans, the Maulanas and the Chaudhris change their mind on September 6 and help to nurture the seed of rule of law planted by CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry and so far watered by the lawyers and members of civil society. It is seminal time for Pakistan and the decisions of the key players must not be made on ethnic, parochial or ideological basis. The writer is a former ambassador E-mail: