All governments are expected to provide security and services to its citizens. Elected governments, more so.

Citizens pay taxes to provide funds for the administration to undertake tasks and do its duty. ‘No taxation without representation’ is a well-known axiom.

Every country has a binding book of guidance for the state, the government and the people in the shape of the Constitution or a set of laws and conventions. The Constitution spells out the principles and policy guidelines as also the institutions and their jurisdictions and functions.

In a democracy, it is people’s representatives that form governments and deliver services.

In Pakistan we have a parliamentary democracy. A political party which wins more seats than other constitutes the government. It seeks to fulfil the promises it makes during the elections in its manifesto.

The interpretation of the various articles of the Constitution rests with the courts. If governments and their departments do not act in accordance with the Constitution, the laws and rules, the concerned or aggrieved citizens can submit a petition to the court for remedying the situation. Sometimes it is found that a law passed by government is flawed and the court strikes it down.

Recently a High Court gave the ruling that the Civil Servants Act, under which civil servants can be dismissed without first issuing show-cause notice, violates constitutional principles and to that extent, is defective and invalid. It is interesting to go back to the year 1973 when our Constitution was framed and to see, how soon after, a powerful prime minister was able to promulgate a law which required that no show-cause notice was necessary for terminating the services of a government employee. Forty-two years later we find a court taking notice of the flaw in the law and order a review of the cases of the concerned officers.

As I stated above it is most interesting that an elected head of government (determined to concentrate power in his person) deliberately did something manifestly unreasonable. In this case, he acquired authority through law to fire a government servant without assigning any reason. What is generally not known is that he used this power, also, to get rid of 15 or so top civil servants who were known for their integrity and competence including the then deputy chairman of the planning commission, a chief secretary and the cabinet secretary. After Mr. Bhutto, General Zia appointed a high level commission which reviewed the cases of each of these top-notch officers and restored them to their positions including seniority.

Pakistan owes a debt of gratitude to Chief Justice Chaudhry to refuse a military dictator’s advice to step down and to the lawyers of Pakistan who led a long protest to restore the Chief Justice and some of his colleagues, to their seats. We now, mercifully, have an independent higher judiciary that keeps a fairly effective check on the government’s aberrations and misdoings.

The government has to watch its step before taking decisions; especially such as they affect people’s lives. If it doesn’t do so and does not abide by laws, it is open to correction by the courts. The recent judgment of a Lahore High court stopping the Jail Road signal-free project is a case in point. All the necessary legal aspects of the matter were not carefully considered. The judicial check is necessary to ensure that rules and procedures as well as people’s voice and opinion are taken into consideration prior to the implementation or even formulation of such projects.

Another fairly effective check in Pakistan comes from the vibrant media especially the TV channels and the Internet.

Both the TV channels and social media keep highlighting the government’s acts of omission and commission. It is true that these two indulge in unwholesome excesses and sometimes go so far as to hold media trials of the persons in question. It is desirable that the media exercise voluntary restraint and not act like a judicial tribunal.  The governments, in any case, have to be extra careful in taking various steps so that they do not attract unnecessary criticism and condemnation.

It is not enough to have all the trappings of democracy—registered political parties, elections, parliamentary sessions, a cabinet, an annual budget etc. It is the spirit and the character of these institutions and practices that really matter. Relevant here is a reference to the judicial commission consisting of Supreme Court judges to examine if designed and systematic rigging was done in the 2013 elections. It is often said about Pakistan that it is not the country which has failed to deliver but the kind of leadership that we have which has performed poorly. The question is: where does this leadership come from? The answer is: from the society that we all are a part of.

The fact is, that by and large, we are a feudally-oriented society. Feudal culture is not inclined to follow the rule of law. It relishes manipulating authority and has no hesitation in violating democratic principles. It unabashedly indulges in corrupt practices and dishonest dealings.

We missed the bus by failing to enforce effectively requisite land reforms unlike India and Bangladesh. We have now to wait for the emergence of a leadership, which seriously addresses structural issues. It can be said at the same time, that change is taking place although somewhat gradually through various channels. It is coming from various sources—an independent and pro-active judiciary, a watchful media, an active and lively civil society and globalization. Imran Khan’s PTI too has contributed towards it, considerably.

All this needs to be underpinned by mass education. This is where the government and society have been most deficient. The addition of article 25-A relating to Right to Education will not yield any positive results unless we have the will to provide for the needed resources to setup efficient country-wide programmes. Both quality-and-quantity-wise Pakistan is lagging behind the rest of the world. Very little notice was taken in Pakistan of the 2015 Global EFA Report.

With Alif Ailan and Aao Parhao, Aser annual findings and PACADE EFA online monitoring, some headway is being made to wake up governments to their commitments.

Only a well-educated and skilled population can help expedite the upward movement of our stunted society.