Poverty of philosophy - Najam Sethi - Sunday, April 24, 2011

Across the length and breadth of Pakistan, amongst journalists, politicians, generals and even judges, there is a poverty of philosophy that is crippling the development of a stable state and responsible society. From the personal to the political, from the ridiculous to the sublime, this poverty manifests itself everyday in reckless outbursts of remarks, statements and comments that obfuscate issues instead of clarifying them. Consider.

Some well-known journalists have been predicting the end of the Zardari regime for over a year now by regularly giving D-Day deadlines. But President Asif Ali Zardari continues to defy their hollow predictions, prompting Javed Hashmi to wisecrack that a PhD in politics may be required to fathom his brand of politics. Considering how very consistently wrong they have proven to be, one may be forgiven for wondering whether it is lack of intelligence or scarcity of credible sources that lies at the root of their helplessness and rage. Or is it plain wishful thinking and personal vendettas that are masquerading as serious front-page political analyses?

There is even less justification for them to run down fellow journalists who don’t subscribe to their predictions, unless it is that green eyed monster called jealousy. To say that Zardari will not be booted out by such or such a date for various reasons is not to say that he shouldn’t be booted out, but to assess the scientific likelihood of that happening without attributing any value judgment of a good or bad outcome to it. But those editors, reporters and columnists who have been predicting Zardari’s end want it to happen so desperately that they are ready to sacrifice their credibility at the altar of their mission. This is politics, not journalism.

Much the same thing happened during General Pervez Musharraf’s last year in office. Sections of the media and civil society were so desperate to kick him out – albeit for the right reasons – that they were passionately intolerant of those among them who were inclined to shake their heads cold-bloodedly and say it wasn’t going to happen so soon. The lawyers’ movement in its heyday also demonstrated similar tendencies in the same sections of society between those who ardently wished the movement to be a revolutionary transformation to turn everything upside down and those who analysed it as a significant but non-revolutionary political transition to greater democracy. Surely, passion shouldn’t prevail over reason, or prejudice over logic; nor should one’s credibility be flogged at the altar of patriotism (these days it is synonymous with anti-Americanism), that classic last refuge of scoundrels.

If to err is to be a journalist, politicians may claim even less credibility by the same yardstick. Mr Raza Hayat Heraj has floated a bill in the national assembly that aims to reduce the fundamental rights of certain categories of citizens. He says that Pakistanis with dual nationalities (Pak-American or Pak-Brit) should not be eligible for public office in Pakistan because their oath of loyalty to their country is divided. This is a matter of fact, hence it is eminently reasonable to make this demand to change the law. But then Mr Heraj succumbs to cheap populism when he demands that those with financial interests outside Pakistan should also be debarred from public office for the same reason.

If he had asked for a legal ban on holding financial interests abroad, he would have been consistent at least in asking for targeting law-breakers from being excluded from public office. But to ask Pakistanis who have paid due taxes in Pakistan or in their foreign country of residence on incomes earned at home or abroad respectively to give up their fundamental rights is morally and legally wrong. The essence of free market economies is free capital movements. You cannot implore Pakistanis resident or working abroad to remit their disposable taxed incomes to Pakistan while restricting Pakistanis from repatriating similarly taxed incomes abroad in search of greater profitability and security. This would amount to punishing law-abiders like the ill-advised freeze on, and enforced conversion of, foreign currency deposits inside Pakistan after the nuclear tests in 1998.

Mr Heraj’s bill is also poorly drafted: it refers to the income and wealth of people and their spouses and children, without sufficiently clarifying the core distinction between dependent spouses and children and non-dependent ones, regardless of the stakes they hold in the common property or wealth in contention. This is a reasonable critique. But it has apparently drawn Mr Heraj’s ire so much that he has lashed out personally at the messenger – when you can’t argue with someone’s logic, call him an American agent and clinch the argument – rather than debating or clarifying the message logically and reasonably. This would suggest a cheap shot at popularity rather than serious concern about the credibility and efficiency of parliamentarians or “public servants”.

An example of the sublime without sufficient humility is also at hand. The chief justice of our country has recently lectured soldiers on the value and significance of the oath they take to defend and uphold the Constitution. Earlier, his message to bureaucrats and civil servants was along the same lines: don’t obey illegal orders from the executive. These belated lectures are to be roundly applauded, especially since many soldiers in general and coup-making generals in particular tend to think of the Constitution as a “scrap of paper” which can be torn up when they think the “interests” of the country are at stake. But the constitution is a social contract between the rulers and the ruled and embodies the interests of the nation, state and country above anything else.

The same day that the CJP was lecturing potentially errant soldiers, the chief justice of India was elaborating the “canons of judicial ethics” and the doctrine of law that governs the relationship between the elected and sovereign parliament and the unelected and independent judiciary in any democratic political system. Justice Kapadia cautioned judges against over-reach in the guise of activism. He urged them not to ignore the doctrine of the separation of powers between the executive and judiciary as enshrined in the constitution. He said judges should not make policy or try to run administrations. He also said that judicial activism that is not grounded in any textual commitment to the constitution, unlike cases of human rights and life and personal liberty, raises questions of the accountability of judges. He concluded by remarking that judges should not sit as a super-legislative body to weigh the wisdom of legislation. “We should practise what we preach,” he urged his judicial colleagues.

There is a poverty of philosophy when the army, judiciary, media and parliament neglect human development and spend scarce resources on non-productive sectors at the cost of an educated, informed, globally integrated population. This is what happens when one or the other organs of the state whip up passions and paranoia to maintain their narrow interests. They do so at the cost of the larger good. This is how we end up with a brutalised national mind; this is how mediocrity comes to reign supreme in every sphere of national life.

The writer is Jang Group/Geo adviser on political affairs.

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=43384&Cat=9

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