Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq
Today we are celebrating 73rd Independence Day with a hope that the new government, after two years in power, will now seriously work on bringing the much-needed reforms in all spheres of governance and fix chronic maladies so that Pakistan can be transformed into a strong economic entity and an egalitarian state. It is an undeniable fact that during the several decades, the elites of Pakistan—militro-judicial-civil complex, businessmen-turned politicians and absentee landowners—pushed the country into great turmoil. Despite becoming a nuclear state, we are ensnared in a deadly debt trap, while the overwhelming majority of population lacks even basic amenities of life. Wealth and power is concentrated in a few hands, income disparities are widening and the main burden of taxes has been shifted on the less-privileged segments of society. The elitist economy favours the rich and mighty—with every passing day the rich-poor divide is assuming alarming dimensions.
Our oppressive economic system protects and promotes interests of the exploitative classes in utter violation of Article 3 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan [“the Constitution”]. Since its inception, Pakistan nurtured an exploitative system, which has been gaining strength with each day. The various forms of exploitation and repression are so deeply rooted in the system that they are even taking away the guaranteed “right to life” from the poor, what to talk of fulfilling the promise mentioned in Article 3: “The State shall ensure the elimination of all forms of exploitation and the gradual fulfilment of the fundamental principle, from each according to his ability, to each according to his work“.
The framers of the Constitution thoughtfully inserted the principle: “from each according to his ability to each according to his work“. It was once considered the lower stage of a just and equitable society requiring: “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. Karl Marx had specific conditions in mind for such a creed to work in a society where technology and social organisation would substantially eliminate the need for physical labour in the production of goods, where “labour becomes not only a means of life but life’s prime want”. Marx explained that in such a society, each person would be motivated to work for the good of society, despite the absence of a social mechanism, compelling them to work, because work would become a pleasurable and creative activity. Marx intended the initial part of his slogan, “from each according to his ability” to suggest not merely that each person should work as hard as he/she can, but that each person should best develop his/her particular talents to contribute towards a humane society.
After reading Article 3, many desire that the Supreme Court, like many other cases of public importance under Article 184(3) of the Constitution, should take suo muto action not only for the enforcement of fundamental rights but also for the fulfilment of the principle laid down in Article 3 of the Constitution. They forget that the prevalent system protects the interests of the privileged classes and the judiciary is no exception. The laws that our judiciary interprets and protects with zeal, in fact, ensure “sanctity of private property” and “exploitation of the have-nots”. The judiciary is not a revolutionary organ—it is a product of the existing socio-economic system. It is naive to expect from judiciary any avant-garde. For getting socio-economic justice, the people will have to wage relentless struggle themselves and through vote exert pressure on elected representatives to abide by the Constitution and fulfil their inviolable fundamental rights as they are bound to do so and not as a matter of favour to the masses. Unfortunately as a nation, we have collectively failed to abide by the supreme law of the land and rule of law and every year celebrate the Day of Independence as a ritual.
Pakistan’s ranking on the Human Development Index (HDI) 2019 stood at 152 out of the total 189 countries—lower than all the regional countries of South Asia. What a tragedy that nearly 25 million children out of school in Pakistan in denial of fundamental right under Article 25A of the Constitution which says: “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law”. According to a report, “the national poverty ratio, which was 31.3% in June 2018, sharply jumped to over 40% by June 30, 2020.
Theoretically, all admit that the Constitution is supreme and each organ of the state has to perform its duties and functions in accordance with the constitutional scheme. However, practically, elected and unelected controlling and running various state institutions defy the rule of law with impunity and even the Constitution without any fear of accountability. Resultantly, the majority is disillusioned that even after 73 years of liberation from British rule, we lack the political will to implement Article 3 and other fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution [Article 8 to 28].
Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan and head of Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), in victory speech of July 26, 2018, vowed to make Pakistan a welfare state. He did not mention implementation of Article 3 of the Constitution specifically as a starting point or abolition of the existing exploitative system, which is highly unjust and oppressive, but did promise to make Pakistan a just society as the name of his party means movement for “justice”. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, PTI from 2013 till today showed no will to end the exploitative system, for example, taxing the privileged classes. Our oppressive tax system, both at federal and provincial levels, blatantly violates Article 3 of the Constitution as the vast majority pays exorbitant indirect taxes even on essential commodities of everyday use while the mighty sections of society—the big absentee landowners, industrialists, judges, generals and bureaucrats get exemptions and waivers. Even the unscrupulous businessmen after frequent amnesties and money whitening schemes have been amassing enormous wealth, a process that is still going on. The high-ranking officials of the State are enjoying unprecedented perquisites, benefits and privileges—tax-free and funded by money collected from the masses under various tax codes.
Income inequalities are widening—resources are being transferred from the poor to the rich through manipulative taxes. The exploitative classes, even mafias, fund politicians. The anti-people alliance of the greedy businessmen, tax officials and politicians deprive the state of revenue worth billions. The mighty sections of society are engaged in tax evasion and money laundering. The PTI, winning elections on anti-corruption campaign, has so far failed to dismantle rent-seeking, anti-people, elitist structures, punish the looters of national wealth. It has yet not chalked out a plan to restructure the entire economic system providing equitable distribution of wealth/resources as envisaged in Article 3 of the Constitution.
The burgeoning fiscal deficit and monstrous debt burden are not isolated phenomena. These are results of failure in: undertaking fundamental structural reforms, enforcing fiscal discipline, cracking down on parallel economy, increasing tax collection, abolishing perks and benefits of the ruling elites, eliminating wasteful expenses, dismantling rent-seeking structures, ensuring rule of law, and stopping reckless borrowing and ruthless spending.
Resource mobilisation should be the top priority of the PTI government to build infrastructure, facilitate growth of small and medium sized firms in the industrial sector and efficient/productive farming for an employment intensive and equitable economic growth process. To end income/wealth gap, large corporations with equity stakes for the poor be established through public-private partnerships. This would set the stage for a structural change that can help achieve economic growth for the people and by the people which is presently confined to the elites only.
The most disturbing and painful reality of Pakistan is unabated/shameless indulgence of ruling elites in wasteful expenditures. Look at their lifestyle when the majority of population is undernourished and facing extreme difficulties in the wake of economic toll of Covid-19 endemic. For becoming economically self-reliant nation, the rulers will have to take the first step by starting to live at a modest level. True independence requires self-reliance for which fundamental reforms are inevitable. There is no dearth of ideas and good people for such reforms—complete roadmap is already available through many research-based, workable studies along with implementation strategy and plans. We only lack political will to abolish elitist structures that are the main impediments for ensuring equal opportunities for all citizens and extending to common people benefits of public spending and economic growth as well as fulfilment of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
The writers, lawyers and partners in Huzaima, Ikram & Ijaz, are Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).