“Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better”—Harry S. Truman
History seems to be repeating itself with politicians at daggers drawn and a never witnessed before tug of war between institutions. Egos have always been the weakness of our ruling elite but this time they have bloated disproportionately to such an extent that a handful is willing to jeopardize the entire nation for its own selfishness.
In utter disregard of the people’s wishes to hold national elections within the time limit specified in the 1973 Constitution and restore the democratic process, this debt-ridden and poverty struck government is diverting whatever little is left in the treasury, towards manhunt of a political opponent with the result that it is invoking people towards street battles and a possible headway to a civil war—not that any of the contemporary political parties have a magic wand when in power because they lack both competence and independence, majority being product of establishment.
Not very long ago in 1971, the country was torn apart following similar situation where the victims became ordinary people of Bengal, the helpless sacrificial goats at the hands of egoistic and irrational leadership. Now again, brothers are being poised against brothers in a bid to foil a person from re-gaining power, whose falling popularity got a tremendous boost by those who thought they were eliminating him for good despite his warning that he would prove more lethal than ever before. Man proposes, God disposes!
Why is it that whosoever comes in power thinks that the country is theirs to do whatever they like? Why is it they think that the people are their slaves to serve, not to be served? Why do they consider the treasury is at their disposal to plunder without having to be accountable? Is it because this is never agreeable to any of us—to be answerable for our acts? This is the reason we fear conviction yet do not refrain from violating rules and committing crimes after which we try to escape the authorities and then if we are caught, we start tugging at our connections for whatever advantage we can obtain to avoid being prosecuted. In these circumstances when rulers themselves defy laws, how can they induce citizens towards obeisance?
Rule of law is the principle that no one is above the law, even those who enact, interpret and administer the same. It serves as a safeguard against tyranny, because fair, just, and impartial laws ensure that rulers do not become corrupt or despotic. Under the study of jurisprudence, the concept of ‘rule of law’ is quite complicated but in simple terms, it implies that all persons are subject to law. This is in sharp contrast to monarchy or oligarchy where rulers are above law. So, if a commoner murders someone, he could be hanged but the king could get away by killing anyone.
In order for any government to exercise complete control over its citizens and administrative structure, it has to enforce rule of law without discrimination. Hence, if a high court judge is caught flouting traffic rules, or if a government official is involved in smuggling activities, or a professional is found making public, confidential information about his clients; they all deserve exemplary punishment and must be forbidden from taking any advantage of their high profile statuses.
This is the main reason that our rulers have never been able to do anything substantial for the majority poor, who day by day are being pushed below the poverty line. Self-interest overpowers needs of the nation and the country. Governing with this mindset, it is indeed very difficult for them to perceive the miserable lives of human beings who have no choice but to live in precarious dwellings amid stinking, insect-ridden environments lacking sanitation or water facilities.
Under these circumstances a valid argument that could be put forward, is where can one find such valiant personalities enjoying the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of the people and/or change the destiny of countries, especially in the world that we live in today. There are some towering personalities dead and alive, who have and are miraculously altering the course of history. They display an amazing strength of character never considering themselves as gods or above law. They are most humble and compassionate towards their people willing to be held accountable in the face of any crisis. Courage, that is the hallmark of such leaders as Lee Kuan Yew (19923-2015) of Singapore or Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) of South Africa, is conspicuously missing as a vital characteristic of leadership of our country. Stepping down graciously from power when prevented from working in the country’s interest also requires tremendous courage.
People want to improve their homes and families. To meet this end, they would be willing to go through all types of hardship. They can bear discomfort so that their loved ones may enjoy a happy life, they may starve in order to feed their offspring, willingly bear the burden of hard work and labour only to build a comfortable environment for their kin. However, if they lack courage or emotional attachment they can lavishly spend their money to satisfy their hedonistic desires even at the cost of leaving other family members in misery. For the affluent, problems related to poverty or issues which spring from economic deprivation are difficult to gauge. Before the historic revolutions in Europe, the Russian and French royalty were unable to feel the pangs of starvation of the general public as they were overly obsessed with their own luxurious lives.
If Pakistan is to emerge as a prosperous country, its leadership will have to garner strength, resilience and show moral courage to implement rule of law in their own ranks and files before they do so on the nation. When rule of law is in place, it reduces corruption, checks poverty, overcomes diseases, inculcates discipline and provides a shield to the people against all forms of injustices. The political situation these days, rampant corruption, ill governance and anarchy explicitly show that there is no rule of law which by itself is a ready guide to what rule of law should be in reality and how important it is to have courageous leadership.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)