Magnanimity In Politics


The ongoing political turmoil in Pakistan reminds me of Edmund Burke who was an Anglo-Irish statesman, economist, and philosopher. He argued strongly against unrestrained royal power and for the role of political parties in maintaining a principled opposition capable of preventing abuses, either by the monarch or by specific factions within the government. “Magnanimity in Politics”, said Burke,’ is not seldom the truest wisdom, and a great empire and little minds go ill together’.

In the last almost 3450 years of recorded history, only 268 have seen no war. Hence, war remains one of the constants of human history, and has not diminished with civilization or democracy and it has remained the ultimate form of competition. The causes of war are the same as the cause of competition among individuals: acquisitiveness, pugnacity, and pride; the desire for food, land, materials, fuels, and mastery. While states based on the inherited instincts of people may not be as restrained as individuals bound by the law of the land, in countries like ours the political parties and elite also feel unrestrained in misuse of power especially when in rule. The agitated opposition also acts recklessly and the state seems teetering on the brink of collapse. We have in the recent past seen similar examples in the USA, India, Turkey and Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, Pakistan has experienced such mayhem more often and consistently which begs introspection.

Politics is defined as the set of activities that are associated with making decisions in groups, or other forms of power relations among individuals, such as the distribution of resources or status. The major types of political systems are democracies, monarchies, oligarchies, and authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. The branch of social science that studies politics and government is referred to as political science. Aristotle is regarded as the father of political science. He was a great Greek philosopher. He was the first one to give a working definition of political science. Political theory involves the study of the history of political thought as well as problems in contemporary political life that have a philosophical dimension. However, for Pakistan’s powerful elite, politics means undertaking activities that are aimed at improving someone’s status or increasing wealth and power within an organization or the country, without much concern for fairness or foul; how many politicians and their mentors can escape this observation?

The word democracy comes from the Greek words “demos”, meaning people, and “Kratos” meaning power; in the middle of the 5th century BC it denotes the political systems then existing in some Greek city-states, notably Athens. So democracy can be thought of as the “power of the people”: a way of governing which depends on the will of the people. Democracy is a form of government in which the people have the authority to deliberate and decide legislation, or to choose governing officials to do so. A democracy is a society in which the citizens are sovereign and control the government; did it ever happen in Pakistan? Some of the most important and basic principles of democracy include Citizen Participation in Government, all people being Equal, Political Tolerance, Accountability, Transparency, Regular, Free and Fair Elections, Economic Freedom, and Control of the Abuse of Power. The five characteristics of Democracy are Elected Representatives, Independent Judiciary, Civil Liberties, Organised Opposition Party, and Rule of Law. How many democratic basic principles and characteristics are adhered to in Pakistan? As the answer is depressing, let’s explore the reasons.

It may seem like stating the obvious but the basic reason remains the majority of the legislature gets elected by the dint of money, ethnicity, tribalism, and religious exploitation, etc. instead of meritocracy as in vogue for the Judiciary and the Executive. Thus the political elite has cunningly involved the able other two pillars of the state in the power and swag sharing through intermarriages and business partnerships. The different forms of government in Pakistan including the military-led rule therefore at best or at worst have remained a hybrid form of governance meaning thereby the sham democracy or the sham totalitarianism. The consequent corruption and maladministration in every segment of society is the ugly byproduct of this unholy alliance and partnership in crimes. The power-hungry elite continues to ensure that ‘The Ten Commandments must be silent when self-preservation is at stake’.

It remains well established that almost all the crises that Pakistan has frequently been confronted with, have been due to behind the scene intrigues, and sleaze orchestrated by greedy power brokers with or without foreign hands. As long as the people of Pakistan are kept engrossed in daily survival mode and without true democracy and honest leadership, nothing is likely to change. There is no shortcut to an acceptable democratic system that embodies the basic principles and characteristics of democracy that ought to begin by ensuring meritocracy including higher education, competence, unblemished character and reputation for the election of the legislature through a transparent electoral system. The Judiciary and Executives have to be 100 percent apolitical which has to happen as an institutional imperative for the sake of the state and the people. No one from outside is going to come and bell the cat. The power brokers and three pillars of the country have to join heads to bring in place the much-awaited Political Magnanimity for smooth progress and development of the country and the society. We need to remember that had that political magnanimity been our culture, there would neither have been four military takeovers nor frequent dismissal of civilian governments. Above all, had the late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and late Mujib-ur-Rehman shown political high-mindedness, the breakup of Pakistan and the greatest national humiliation suffered could have been avoided. The current political acrimony and mayhem remind us of 1971 and 1977 like devastating environments that must be avoided. The military should let the politicians handle the self-created havoc and avoid getting dragged in once again. The wisdom lies in learning from history and not repeating it. “To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity and trust.”—Thoreau