Societal decay

Raoof Hasan
Friday, Jan 14, 2022

Some changes take shape slowly while others hit like a thunderbolt. Societal decay belongs to both categories: some of it has struck slowly, but the rest has tightened its grip at an electrifying pace. While its perpetrators are gloating over the fault lines they have created, tearing apart the societal fabric, those who are affected by its belittling impact have found it difficult to either understand its enormity, or piece together a resistance mechanism.

This decay can be traced to multiple factors, but what has contributed heavily to spur this decline is the non-provision of justice in society. While this malady is not exclusively a recent phenomenon, the reality cannot be denied that its provision has continued to deplete with the passage of time. It has now reached its lowest ebb dominated by a general perception that, in Pakistan, there are two justice systems: one meant for the rich and powerful and the other for the poor and downtrodden. This is a damning indictment of the very process whereby justice is made available which has had a phenomenal impact on the way the state is perceived, internally by its people and externally by the world at large.

Delving extensively into the causes of this malaise may provide ample material for writing a book, but it can be safely suggested that provision of justice was never considered a key pillar for the state to rest on. That, in turn, can be traced to the inordinate delay in formulating the first constitution of the country and the evolution of rule of law. In the meanwhile, law was who the ruler was. There was no system of accountability that was prevalent except the will of the individuals who controlled the reins of power. A deep perception had developed that, after all, individuals and not institutions would be the arbiters of the fate of the state and the people. This contributed to the emergence of a sequence of rulers who were disdainful of rule of law and the rationale why everyone should subscribe to it. Instead, they were commanded by their personal interests, not by what is contained in the statute book.

This sowed the germs of dictatorship in the country. While it may have opened up multiple avenues of pain, its worst consequence was a set of individuals who were gradually patronised to positions of power and relevance. On the one hand, they fed dictatorships and, on the other, they were constantly conspiring to chisel and cement their place in the future scheme of things. Like their masters, they were not guided by rule of law or the necessity for providing justice to the people, but by their personal needs and inclinations. So, we had a coterie of such people emerging who, since those earlier times, have tragically catapulted to key positions to shape the destiny of the state.

Dominated by the Bhutto/Zardari and the Sharif clans, there were a number of subsidiary families which reaped the dividends of nurturing dictatorships for their personal advancement. In order to perpetuate their hold, the Sharifs also introduced the money factor in the eighties which contributed to transforming these family fiefdoms into powerful mafias which started dreaming of turning the country into a perpetual domain of their political games. Digging in their heels, these vile conglomerates hijacked everything even remotely connected with justice and planted the seeds of rabid civilian dictatorship.

They helped the emergence of a sickeningly sordid bureaucracy, recruited established criminals in the police force, destroyed institutions by infesting them with cronies of dubious credentials and character, bought justice by bribing and bullying, manipulated elections, and promoted a culture of paying unquestioned homage to those who were nestled in the seats of power. Public welfare did not figure in their calculus. This was personalised leadership at its worst which resulted in complete disappearance of transparency, accountability, rule of law and justice. While the rich and powerful had their avenues to push through with their vile agendas, the worst sufferers were the impoverished communities whose struggle for survival only grew harder with time. The command of the vile and the wicked prevailed. Any place for a decent and law-abiding citizen had been effectively erased.

The state was confronted with the reality of a virtually collapsed system which worked by criminal ways and machinations alone. It promoted the interests of the beneficiary elite with dysfunctional institutions pandering to that objective. Everyone was kept aligned either by flaunting the lure of coins, or via threats of being marginalised. This is the system that has dictated the fate of the state through decades, plunging it deeper into pits of intellectual and economic enslavement.

Societal decay is one of the paramount manifestations of this manipulation where everyone takes to adopting ways and means which are considered conducive to gains at a personal level. Basically, a society that does not provide justice to its people is a society that is hijacked by the outlaws who benefit in this contrived environment. In quick time, this decay envelops the entire spectrum and begins embedding its decrepit marks.

The remedial process was always going to be painful. Making the powerful, who have been used to living by their own laws and regulations, accountable was never going to be an easy task. The convulsions that the country has been suffering from in the last three years are owed to the onset of this remedial process where the powerful are being questioned and an effort made to hold everyone accountable. This endeavour has been made even more difficult because of the corrupt and non-functional institutions which still owe their allegiance to the command of those who have the pelf to indulge them.

What is most worrisome is the absence of the requisite sensitisation of people to the ongoing effort. Alongside the judiciary, the media bears considerable responsibility for this as, instead of laying out the truth before the people, they have made efforts to hide the crass and criminal undertakings of the previous rulers and cast a negative slant on the endeavours of Prime Minister Khan and his government. The decay which set in because of the endemic corruption patronised by the Sharif and Bhutto/Zardari clans is epitomised by two recent developments: restoration of the Senate membership by the ECP of fugitive Ishaq Dar who is facing numerous charges of corruption, and the criminal public apathy and heartlessness displayed during the recent Murree tragedy.

Notwithstanding the enormous challenges, this cleansing process must continue to extricate people from the clutches of these time-fed mafias operating through various layers of the system. There is absolutely no other way to national redemption.

The writer is the special assistant to the PM on information, a political and security strategist, and the founder of the Regional Peace Institute. He tweets @RaoofHasan