Pakistan and the Social Contract

Written for and originally published in PakVotes

Pakistan celebrated 66 years of Independence on August 14th. Green and white flags hoisted throughout the country spoke of a patriotic nation that is proud of its people. Campaigns like #14ActsforPakistan revived a spirit of activism for the motherland. Television channels showcased marching parades and national anthems. Sparkling lights on offices and buildings masqueraded as a “Roshan Pakistan.

Yet though there was an air of quiet festivity in the country, many people had mixed feelings about celebrating Pakistan. With the country facing increased political violence and terrorism, terrible bloodshed and a hike in crime (and taxes), a lot of people held resentment against the state for its failure to uphold people’s rights.Even after six decades, the state has failed to protect the life and property of its people. The numbers are dismal. The Global Peace Index ranked Pakistan no. 2 on its scale of terrorism, after Iraq. Violence is on the rise, with the daily newspapers splashed with tragic accounts. Serious flooding is claiming hundreds of lives because of poor water management. And with an attack on an Ismaili Jamaat Khaana on the very eve of Pakistan’s Independence Day, no house of worship or sanctuary seems to be safe for the citizens of the country.

In this vein, there is an urgent need for the state to reestablish its “social contract” with its people and protect their human rights. In political philosophy, the social contract addresses the question of legitimacy of a state over individuals. Philosophers like Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau had different ideas on what this meant. However, the basic idea is that individuals relinquish some of their freedoms and subject themselves to a rule of law in exchange for protection. Thus under this concept, the state’s legitimacy largely depends on its success of protecting and safeguarding the lives of its people.

Patriots get irked when Pakistan appears under “failed states,” rankings but the state threatens its own legitimacy when it fails to honor its commitment to the social contract. The Pakistani “state” becomes a conglomerate of individuals taking matters into their own hands. From addressing electricity shortages through candle lights, generators, UPS and even solar panels, to meeting security needs through personal guards, the acts of individuals reveal a huge trust deficit in the state. What is worse is that these acts are also reflective of a society where the rich can create their own mini-states to meet their needs, while the poor are left at the expense of a state that does not have mechanisms for protecting its people. Subsequent governments talk about addressing the challenges of governance, yet these remain the subject of conferences and dusty reports. To understand how little these policies are implemented, and their insignificant impact on the daily lives of Pakistanis, one just needs to talk to any man or woman on the street. For the average person, the adage, that “nothing is certain but death and taxes” seems truer than ever before.

How can the state reclaim its legitimacy? Better planning and systematically addressing its problems. Pakistan had a peaceful transition in democracy with the elected PML-N government promising solutions to Pakistan’s problems. These solutions need to reflect the priorities of its people through a participatory and consensus-oriented approach. Currently, security seems to be one of the biggest challenges that the new government faces. The state will need to create a national consensus against terrorism and present a strong front against it. Moreover, the government will have to emphasize the Pakistan’s total losses due to terrorism and make it public information. The Economic Survey of Pakistan released earlier this summer chose to keep the financial losses from terrorism classified. But for Pakistanis to own their own war against terrorism, it’s incumbent upon the government to be clear about this and help create a counter-narrative.

Moreover, the government will need domestic confidence building measures for its citizens to regain peoples’ trust. Better communication, transparency and accountability in governance processes will allow people to understand them (and subsequently participate more). A positive move in this regard is accessibility of elected officials, with increased ICT updates. Political parties are also more active on social media, allowing for more communication between citizens and their political representatives.

Lastly, and most importantly, Pakistanis as a nation will have to cooperate with their government, and give constant feedback to help improve governance processes. Creating grassroots accountability, and meeting their own responsibilities – whether it’s through keeping the roads clean or paying bills on time or just being honest in their day to day lives – will go a long way in improving the overall state of affairs of the country.

Every citizen of Pakistan deserves the right to life, and to not live in conditions of constant fear and insecurity. It is about time that the government and people rebuild their social contract.

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