A BROKEN MORAL COMPASS?

by Wajid Shamsul Hasan

“I have lived as plain Mr. Jinnah and I hope to die as plain Mr. Jinnah. I am very much averse to any title or honours and I would be more than happy if there was no prefix to my name.” – Mohammad Ali Jinnah

In August Pakistan will complete 70 years as an independent nation. Its creation was almost like a miracle. The factors that made it possible were the great quality of leadership of the founding fathers spearheaded by perhaps the most honest man among Muslims in the sub-continent, nay the entire world—Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

It was their honesty of leadership, their sincerity of purpose, dedication, determination and moral courage that made the idea of a separate Muslim state possible. Jinnah’s biographer Professor Stanley Wolpert puts it at best when he says: “Few individuals significantly alter the course of history. Fewer still modify the map of the world. Hardly anyone can be credited with creating a nation-state. Mohammad Ali Jinnah did all three”.

Jinnah and his colleagues in the All India Muslim League had to measure up to a strict code of morality and honesty. Honesty was the key to corruption- free politics and the bedrock for a corruption-free society. The All-India Muslim League was neither a party of the rich feudal class nor the Muslim capitalists. It had a multi-class composition.

No doubt Jinnah’s no 2 – the Secretary of All India Muslim League (AIML) – Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan was a rich feudal lord with several thousand acres of land, his strength lay in the fact that like the Chinese Revolutionary leader, Chou En-lai, he had declassed himself and Jinnah called him a proletariat Nawab. While there were many aristocrats in the high command born with a silver spoon in their mouths.  AIML’s culture to be the party of the poor was manifested in the plebian leaders such as Maulana Hasart Mohani.  He was an Islamic Bolshevist who preached Sharia-Bolshevism much in the mould of Hazrat Abu Zar Ghaffari.  While Jinnah was aristocratic and English in his bearing, Hasrat Mohani, with his plebian character, surpassed all of them as the representative of the have-nots. He slept on the floor, travelled third class, and dressed modestly, a little more than Mahatma Gandhi just to cover himself not to be called a naked faqir (ascetic).

In the vicious environment of the Supreme Court-ordered Panama Joint Inquiry into the money trail of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his sons for acquiring property in London and the aura of mega-corruption, one has to go back in history to know how far we have traveled in 70 years to fall from the sublime to the ridiculous.

In his 11th of August 1947 speech, known as his Magna Carta for Pakistan, Jinnah specifically dealt with the serious challenge corruption would pose in Pakistan. He was conscious of his commitment to equality in job opportunities and equal treatment to all, irrespective of caste, creed, colour or gender—bed-rock principles for the foundation of Pakistan and a moral compass to give the nation a sense of direction.

Jinnah had seen what Lord Acton had meant when he summed it up: “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Indeed, corruption today is endemic–a worldwide phenomenon where only quantum of disease varies.  Jinnah also knew well that the fish starts stinking from its head. If there is no corruption at the top, there won’t be any trickle-down.

Jinnah’s honesty was unquestionable. Indian Bania capitalists, wary of partition and break-up of the market- tried to buy him to abandon Pakistan. Neither could they buy his second-in-command. When Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was assassinated he had just around Rs 600 in his bank account, his wife and children had no home of their own.

Until the first martial law in October 1958 and the advent of generals in politics, there was no element of corruption among civilian leaders. If there was any iota of abuse of office, the person was at once taken to task.  The initial ten years can be   described as our golden period, as far as honesty among rulers and politicians was concerned and the nation’s moral compass, bequeathed to it by Jinnah, was intact.

Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s so-called “decade of development” ushered in corruption. Tagged to Washington’s apron strings, he believed in the American dictum that economic development and corruption go together—something similar to what we recently heard from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Instead of showing any sign of decrease over the years corruption has been growing. Optimists have hoped since every successive ruler has promised a crusade against corruption, though accusing his predecessor as most corrupt while himself was outdoing those who had earned notoriety in the past.

Ayub brought a fundamental change in the moral fabric of society.  For the first time emerged a military-civil bureaucracy and capitalist matrimonial alliance. Since Ayub had no popular legitimacy, he had to create his own constituency away from cantonments since there were still many officers who would not like to soil their institution. Twenty rich families, few generals and a lot of bureaucrats changed the whole socio-economic complexion.  And indeed, by the time Ayub was shown the door Pakistan was pushed into an era of “gherao-jalao” (hold hostage and burn). Had there been no fall of Dhaka, both Eastern and Western Wings would have been plunged into a class war.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto retrieved the moral and socio-economic compass and gave a new lease of life to a truncated Pakistan, unshackled the masses, opened up socio-economic opportunities and hope in the future. His executioner, General Ziaul Haq, destroyed whatever he had salvaged of Jinnah’s Pakistan. To remain in power lifelong, Zia had to create his own constituency. He unleashed the forces of corruption, disgorged the constitution, held party-less elections and replaced national cohesion with baradiris (clan) and sectarian lobbies to sustain him. His game of money and power-politics gave birth to present phenomenon of agricultural versus industrial wealth each competing against the other.

On top of it, he rented out Pakistan’s security apparatus for waging American jihad against the Soviet Union to avenge Washington’s humiliation in the Vietnam war in return for unaccounted for billions that partly paid for the Jihadis and the rest got pilfered by top handlers.

However, Zia’s involvement of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency, in politics was the greatest disservice to the institution.  His successors who feigned supporters of democracy abused the institution to stop Benazir Bhutto’s landslide victory.  How ISI created the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) (Islamic Democratic Alliance), how it manipulated the elections in 1988 and      subsequently too – by bribing anti-Bhutto politicians, including the incumbent chief executive. This is not bazaar gossip. It is all a matter of judicial record.

General Pervez Musharraf took over in October 1999 – with the promise of bringing to book all those who had allegedly looted Pakistan.  And to justify his intent he also announced his own assets – a long list of enormously expensive properties,  agricultural land and real estate – if liquidated then in cash, he would have been one of the top richest men in Pakistan.  Like Zia, he too, was an American bag-carrier and received billions.  Like the Prime Minister whose son received a gift in cash from the Qatari Prince, General Musharraf also owes his palatial property in London to the late Saudi King Abdullah, who paid for it.

I will not go into details of the assets of other generals, bureaucrats and politicians – I would like to stick to answering the question of how possibly we can minimise corruption.  By hanging the corrupt? No, by putting them in jail? No, then what?

The greatest dread for any one today, whether in government or otherwise, is social media, followed by electronic media and newspapers. Irrespective of the fact that these are being blatantly abused.  One must say the fear of exposure even runs chill in the spine of strong people like the Interior Minister who is desperately trying to control social media by virtually Gestapo methods.

With powerful social media, TV channels and newspapers, we need to start a crusade for the    revival of social and moral values. Once organized on every level in society, every member of the community could easily make a guess as to who is living beyond his means. Once upon a time if residents of a locality stopped “huqqa-pani” – (sharing hubble-bubble smoking and drinking water together) , it used to prove a most lethal deterrent.

However, such measures can only be successful when the whole society is accustomed to living within its means, not stretching its feet beyond the length of the bed-sheet.  Fundamental for the adoption of austerity is to have the will to give up the ostentatious life style and adopt simple living and high thinking.

I don’t believe that humankind tends to be basically corrupt. Most certainly not! The poor become corrupt as they cannot make their two ends meet.  It needs to be made constitutionally-binding on the government of the day to ensure a reasonable relationship between prices and wages.

However, the corruption of the rich cannot be condoned as it is out of greed or to sustain their pompous and ostentatious life style—having four cars in a family where one is needed or living in a palace when one could live comfortably in a four or five bed-room house. Moreover, one cannot expect a poacher to guard the sheep. In a country where a minuscule minority pays taxes, organisations such as the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) should be replaced with something as powerful as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) of India.

The basic principle for successful accountability is that whatever the process or system it has to be above board, non-selective and for everybody from top to bottom much in the same spirit with which a commoner stood up in a mosque to ask Caliph Omar as to where he acquired extra-cloth beyond his allocated quota for his oversized “jubba” (ankle-length, robe-like garment).

I myself look forward to a time when we have found our way out of the moral wilderness and when we are led by people worthy of our great Founding Fathers.  Only then will it be possible for those of us who are Pakistani by birth or by ancestry, wherever we have settled in the world, to stand tall and look our neighbours in the eye, proud to be the sons and daughters of a nation that is a by-word for honesty and fair-dealing at all levels of society, a nation that is truly democratic, that is at peace with itself and with the nations that surround it, a nation where no-one starves, where the sick are always cared for, where everyone is literate, where bribery is unknown, a nation that is in truth the Pure land that it was intended to be.  May that day come within the lifetimes of those who read these words.

The author is the former High Commissioner for Pakistan to UK, Advisor to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and a veteran journalist. 

Article from issue 9 of LAFZ Magazine