L’état, C’est Moi

ByAlam Brohi

A former Ambassador of Pakistan and was associated with Foreign Service of Pakistan


June 16, 2023

L'état, C'est Moi

Ambassador Alam Brohi talks about autocratic tendencies in governance

L’état, C’est Moi – European nations have travelled a long way going through ups and downs to reach the present democratic and representative form of governance. A few centuries ago, they were all groping in the dark age of absolute monarchs who identified themselves with the state. Louis XIV of France is famously known to have arrogantly said on 13 April 1655 “L’etat, c ‘est mois” (It is I, the state). Though unverified, some callous remarks are attributed to Princess Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France from 1774 to 1792. When her attention was drawn to the hunger the peasants of the country were suffering from, she had uncharitably remarked, “Let them eat cake”.

The same France echoed with the slogans of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity during the French Revolution of 1789 overwhelming the Bastille. These slogans were immortalised by William Wordsworth in his poem on “French Revolution (1804). In the prelude to the poem, he says, “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven”. However, many political scientists including Edmund Burke remained skeptical about the Revolution which, in their view, would climax in authoritarianism. Then, the people of France witnessed their revolution ending in the authoritarian rule of Napoleon as the new king of France. However, these slogans loosely remained part of the French political discourse until made part of the Constitution of the Third Republic in 1955.

This talk of European enlightenment, revolutions or representative rule is completely out of place in our context. No modern Muslim country could vie with these Christian countries in civility, democratic values, human rights, rule of law and equality before the law, justice, fair play, and collective social and economic health of the society. The European nations and their leaders were quick in learning their lessons and resetting their priorities. We could only envy them without emulating them. We could beg for loans without adopting their political and economic models to put our house in order. We did not learn a single lesson from our closest friend and neighbour, China during the past three decades. It has achieved the status of an economic superpower, and we have nosedived into economic and financial bankruptcy.
We are a talkative nation. We are not ready for any change in our political and economic fortunes, what to speak of revolutions. We have experienced various political, economic and administrative models during the past 75 years, and met with successive failures. We have always lacked the courage to recognise our fault lines as a nation. We have always been shy of accepting unwelcome truths. We have only glorified a few scattered occasions of small successes that came to our way accidentally. For most of the years, we have been living in a delusion of being a great country, a great nation and a major power, a bastion of Islam and a champion of the Muslim cause – always punching the bag more than our actual weight.

The record of our misadventures is long and painful. Our hubris in annexing Balochistan by use of force in 1948; crushing the Baloch resistance to the amalgamation of their land in West Pakistan and downgrading it to the status of a Commissionerate in 1955; denying power to the Awami League and trying to subdue Bengalis by an all-out war; dismissing National Awami Party’s coalition government in Balochistan headed by Sardar Attaullah and the launching of military operation there in 1973; imposing Martial Law in 1977 with mass arrests of political workers of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) punishing them with lashes, torture in Lahore and Attock Forts and long term prisons; executing the most popular leader of the country on dubious charges followed by a long spell of military rule. The civilian Presidents too used their powers ruthlessly to dismiss elected governments. The military rule imposed in 1999 ended in 2008 after the martyrdom of another popular leader but controlling the civilian dispensations from behind the scene continued unabatedly.

The trajectory shows the political and military leadership had the grandeurs of delusion like Louis XIV. There has been a turf war among our national institutions intermittently. The supremacy of the Generals has been challenged in the past too. What was the anti-Ayub Khan mass movement led by the sister of the father of the nation and later by the Democratic Action Committee (DAC), succeeded by the violent Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) in 1984 led by Sindh against General Zia’s atrocious rule? The Sindhis paid the heaviest price for their courage and gallantry. All these political movements were aimed at restoring political and parliamentary governance and sending the military to barracks. The military always fought back to keep its institutional supremacy intact by co-opting and showcasing a few politicians, traditional political dynasties and feudal chiefs notwithstanding their meagre political following.

What we witness today is a complex turf war among many players – between PDM and PTI for the capture of Punjab and KP, PTI and the military and the Judiciary and the Parliament for institutional supremacy. In this turf war, the people of Pakistan, their fundamental rights and economic miseries, and the Constitution have become irrelevant. This is the irony of our political leadership. They have a short memory and always fall for narrow political gains. Imran Khan, the bête noir of the PDM, enjoyed the support of the powers that count and failed to put up good governance. He is today fighting his political battle all alone. The PDM has been following an atrocious plan for dealing with the defiant Imran Khan and PTI leaders and workers. They are facing the worst form of fascism. All this is aimed at breaking their will.

This atrocious authoritarianism also tests the endurance and courage of Imran Khan as a political leader. His position is as desperate as that of Muhammad Morsi of Egypt and Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar. The dismantlement of a popular leader and a popular political party will be a great blow to the country. This is my Pakistan; this is your Pakistan. Have mercy on it. The Weekender


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