Can Our Institutions Ever Be Reformed?

Can Our Institutions Ever Be Reformed?
Many have argued Pakistan’s woes exist not as the result of the sin of any one, or any group, of individuals, but rather of the institutions they belong to. In keeping with that argument, and as many have done, you could go on to list a plethora of potential reforms for said institutions — everything from the devolution of power to the end of corruption within our anti-corruption agencies. But the question that’s seldom asked is whether our institutions are even capable, or perhaps more accurately, willing to reform in the first place.

After all, why would they? And - make no mistake - you need to rely on them. No one else can bring about such change. If Imran Khan’s narrative is to be believed, and if Pakistan’s 75-year history is anything to go by, no leader, not even with the best of intentions, is capable of straightening what is and what wants to remain crooked in Pakistan.

Ask for reform and what you really ask for is an end to the world as they know it. After all, we live in a society where those who walk the corridors of power are met with bowing heads and endless salutes wherever they go. A country where public office has become synonymous with respect, status, power, and wealth. That, in a nutshell, is what you’re asking them to give up.

Asking them to go from a world with patronage to a world without. A world with mansions and Land Cruisers to a world with none. And from a world where their name is the law to a world where it’s subject to the law.

“No more seat at the big boys’ table” is what we’re saying. We’re not offering anything in return, either. Worse of all, we’re asking them to do it to themselves.

Expecting results in a situation like this would perhaps entail stretching the very definition of the word ‘miracle.’ Humanity — and history is rife with such examples — has the tendency to oppress and abuse when given the chance. It’s hard to change course when such oppression and corruption have become a way of life.

When — forget the constitution — adherence to even the most basic of laws stands to be a direct threat to the ability of the state to “flourish.” When the name becomes bigger than the chair, when corruption — moral and otherwise — infiltrates, finds its roots, and begins to spread in every institution across the land. And when power — unrestrained power — begins to dictate, shape, and narrate the lived realities of 220 million people.

Have no doubt, we’re complicit in the construction of this reality. We allowed — and participated — in the creation of a haven where bureaucrats aren’t questioned on their ill-gotten gains, where generals are allowed to enrich themselves off of every square meter of government land they can lay their hands on, and a system where the corrupt can bribe those investigating them for corruption.

“People power” was nowhere to be seen. We didn’t stand up when we should’ve. We bowed our heads when we knew we shouldn’t have. And we let Pakistan hurl itself forward even though we knew what lay ahead was nothing other than the abyss.

Our own failures, however, also provide us with our very own silver lining. If we can “help” our institutions build a system that works for them, then, perhaps, we can “nudge” them to create one that works for us too.

Make no mistake — nothing other than public sentiment — persistent, fearless, and nationwide calls for change — can force our institutions to reform. The seeds of patriotism — true patriotism — must be sown. They must surpass the individual’s desire for power and personal gain. Country must trump the self. Institution after institution must embark on what could almost be described as personal jihad.

It will be gradual. Neither the public nor politicians possess a magic wand that can undo how our state has functioned since its inception. It will take generations. But it can be done. It must be done. For without it, Pakistan cannot change. And if Pakistan cannot change, it cannot survive.

The author studied politics at Queen Mary and Law at City, University of London.