Rethinking The Legitimacy Of The State

The chairlift saga at Batagram is a case which demands attention towards the responsibility of the state.

Rethinking The Legitimacy Of The State

What pushes people to sign up a social contract in pursuit of developing a state? If not, let’s dissect the circumstances that led to the theoretical conception of a state. 

Philosophically, the concept of a social contract was propounded by the 18th century theorists Thomas Hobbs, John Locke and Rousseau to get rid of the evils of the state of nature where no definite law and judge, as Locke puts it, existed which forced Rousseau to dub human as a Nobel Savage. 

Since no definite laws and the executioner existed, man ultimate goal was to preserve his life even if he has to take the life of his counterpart. In terms of political science, the state of nature, which is a utopic conception of the society before the existence of state, is rightly considered as anarchic society. Though Rousseau would disagree if he was to be asked, I am writing this merely for the general understanding of the concept for the readers.

In order to get rid of the anarchy, social contract theorists came up with the idea of signing a (social) contract between the governed and governors. Although, the means to achieving peace and security were different, the ultimate goal of all the three theorists was one: Secure the life, and property of the governed. This responsibility of preserving the life, and estates were entrusted to the ruler whose sole purpose was to bring order in the society. 

In case of his failure, the ruler would no longer be legitimate thereby he has to be sent packing. Is your state successful in preserving your life, freedom, and property? If you nod your head, your government is legitimate. If otherwise, allow me to inform you that an illegitimate government is ruling you without serving the purpose for which he/she was enthroned.  

In light of the above detailed analysis, the chairlift saga at Batagram is one such case which demands attention towards the responsibility of the state. Above 600 meter high in air, 7 students including a teacher got stranded in a broken chairlift which they used to commute the distance between the mountains in order to get to school. 

That morning, they had no idea they would not only miss their classes, but would also be on the verge of losing their precious lives. Thanks to the gallant and brave efforts of the locals, they were rescued unhurt though mental trauma would have hit them and their kith and kin the most.  

The authorities did come to help rescue them, but they were ill prepared to complete the operation on their own. Does this failure of the state machinery to rescue the stranded men renders the government illegitimate? I leave it to you to choose whatever way you think.

However, I’ll dive into the reasons that renders the state inefficient in terms of providing social, economic, health, and educational securities to its citizens. Ishrat Hussain, in his book governing the Ungovernable, argues that the political instability in Pakistan is the leading cause behind the economic downfall of the country. The case of political instability in Pakistan is not new. There is no single Prime Minister apart from ZAB who has the credit to complete his/her term since the inception of Pakistan. In the first decade, when we were supposed to have only two prime ministers, we saw the enthroning and dethroning of nine Prime ministers. 

Today, after 7 decades, when we were supposed to have only three prime ministers from 2008 to 2023, we have seen the rise and fall of six prime ministers. In the 21st century, when we were to have a stable democracy and fair elections, we have a controlled and pseudo democracy and engineered elections. 

All these maneuvers against the wishes of the majority of the people have led the country to a situation where the state fails to live up to its promises it had made with its citizens. As a result, we will have undesired crises in varying shapes, ranging from the death of 30 stranded people in the dead of the night in Murree, the loss of 1200 people and wiping out of thousands of homes due to floods and earthquakes, to the scourge of terrorism taking more than 80,000 lives so far with no prospects of its onslaught against the people coming to an end. 

The recent saga of the seven students stuck 600 meters above in the chairlift with the state efforts ending up in smoke further exposed the loopholes in the state machinery. Given these precarious statistics, I leave it to you re-think whether the state lives up to its promise of securing your life, liberty and estates it had made while signing the social contract. After answering it in a yes or no, I once more leave it to you to think whether you consider the government legitimate or otherwise.