Tomorrow, the nation will celebrate 75th Independence Day with a hope that the incumbent government is going to bring the much-needed reforms in all spheres of governance and fix chronic maladies so that Pakistan can be transformed into an egalitarian state. It is an undeniable fact that after seven decades of independence, the ruling elites of Pakistan—militro-judicial-civil complex, businessmen-turned politicians and absentee landowners—have pushed the country into great turmoil. Despite becoming a nuclear state, we are ensnared in a deadly debt trap where majority of the population lacks even basic amenities of life. Wealth and power are concentrated in a few hands and overwhelming burden of taxes is shifted to the less-privileged. The elitist economy favours the rich and mighty—with every passing day the rich-poor divide is widening. This paradox depicts what Zulfikar Ali Bhutto highlighted in his masterpiece, Myth of Independence.
Our oppressive economic system protects and promotes interests of the exploitative classes in utter violation of Article 3 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan [“the Constitution”]. Since its inception, Pakistan nurtured an exploitative system, which has been gaining strength with each passing day and presently, all forms of exploitation and repression are so deeply rooted that they are even taking away the guaranteed “right to life” from the poor, what to talk of fulfilling the promise mentioned in Article 3 of the Constitution which says: “The State shall ensure the elimination of all forms of exploitation and the gradual fulfilment of the fundamental principle, from each according to his ability, to each according to his work.” It was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who for the first time, thought of including in the Constitution, what he called ‘Islamic socialism’.
In fact, he borrowed it from socialism. It was considered the lower stage of communism with Marx’s contention, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. Marx had specific conditions in mind for such a creed to work in a society where artificial intelligence (AI). technology and social organisation would substantially eliminate the need for physical labour as we are witnessing under the third industrial revolution in the production of goods and services, where “labour becomes not only a means of life but life’s prime want”.
Marx explained that in such a society, each person would be motivated to work for the good of society, despite the absence of a social mechanism compelling them to work, because work would become a pleasurable and creative activity. Marx intended the initial part of his slogan, “from each according to his ability” to suggest not merely that each person should work as hard as he/she can, but that each person should best develop his or her particular talents.
After reading Article 3 of the Constitution, our students ask: “Can constitutional command of gradual elimination of all forms of exploitation be enforced through the Supreme Court using Article 184(3) of the Constitution”? They ask why the Supreme Court, taking wholesale “so motu” actions, does not go for enforcement of fundamental rights like free and compulsory education under Article 25A and fulfilment of the principle laid down in Article 3 of the Constitution?
Unfortunately, as a nation we have collectively failed to abide by the supreme law of the land. Theoretically, all admit that the Constitution is supreme and each organ of the state has to perform its duties and functions in accordance with the constitutional scheme, but practically unelected institutions dictate their commands. Resultantly, we all are disillusioned as even after 74 years of existence, the political will to implement Article 3 and other fundamental rights guaranteed in Chapter 1 of the Constitution is totally non-existent.
The prevalent system protects the interests of the privileged classes and the judiciary is no exception. The laws that our judiciary interprets and protects with zeal, in fact, ensure “sanctity of private property” and “exploitation of the have-nots”. The judiciary is not a revolutionary organ—it is a product of the existing socio-economic system. It is naive to expect from judiciary any avant-garde. For getting socio-economic justice, the people will have to wage relentless struggle and exert moral pressure on elected representatives.
Imran Khan, head of Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), in victory speech of July 26, 2018, vowed to make Pakistan a welfare state. He did not mention implementation of Article 3 of the Constitution as a starting point or abolition of the existing tax system, which is highly unjust and oppressive. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, from 2013-18, PTI showed no will to tax the privileged classes. The oppressive tax system blatantly violates Article 3 of the Constitution as the vast majority pays exorbitant indirect taxes even on essential commodities of everyday use while the mighty sections of society—the big absentee landowners, industrialists, judges, generals and bureaucrats—are amassing wealth and enjoying unprecedented tax exemptions. The rich absentee landowners are either avoiding or paying negligible agricultural income tax—only 0.06% of GDP.
Income inequalities are widening—resources are being transferred from the poor to the rich through manipulative taxes and inflation that is taxation without legislation. The exploitative classes, even mafias, fund politicians. The anti-people alliance of the greedy businessmen, tax officials and politicians deprives the state of revenue worth billions. The mighty sections of society are engaged in tax evasion and money laundering. The government of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) that won the 2018 election on anti-corruption promise, should have by now dismantled this anti-people, elitist structures and provided equitable distribution of wealth/resources as envisaged in Article 3 of the Constitution. However, in its first three years’ rule it has miserably failed to do so.
The burgeoning fiscal deficit and monstrous debt burden are not isolated phenomena. These are results of failure in undertaking fundamental structural reforms, enforcing fiscal discipline, cracking down on parallel economy, increasing tax collection, abolishing perks and benefits of the ruling elites, eliminating wasteful expenses, dismantling rent-seeking structures, ensuring rule of law, and stopping reckless borrowing and ruthless spending.
Resource mobilisation should have been the top priority of the coalition government of PTI by improving infrastructure, social services, growth of small and medium sized firms in the industrial sector and efficient/productive farming for an employment intensive and equitable economic growth process. It has done none of these. In the remaining two years, it must strive to end economic apartheid, large corporations with equity stakes for the poor be established through public-private partnerships. This would set the stage for a structural change that could help achieve economic growth for the people and by the people which is presently confined to the elites only.
The most disturbing and painful reality of Pakistan is unabated/shameless indulgence of ruling elites in wasteful expenditures. Look at their lifestyle when the majority of population is undernourished and suffering extreme hardships since the Covid-19 endemic. For becoming an economically self-reliant nation, the rulers will have to take the first step by starting to live at a modest level. True independence requires self-reliance for which fundamental reforms are inevitable. There is no dearth of ideas and good people for such reforms. We only lack political will to abolish elitist structures that are the main impediments for ensuring equal opportunities for all citizens and extending to common people benefits of public spending and economic growth.
(The writers, lawyers and partners of Huzaima, Ikram & Ijaz, are Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), members Advisory Board and Visiting Senior Fellows of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021