“What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?”
[Thomas Jefferson to William Stephens Smith, 1787]
Pakistan has now entered a crisis of state authority. Its defining features are: (i) The government has demonstrated an inability to effectively use coercive force for establishing the writ of the state, (ii) The government’s political legitimacy has been put into question. Let us consider each of these in turn: First, the inability to establish the writ of the state and resultant negotiations with armed militant groups implies parcellizing sovereignty to such groups who have emerged as rival powers to that of the state within its geographic domain. This is indicated by the implicit ceding of state authority to armed tribal groupings in Waziristan and subsequently to Taliban type extremist religious groups in some of the settled urban areas of the NWFP. Second, the popular and sustained street protests triggered by the suspension of the Chief Justice of Pakistan and the manner of his treatment by the government, constitute a questioning of the legitimacy of the existing political order.
The crisis of state power and legitimacy was manifested with tragic clarity on May 12th in Karachi. It is widely believed that on that day a political party allied to the federal government tried to “show its strength” by preventing the Chief Justice from addressing the local Bar Association: There was a break down of law and order and a blood bath ensued. The following day there was a countrywide protest strike from Karachi to Khyber by the people of Pakistan, united in their moral outrage against injustice. As Barrington Moore, Jr. has argued, moral anger and the associated sense of injustice is rooted in the sense of injury that is felt when a social rule is perceived to have been violated. (Injustice: The Social Bases of Obedience and Revolt). It can be argued therefore that the present protest movement implies the affirmation of shared norms and values by the people of Pakistan. It is these essential values and norms which are the bedrock of national integrity and give meaning to the struggle for democracy.
The erosion of state authority in different areas of Pakistan shows that the rule of law and the efficacious exercise of state power have now become inseparable from the issue of subordinating the state apparatus to elected civil authority as envisaged in the constitution of 1973. Let us therefore examine Pakistan’s current crisis in the context of the issue of legitimacy and state power.
In examining the nature of legitimacy two key questions arise: (i) What justifies political obedience as a lawful obligation? (ii) What is the basis on which a people grant to the government the right to rule?
Let us briefly examine each of these questions. First, as Rousseau has argued (the Geneva Manuscript, the Social Contract) neither time nor force, nor economic power engenders a genuine right to rule to a government, and to the citizens a lawful obligation of compliance. The source of legitimate authority resides in a free covenant. Such a Social Contract is based on the sense of common interest, which is manifested in the General Will. Thus the foundation of a state and its political order is the reasoned establishment of a principle of legitimacy. The logic of legitimacy and the embodiment of the General Will in Pakistan as in any other civilized state must surely reside in the Constitution, a Constitution unsullied by the exigencies of dictatorial rule.
In addressing the second question, the essential proposition is that the Social Contract embodies the General Will when it guarantees freedom, the equality of all citizens before the law, and the protection of those human rights which a particular people deem to be essential to them. This proposition has a vital implication for the integrity of the state and society: It is in the granting of legitimacy to a state and its political order that a people become a people. This is because the granting of legitimacy involves the apprehension of the common interest and the exercise of the General Will. It is in exercising the General Will that the people become conscious of the particular values that are essential to them and which articulate their collective identity. Thus it can be suggested that the granting of legitimacy by a people simultaneously constitutes the foundation of both state and society.
Let us now consider the requirements of establishing order. As Douglass North has argued, order can in principle be established through an authoritarian rule (without the consent of the governed) predicated on conformity. This submission to authority is attributed to a mixture of coercive force by the ruler and social norms whereby the citizens deem it in their interest to submit. (Douglass North: Understanding the Process of Economic Change). It can be argued that the establishment of order even within authoritarian governance is possible only when coercive force can be used effectively. In Pakistan as we have seen, an authoritarian government has been unable to exercise force effectively, thereby creating disorder. What makes the maintenance of dictatorial rule even more difficult is that the social norms induce citizens to resist rather than submit to oppression: the people of Pakistan aspire for freedom and democracy. This is why historically even military governments have found it necessary to constitute a civilian façade. Thus, in Pakistan’s historical experience, undemocratic governments lack legitimacy and therefore are unable to use state power effectively.
In contrast to authoritarian rule, North argues that the underpinning of democracy and constitutional rule is a particular consciousness
, (a common belief system) which translates into a set of institutions conceived to be legitimate. Consensual order therefore requires both legitimate institutions and the consciousness of people which induces them to rise in revolt against rulers who deviate from democracy. Therein lies the importance of the present popular movement: It is defending legitimate institutions such as the judiciary, is resisting dictatorship and seeks to establish a constitutional order that embodies the Will of the people. Only such a democratic polity will have the legitimacy to ensure the maintenance of law, order and the efficacy of state power.