Everything for sale

CONSCIENTIOUS intellectuals of the modern world would feel no hesitation in admitting that the original sin of the New World, including Europe and America, is slavery that they committed centuries ago vis-à-vis the people of the Dark Continent. Likewise, when we analyse the development plight of the Third World countries, we realise that the actual crime of the ruling establishment in these nations is the rampant corruption they have committed against their people by stealing national wealth and ruining social, political and governance structures.

According to historical records, what was to become regular transatlantic slave trade involving the Europeans and the people of Africa probably began in 1491 when Portuguese sailors, in the guise of traders, priests and emissaries, arrived in the kingdom of the Kongo. Slavery in Africa then was not as harsh as what the Europeans later established in the New World. As time passed, the lust for slave profits converted into such “monstrous greed” that priests abandoned their preaching and began to keep black women and men as enslaved people and then sold them to Portuguese merchants. This fever seized not only the priests but also corrupt local chiefs who were getting rich on the back of the slave trade. They were depopulating their lands by selling human cargo to the Portuguese in return for fascinating jewellery, clothes, tools and household ornaments.

King Affonso took over as the ruler of the Kongo in 1506. He was not an abolitionist, but he was against overseas slavery. His strong opposition to the overseas slave trade incurred the enmity of foreigners and local chiefs. During his long rule, Affonso wrote to Portuguese King João III to stop the slave trade in his lands, but to no avail. Affonso also sent messengers to the Pope, but the Portuguese traders kidnapped them before they reached Rome. The slave trade in the Kongo continued till the late 19th century. Internal chaos and regional disunity led to the dismemberment of the kingdom, making it easy for the Europeans to colonise the whole territory.

In one place, King Affonso is found complaining to his fellow chiefs: “In this kingdom, faith is as fragile as glass because of the bad examples of the men who come to teach here, because the lusts of the world and lure of wealth have turned them away from the truth. Just as the Jews crucified the Son of God because of covetousness, my brothers, so today he is again crucified.”

States get weak not because of the interference of outsiders but because of inefficient, egoist and corrupt national institutions.

While going through this historical anecdote, the speeches of our ex-prime minister Imran Khan, which he delivers at his political gatherings, resonate in my mind. King Affonso was lamenting that the Portuguese, in connivance with his local chiefs, were kidnapping his people. Khan is complaining that his political rivals have stolen his nation’s wealth and put them in offshore accounts. His politically charged speeches have a definite role in awakening the masses. But he does not speak candidly. It is not only politicians who are considered corrupt in Pakistan.

No political party can come to power in this country without a symbiotic agreement with powerful institutions. By agreeing upon such terms, you are obligated to protect the interests of those, along with yours, who manoeuvre ‘ballots and horses’ for you. If the ex-prime minister has ever made such a deal, why the lamentation?

Backdoor compromises with non-political players against widely accepted political norms are detrimental to democracy and truthfulness. Personally, Khan may be less corrupt than his predecessors. But as a traditional power-seeker, he has used unfair channels to come to power and compromised the national interest by accommodating his wealthy businessman-cum-politician companions, who are said to bear his personal and political expenditures. Riasat-i-Madina was not built on such principles.

Blaming alien forces, especially India and America, for all the mess in the country is not an effective strategy. We should be bold enough to accept our collective failures and realign our national priorities. Our territorial sovereignty has repeatedly been violated despite huge budgetary expenditure on acquiring modern equipment. Incidents of public lynching of locals and a foreigner in Sialkot have tarnished our national image. Still, none of the state functionaries at the senior level have ever been held responsible for their perennial inefficiency and lethargy on account of strong cadre protection.

States get weak not because of the interference of outsiders but because of inefficient, egoist and corrupt national institutions. Without delivering even basic public welfare, our institutions always remain in a race to grab the maximum financial resources from the state’s annual budgets.

Self-accountability is non-existent in our society. Accountability within government organisations has a trickle-down impact, and it should begin from the top. But we have a reverse accountability process. Most state officials live beyond their known sources of income because the weak and selective accountability system provides refuge to them. The former prime minister introduced the Civil Servants (Directory Retirement from Service) Rules, 2020, to force the retirement of inefficient and corrupt officials, but the strong civil service cadres got these rules repealed swiftly after his departure.

We all know that the real power in the country does not vest in the masses. Neither are they cognisant of the dynamics of economics, politics and institutional power games. Unfortunately, they suffer the most because of institutionalised corruption, arbitrary treatment and exclusion. Trust deficit, parochialism and ethnolinguistic biases are deepening. The claims of nationalism and patriotism feel shallow.

For our national well-being, we need to support a genuine political leadership in the country whose primary focus is on ensuring regional homogeneity, powerful local governments, equitable distribution of prosperity among federating units, and the formation of a strong and non-partisan accountability force. It is possible if we succeed in reining in the monstrous greed of both the guards and guardians by bringing them within the ambit of the rules and laws.

The writer is a governance and development analyst.

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