The Cost of Endless Power Ambitions

Dr Moonis Ahmar | 12 December 2022
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Lust for power is nothing new but the price which is paid for seeking authority by all means is huge

PTI Chairman Imran Khan has warned that he can only observe restraint in dissolving the provincial assemblies of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa if he is assured that election date will not go beyond March 2023. “I will wait for four to five more days for the government response to this offer otherwise I will dissolve [the two assemblies] and take 66% of Pakistan to polls.”

Khan — currently riding the crest of the popularity wave — insists that fresh elections in March 2023 is the only way to stop the prevailing crisis in the country from escalating, but PDM leaders want to delay elections as much as possible in view of their weaning popularity since taking over the government. Khan’s demand for early elections and PDM’s denial mode mean both are bogged down in their endless drive for power.

Both sides are least concerned about the looming economic breakdown and the plight of 220 million Pakistanis at the hands of severe price hike, rampant corruption, rising inflation and growing unemployment — not to mention with devastation caused by recent floods.

The question is: will elections, early or at their scheduled time, help improve the socio-economic conditions of people and ensure good governance, rule of law, accountability and political stability in the country?

What is power and how does it shape the mindset of people, particularly the elite? Hans J Morgenthau, an International Relations icon, defined power as, “the power of men over the minds and actions of other men.” According to renowned political scientist Georg Schwarzenberger, power means “capacity to impose one’s will on others by reliance on effective sanctions in case of compliance.” In its essence, power means ability to influence the minds and actions of people.

Lust for power is nothing new but the price which is paid for seeking authority by all means is huge. If power is used as a means to accomplish the end, which is welfare of people, then one can expect positive transformation of state and society. Like many other post-colonial states, Pakistan is a classic example where power is sought and abused for privileges, perks and ill-gotten wealth. The prevailing crisis in Pakistan, which furthered in the wake of the PTI government’s ouster from power through a vote of no-confidence, will take a dangerous shape if Punjab and K-P assemblies are dissolved for 66% of Pakistan to go to polls.

There is nothing wrong with power ambitions; but when the exclusive aim of seeking power is to maximise one’s wealth and privileges and misuse authority to benefit favourites, the outcome is degeneration of society. The absence of enlightenment, integrity, political wisdom and acumen among those who matter is a bitter reality in Pakistan. As a result, with a myopic view of things, those aspiring to seek more and more power are not interested in ameliorating the socio-economic conditions of people, and only focus on either perpetuating their hold over power or deny power to their opponents.

It is not difficult to assess why there is no positive transformation in the mindset of political parties, bureaucracy, judiciary, military and other organs of state wielding power. In fact, Pakistan is still a power-centric tribal and feudal society. Not learning from the success story of countries which were poor, impoverished and backward but were able to use power for economic development, empowering the weaker segments of society and adhering to proper work ethics is highly unfortunate. When the leadership of a country does not use power for corruption and nepotism — like in case of former Singapore PM Lee Kuan Yu — such a country leaves the Third World to enter the First World in just one generation. In the Pakistani society though, erosion of ethics and values galvanised the process of degeneration of economy and politics.

Understanding endless power ambitions in the context of ground realities of Pakistan can be done in three ways.

First comes the absence of professional approach to deal with issues which tend to degenerate economy, education and institutions responsible for running the affairs of the country. Professionalism requires integrity, purposeful research, time management, focus, planning and perseverance on issues critical to the survival of a country. Nowhere in our political discourse today there is emphasis on pulling the country from the brink of an economic disaster and political fragmentation. As a result, those wielding power and those out of power tend to utilise their energies on issues which have nothing to do with the concerns of masses. Had professional approach been adopted by political parties and those representing various organs of state, Pakistan would have been better off today. Politics of deceit, opportunism and hypocrisy seem to have been embedded in our society and state organs.

Second, power ambitions in Pakistan also relate to an authoritarian mindset devoid of political pluralism, tolerance, accountability and rule of law. The long persisting human security challenges ranging from poor quality of education, health facilities, housing, public transport, clean and safe drinking water, unhygienic conditions and meager empowerment of women reflect misuse of power since the country’s inception. Countries like South Korea, Singapore and the UAE which were far behind us in human security and development are now much ahead because of their leadership used power to focus on good governance, rule of law, accountability, better work ethics, quality of life of people, and planning.

Finally, a state where power is not used to merely silence dissent and eradicate non-conformist elements is politically peaceful and stable. Surge in intolerance, radicalisation, extremism, militancy, violence and terrorism in Pakistan is because those wielding power are least interested in eradicating the causes of aforementioned threats which endanger the very survival of this country.

It makes sense if early elections, or elections on time, can help better the socio-economic conditions of the people. On the other hand, holding or delaying elections for satiating the lust for power is only going to add to the prevailing crises in the country.

The writer is former Dean Faculty of Social Science, University of Karachi and can be reached at [email protected].

This article was originally published on The Express Tribune.
Views in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect CGS policy.