Revisiting Our Social Contract

Revisiting Our Social Contract

The total fiasco of the existing order implicates the drawing up of a new “social contract” in Pakistan to guarantee the provision of the inviolable human rights in letter and spirit. The theory of social contract first appeared during the 17th century when England, or to be more general, Europe was ravaged by the crisis of legitimacy of government to provide an answer to the question of authority of the rulers, redefine their relations with their subjects and reiterate their covenant to afford security to life, liberty and property of the latter.

Having started with the premise of the ‘state of nature’, social contractuals Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Rousseau advanced their respective arguments, significantly at odds with one another, yet all of them agreeing among themselves upon the ultimate end of the contract, i.e. the protection of person, respect and belongings of subjects. Thus, the very idea of a state armed with the rod of authority has been predicated on its vital function of ensuring peace, tranquility, rule of law, equitable sources of livelihood, liberties of life, property and initiative against any odds. So, in our case, where does the social contract stand in its application?

The masses were attracted under the banner of Quaid-e-Azam towards the realization of a separate Muslim majority state to which they would pledge their allegiance and which would in turn measure up to their aspirations. Needless to say, laying the groundwork for the contract took our political elite as many as nine years until a thin and fractured Constitution was promulgated, only to vanish in a puff of smoke within a spell of two years, following which marked the ushering in of a regime which, though superfluously wearing the facade of being popular, was not amenable for the parties to the contract, i.e. the public on which it magisterially thrust its contract. That being the Constitution of 1962. Soon it lapsed into limbo with its master and the country plunged into a shambolic state of civil war which ultimately culminated in the breaking away of one of the largest wings of the country and thus forming the state of Bangladesh.

The demoralized people of ‘New Pakistan’ were tied up to a fresh contract, viz. the Constitution of 1973 which provided, under a broad consensus, for the provisions that the people of Pakistan had long languished for, i.e. a charter of fundamental rights, a place for Islam in statecraft, regional autonomy, etc. However, the masses were left aghast at the futility of the contract on account of the lack of genuine will and selfishness on part of the politicians to abide by it. This inaugurated the longest and the bleakest era of a political farce on which the fraud scheme of Islamisation and intermittent pseudo-democratic regimes formed glaring contours.

With the disappearance of Musharraf’s one-man show of “enlightened regime”, the passage of 18th Amendment restoring the Constitution to its pristine form and democracy holding field, the people’s quest for an effective and responsive political order still goes immaterialised. Among our failures galore as a state and a nation, is our entanglement in the identity crisis; we have not been able to even tally our regional loyalties, ideological and national aspirations and individual and national interests to work out a broad national identity. The state’s laxity or unwillingness to weld the units into a compact and cohesive federation is yet another instance of its grand failure. Instead, the state’s unwarranted dabbling in imposing uniformity and its own version of national narrative based on narrow outlook, disingenuous stories and false assertions has left the country tottering.

Margaret Thatcher remarked:

Democracy is not just setting up elections. It is a way of life. Only then is it irreversible.

Contrarily, in our case, democracy is deemed to be beginning and ending with the holding of polls and casting of ballots. Even the election melodrama staged after every five years is nothing more than a dupe to switch over the reins of government from one dynasty or party to the other on account of absence of values of transparency, fair play, stable and sound political culture, insightful leadership, visionary political parties and responsible electorate. Another technical dilemma rendering our democracy immaterial is that of ‘political capital’ which invariably resides in the landowning class and tycoons with big commercial enterprise. Therefore, the system affords no way to a common citizen to exercise his or her say in the mainstream decision-making process. Creating conditions conducive to the safety of people’s life, liberty and property is the prime end that the state is supposed to serve. However, our state has displayed total impotence in achieving this end as well with the scourge of terrorism and extremism leaving the country ravaged. Moreover, whereas 50% of the Pakistanis are living a wretched life below the poverty line, unemployment is more rampant than ever, law and order has deteriorated simply beyond the control of the state, the economy is lying upside-down, the social sector is in disarray and the gulf between the haves and have-nots has widened over the years. Our political elite’s focus is brazenly centered on the only agenda of power and turf, oblivious to the sufferings of ordinary Pakistanis. The prices of day-to-day commodities have hiked up beyond the reach of the working class to subsist. Power load shedding, now supplemented by gas outages, has further added to the miseries of the common citizens.

Another factor necessitating the making up of the contract afresh is the sorry state of the rule of law. It is a true that while the rule of law can exist without democracy, democracy devoid of the application of rule of law is meaningless. Our police and judicial system are alarmingly in a state of “topsy-turvies”. The fact remains that while the law lands the poor behind bars for a minor breach, the same affords an easy passage to the rich to go scott-free. To get justice, an average Pakistani has to pay through the nose after years of lingering around courts to get litigation disposed of. Corruption has become so embedded in the innermost layers of our institutions that even getting one’s particulars attested forces one into greasing the palms of the persons concerned.

The social contract theory stipulated that upon the ruler’s breaking of the covenant, that is, not bringing peace and conducive conditions of life to the contracting party, the latter would be completely within its rights to depose it at any time and institute another ruler. While in Pakistan where a change of rulers takes place quite often, what is needed is some fundamental overhaul of the existing order. We opted for the Westminster parliamentary setup fashioned after our former master, Britain, without taking stock of our internal conditions, the feudal mode of our society, values, political culture and people’s tastes.

What is important is not ‘what is best’, rather what gets along with us best. It is high time our political elite readjusted the existing order, reassessed their priorities and finally revisited the social contract to make it viable and responsive to live up to the popular aspirations instead of staying rosy on paper only.


An earlier version of this article appeared in The World Times Magazine and is being republished here with permission.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of or any other organization with which he might be associated.

Farrukh Aziz Ansari

Author: Farrukh Aziz Ansari

The writer holds a master’s degree in Political Science. He is based in Islamabad and is studying Philosophy.