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The fourth lion

Syed Ali Zafar

September 18, 2018


According to ancient legend in Japan, the emperor’s throne (the state) is guarded by four lions. While three of them are conventional: the legislature, the judiciary and the executive, the most important is the fourth. Lean and active, it represents the ‘people’. When the three traditional lions are unable to protect the throne, being sluggish and corrupted, the fourth lion rises and saves the state and its ideology.

This legend, though a folk story, contains a philosophy which political philosophers have defined and fine-tuned. Aristotle based the concept of the collective will of the people on the very DNA of humans when he said that “Man is a social animal”. Indeed, just as in the animal kingdom one has a pack of wolves, a pride of lions, a parade of elephants and parliament of monkeys (no reference to Pakistan), so too in a nation there must always be a civil society, without which there can be no state, only banana republics.

An equally well-known political philosopher Plato too thought of the “civil society” (the fourth lion) as “a guardian of the state”. In the modern times, celebrated author, Francis Fukuyama’s latest book ‘The Origins of Political Order’ offers the thesis that it is the existence of society in a country which finally leads to political order.

In Islamic jurisprudence, political and social philosophy, besides the running of the government with all the institutions (amoor-e-mumlikat), there is a mandatory message that there should exist in a society a group of people who can criticise the government and wayward people to abstain from wrong (nahi anil munkir) and guide them towards good deeds (amar al maroof).

Our constitution too encourages society to act as a whole and has raised it on the threshold of a fundamental right where Article 17’s ‘Freedom of Association’ is grouped along with other supporting rights: freedom of speech, information and consciousness.

The importance of this fourth lion was well recognised by developed and democratic countries more than a hundred years ago when they came up with the concept of ‘think tanks’. In the US alone, there are world famous institutions like RAND, CSIS and CFR. There are similar think ranks in the UK, France, China and India. All these groups are headed and run by experts who work constantly to guide governments with the best opinions and visionary policies. History has confirmed that many of the suggestions by these think tanks have ended up being part of the strategy adopted by governments.

These think tanks are totally independent, have their own endowments and are created for diverse specific subjects, mostly by like-minded people, and backed by philanthropists and business. Some of them have also been supported by government contributions; yet, in the matter of their selection of subjects, research and preparation of reports, they are totally autonomous. If such organisations are active and have enough funds of their own, they can function as surrogates of the government, thereby lessening its burden.

The situation in Pakistan, however, is dismal. We achieved independence from colonial rule, in which there was the British Raj on the one side and the Indian population, on the other. The Indian National Congress and the Muslim League created a sense of freedom amongst the people. And so began the renaissance, resulting in the creation of two states.

Pakistan was basically a rural society living in small villages. Rulers came and went but life in the rural areas continued as before. Pakistan’s civil society was, to start with, indifferent and unconcerned with the way of governance.

No wonder then that when the first martial law of 1958 was imposed, it was a catastrophe, but Pakistan’s civil society was asleep. The consul general of the US at the time sent a report to Washington that, “It has been the most bloodless coup d’état as not a dog barked.” This was a very severe remark about the then people of Pakistan but the fact is that at that time there did not exist a group of people who could resist this wrong. It was this indifference which many scholars believe paved the way and encouraged next adventurers to take over. The same happened in the case of General Yahya Khan when ‘people’, unaware of their rights, welcomed him. This was repeated when sweets were distributed on Musharraf’s coup in 1999.

Pakistan today is still devoid of active and vigilant associations of think tanks. All that exist are either not autonomous, or dependent on government support or foreign assistance. Although the PTI government has taken the right step in appointing task forces for its assistance, these task forces are still part of the government and are no substitute for independent and autonomous think tanks who will be able to give not just advice but also act as a check and balance on government.

Unless the civil society participates in the government through the formation of think tanks, there can be no complete accountability, injustice will continue to prevail, good governance will be a mirage and the challenges facing Pakistan, (none less than the scourge of corruption and violence of terrorism) will not be overcome. The worst consequence of a weak public who are not aware of their rights is that even the laws made for the people become oppressive measures against them and benefit the ‘elites’ while the poor remain so and the corrupt continue to flourish.

The good thing is that there appears to be an awakening of the people’s lion in Pakistan. Indeed the time is right and it will be good if the first step for creating such think tanks is taken by the government. However, the mantle for this must be taken up by the educated and influential individuals within the business community and society. We have a number of political parties but none with a proper think tank. This should be a part of their manifestos and the amount spent lavishly on election campaigns should be directed partly towards the establishment of independent think tanks so that when a particular political party comes into power, it has some visionary agenda and does not run after a populist approach.

The writer is a Supreme Courtadvocate who served as a caretaker federal minister in 2018, and was the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association in 2015-16.


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