The Government of the United States

I have heard many US Americans complain about the Government here and its flaws. I dare you to read this post, if by the end of it, you can draw me an organization chart of the Government I am about to compare the US Government to, I shall owe you a home-cooked South Asian meal.

This article relates to a current event. Click Here to follow these developments.

I know some of you may feel that I keep trying to connect what we study in class to observations that I have made outside of the ‘usual’ domestic American context. I have tried in the past to relate what I have seen in Pakistan (and which I understand well) to what I see here in the US, and try to understand the latter in the light of theory helped by personal observations of similar concepts in Pakistan.

This week, once again, my post’s topic was decided by an event that took place in Pakistan. The Supreme Court of Pakistan, constituted largely of judges that were appointed by the last military dictator to replace ‘constitutional’ judiciary, banned for life two of the most prominent politicians in Pakistan, one of whom was currently serving as the (elected) Chief Minister of the largest province – Punjab.

The actions of the Supreme Court (SC) raised many questions about the hierarchy in the Government of Pakistan and the chain of command, and distribution of power. I will not try to explain to you how the current judges got to be judges, and how the ‘real’ judges continue to protest on the streets every day, but to give you an idea of the situation I will give you a few facts.

  1. Pakistan has had three completely new constitutions drawn up – yes, it is a very high number considering the document is the most sacred entity in a democratic system.
  2. Pakistan has been ruled by the military for more than half of its 62 years of independence.
  3. No elected government in Pakistan has ever survived its intended five-year term. Some have resigned under pressure, some have been dismissed by the President on charges of corruptions, and others have been summarily dismissed in bloodless coups.

If you are not already asking the question by now, I will put it out there for you: What do these facts have to do with the Government of the United States? Did I merely give it that title so you would be slightly more tempted to read on? No. I state these facts because I wish to compare the stability (or lack thereof) of the Government of Pakistan to the stability of the Government of the US.

The Constitution of the United States was adoped in 1787. The US constitution has never been suspended, and has been amended only 27 times, with the last amendment coming in May, 1997. Under the Constitution, the Government of the US is divided into three branches: the Legislative Branch, the Executive Branch, and the Judicial Branch. The Constitution is the ‘supreme entity’ that governs all of these branches. All elected and nominated representatives swear to work by the rules of the constitution and to protect it. There is a well-defined structure prescribed for the Government within the constitution. The Constitution also lays out the rights and responsibilities of both the people and the people’s representatives. Any violaiton of these is punishable under the Law which is made by the Legislative Branch and implemented by the Judicial Branch.

There are fifteen further departments that are under the Executive Branch. This branch is headed by the President of the United States, who is himself responsible to the constitution. An organization chart of the US Government can be found here. There are several other boards, commisions, offices, and centers in addition to the fifteen departments, all of which help the governance of various aspects of citizens’ lives.

The entire system is highly formalized and rationalized. The law is applied equally to all citizens (for the most part) and there is an understanding that in order to avoid being punished one has to act in line with the Constitution. There has never been a reported incident where the US Military has planned a coup against the Government at home. This may have to do with the fact that the law of the land was in effect very early on, there was no existing form of Government in the US before the settlers came here. This allowed an environment to be created where outsiders had to subscribe to the same basic ideas in order to be a part of the system. Today this system has expanded and includes people from all over the world, all of them subject to the same laws and answerable to the same authorities.

The Government of Pakistan is a different story altogether. There are a few different official websites for the Government of Pakistan. The Head of State website leads us to the President’s website, meanwhile the Head of Government leads us to the Prime Minister’s website. This is a slightly confusing idea, that the Government of the State is not headed by the Head of the State. If we take a look at the (now maligned) Constitution of Pakistan, the text of which can be found here, we come across another position. This position is called the Chief Executive of Pakistan. The position was created by a military ruler (General Musharaf) to ‘legalize’ (if one can) his violation and suspension of the Constitution. This suspension was followed by a rigged election, introduction of a Provisional Constitutional Order (a temporary constitution), and the suspension of those judges that refused to (uphold the ‘real’ law) take oath under this Provisional Constitutional Order. Thus, the entire system was re-created by one man to legalize an action which is punishable by death. How a man who swore to protect the Constitution got to be the ‘legal’ Head of the State is a question that requires an analysis of the environment and its evolution.

Unlike the US, Pakistan was a land long-inhabited by different peoples, some of them feudal lords, some land lords, and others princes of small states. The system went through relatively quick changes under the British Empire’s rule, which left Pakistan with a Constitution, but little had changed in the minds of the people. The environment was too diverse. There were no common goals in this new nation, and few even knew that there existed a document which dictated how the country would be run. It was not until 1956, nine years after independence, that the first indigenous version of the Constitution was adopted. This was replaces in 1962 after a military coup, and once again in 1973. The current constitution is a heavily modified version of the document that was produced in 1973.

So who is in charge? With weak law enforcement and a “double-sided” court system where one Supreme Court ruled by the Constitution and the other, the Shariah Court, ruled by the Holy Book, it became impossible to implement any law and enforce rules and regulations through the hierarchy. This lack of a consistent goal, a heterogenous environment where the actors did not have any common goals have led to the current state of the nation.

So where the US Constitution succeeded in creating an organization that not only would succeed intitially but would create an environment within which it would be stable and can grow stronger, the Constitution of Pakistan never accomplished any such thing. Tribal elders, religious scholards, land lords, historically influential families, and rich industrialists have all had their way at some time or the other, and have been succesful to varying degrees. The lack of accountability leaves the system extremely vulnerable to collapse.

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One Response

  1. I think you owe me a home cooked South Asian meal. Just kidding.

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