Hazrat Ali’s Formula for Good Governance

A formula for governance
By Tariq Islam
Monday, 24 Aug, 2009
“Breathes there the man with soul so dead
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!” — Sir Walter Scott

AS Pakistanis we don’t seem to love our land or take pride in it. We don’t value or cherish it; not for us the motto “this land is my land; this land is your land”. Warts and all, this is the only piece of land we will ever get to call our own.

Ask the Palestinians what it means to have land you can call your own. Or the thousands of Asian immigrants who fled the tyranny in Idi Amin’s Uganda to settle in the West. Sixty-two years hence, we remain a lost generation, wandering like a lost tribe perusing a mirage, having watched our chieftains’ loot, pillage and plunder.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens questioned whether, “Pakistan is a country or merely a space”, contrasting it with Henry Kissinger’s quote on Iran “whether the Islamic Republic was a country or a cause”.

Stephens likened Pakistan to Somalia, which too, he claimed, is a space providing a sanctuary for pirates, destitution and Islamic jihadists. Before we become the subject of international and national debate on whether we are a ‘space’ or a ‘cause’, we need to extricate ourselves from this seditious swamp and address the conditions that create the physical and ideological chaos.

It does not take genius to prescribe the time-tested formula of good governance. Good governance means redressing the problems both social and economic. It means revising skewed budgets in favour of education, healthcare and social welfare. We have the very rich or the very miserable, and very little in between. An economic model that redresses the balance cannot be postponed.

Nobody has articulated the precepts of good governance better than Hazrat Ali (RA) in his historic treatise in the form of a letter to Malik Ashtar, governor of Egypt. It is worth paraphrasing selected portions from the letter:

“Be it known to you, O Malik, that people speak well only of those who do good. It is they who furnish the proof of your actions. Hence the richest treasure you may covet must be the treasure of good deeds. Keep your desires under control and deny yourself that which you have been prohibited. Develop in your heart the feelings of love for your people and let it be the source of kindliness and blessing to them.

“Bear in mind that you are placed over them, even as I am placed over you. And then there is God even above him who has given you the position of a governor in order that you may look after those under you and to be sufficient unto them.

“Maintain justice in administration and impose it on your own self and seek the consent of the people, for the discontent of the masses sterilises the contentment of the privileged few and the discontent of the few loses itself in the contentment of the many.

“Remember, the privileged few will not rally around you in moments of difficulty: they will try to sidetrack justice, they will ask for more than what they deserve and will show no gratitude for favours done to them. They will feel restive in the face of trials and will offer no regret for their shortcomings. It is the common man who is the strength of the state and of religion. It is he who fights the enemy. So live in close contact with the masses and be mindful of their welfare.

“Do not take counsel of the one who is greedy, for he will instil greed in you and turn you into a tyrant. The worst of counsellors is he who has served as a counsellor to unjust rulers and shared their crimes. So never let men who have been companions of tyrants or shared their crimes be your counsellors.

“Keep near to you the upright and the God-fearing, and make clear to them that they are never to flatter you and never to give you credit for anything that you may not have done. For the tolerance of flattery and unhealthy praise stimulates pride in man and makes him arrogant.

“Do not treat the good and the bad alike. That will deter the good from doing good, and encourage the bad in their pursuits. Give credit where it is due.

“Select for your chief judge the one who is by far the best among the people, one who cannot be intimidated; one who does not turn back from the right path; one who is not self-centred and avaricious; one whom flattery cannot mislead or one who does not exult over his position.

“Never select men for responsible posts either out of any regard for personal connections or under any influence, for that will lead to injustice and corruption. Select for higher posts men of experience, firm in faith and belonging to good families. Such men will not fall an easy prey to temptations.

“Great care is to be exercised in revenue administration, to ensure the prosperity of those who pay the revenue to the state, for it is on their prosperity that the prosperity of others depends; particularly the prosperity of the masses. Indeed, the state exists on its revenue.

“You should regard the proper upkeep of the land in cultivation for revenue cannot be derived except by making the land productive. He who demands revenue without helping the cultivator to improve his land, inflicts unmerited hardships on the cultivator and ruins the state. The rule of such a person does not long last.

“Adopt useful schemes for those engaged in trade and industry and help them with wise counsels. Visit every part of the country and establish personal contact with this class, and inquire into their conditions. But bear in mind that a good many of them are intensely greedy. They hoard grain and try to sell it at a high price; and this is most harmful to the public.

“Beware! Fear God when dealing with the problems of the poor who have none to patronise, who are forlorn, indigent and helpless. Among them are some who do not question their lot in life and who, notwithstanding their misery, do not go about begging. For God’s sake, safeguard their rights.

“Meet the oppressed and the lowly periodically in open conferences, and be conscious of the divine presence there. Never for any length of time keep yourself aloof from the people. The ruler is after all human, and he cannot form a correct view of anything which is out of sight.

“It is imperative on you to study carefully the principles which have inspired just and good rulers who have gone before you”.

Need more be said? (Dawn)

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – Man Kunto Maula