In Plato’s view, politics knows no morality, no ethics. He saw the newly restored corrupt democrats condemning and executing his teacher and friend, Socrates, whose truth and wisdom they could not tolerate. For Plato, only his imaginary “philosopher king” could bring enlightenment to the shadowy reality of politics. Plato devoted almost his entire thinking to reuniting the political and personal realms of existence, so that the virtues of the individual soul would lead to the virtues of the national soul. “Soul tending” he called it, and it is what we in Pakistan today need more than ever before in our history. Pakistan’s largest political party, once again, is on challenge and facing the brunt. In 1971, its founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had inherited a physically truncated country. After Benazir Bhutto’s assassination two years ago, Asif Ali Zardari’s inherited a Bhutto-less truncated party.

Ever since we heard the slogan of “Pakistan Khappey” in the name of “national reconciliation” following her assassination, we have only been cutting ourselves into pieces, severing hands, rupturing knees and breaking jaws. Instead of gaining balance, we have gone to the extremes, and are not sparing even solemn anniversaries for spitting fire against unknown enemies and fuelling conspiracy theories. This frenzied outburst is a result of the paranoia in reaction to the Supreme Court decision on the NRO, another instrument of “national reconciliation.” In the last few weeks, Asif Ali Zardari has twice raised the bogey of “non-state political actors” and other unnamed forces conspiring against his party and its government. First on the PPP’s founding-day anniversary and now on Benazir Bhutto’s second death anniversary, he made identical un-presidential speeches, raising many enigmatic and unanswered questions as well as spectres of hallucination.

As president of a country which is a nuclear power he must show some restraint and responsibility. We cannot afford an incendiary or erratic behaviour at this level, at a time when we are facing the worst-ever challenges of our history and need coolheaded, measured approaches in our domestic and external behaviour. We need to focus on the scourge of terrorism and related external challenges to our security and independence. If Zardari, as co-chairman of his party, must occasionally resort to such behaviour, he should seriously consider giving up the office of president, which by its very nature must epitomise serenity of mind and tenderness of soul. In any case, it is not democratic on his part to be simultaneously holding the two offices. It is also a violation of tradition and an ethical code established by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah in 1947 when, as governor general, he refused to remain head of the Muslim League.

An elected president, a Bhutto successor, is not even embarrassed that he is wearing his dictator predecessor’s worn out shoes. Zardari had an opportunity of his life to be a man of destiny in Pakistan’s history. But unlike the real Bhuttos, he could not connect himself with the masses, and has had no interaction with the suffering common man. The nation is fast coming to the conclusion that politicians are just not capable of steering its destiny. What puzzles the nation most is the warnings of “threats” to democracy. Who is threatening it? Also, where is the democracy that is under threat? Democracy is nowhere in sight or in practice in Pakistan. And yet, the PPP’s politically illiterate provincial spokespersons are tirelessly ranting about “conspiracies” while senselessly lashing out at unnamed “enemies” of democracy. They are fuming insanity, threatening the very existence of Pakistan if anyone tried to oust the PPP government or its leadership.

One of them went to the extent of claiming that if Zardari had not said “Pakistan Khappey” after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, they were all set for the breaking up of Pakistan. Such behaviour is an outright breach of his oath in which he solemnly pledged allegiance to the same country that he was contemplating to break. Perhaps for politicians of his ilk, Pakistan is no more than a mud house that can be demolished at will. It is time for sanity to return to our politician community.The tragedy of our nation is that democracy was never allowed to flourish in our country, not only because of the protracted spells of military rule but also because of our political bankruptcy and our feudalised political culture. Democracy in our case has also periodically remained hostage to the personal whims and idiosyncrasies of elected or unelected civilian leaders. The arbitrary dismissal of Pakistan’s first Constituent Assembly in 1954 was in fact a civilian coup, and the beginning of the Machiavellian process that continues in different forms.

After eight years of a dictator’s rule, the people expected real democracy to return to the country and gave a mandate to their elected political leaders to bring about change. The change never came. The dictator is gone but dictatorship stays put in the form of his notorious 17th Amendment, which is still hanging out there in the Presidency. We may have an elected government and an elected president, but without the original 1973 Constitution, democracy remains elusive in Pakistan.In less than two years, the politicians have proved themselves unworthy of the trust and confidence the people had reposed in them in February 2008. Our present system, which is neither parliamentary nor presidential, is without parallel in political philosophy or contemporary history. The dysfunctional parliament is no different from Musharraf’s rubberstamp 2002 parliament which elected him twice while he was in uniform.

The same breed of shapeless and motionless wooden marionettes that are always at the beck and call of their master are sitting in our present parliament. It does no legislation, except passing the annual finance bill with deficit to be funded from external charity. No wonder we are endlessly lost in what could pass for a puppetry drama where actors made of flesh and actors made of wood are together producing a constant comedy of errors with a surrealist, weirdly hilarious quality. One thing is clear. Nobody wants to derail the system. But the system must return to the 1973 Constitution as it stood on Oct 12, 1999. The 17th Amendment must go to ensure institutional integrity. President Zardari must uphold the rule of law and revert to what the PPP’s founding leaders stood for. That will not only reinforce his own moral and legal authority as a “constitutional head of state” but will also be in conformity with “Bhuttoism.” There can also be no greater homage to his slain better half, who gave her life so tragically for democracy.

We are fast drifting into an abysmal political chaos and uncertainty. But politicians are lost in the mire of “conspiracy theories.” They must rise above their narrow factional and clannish interests. Pakistan is on fire. Karachi is burning. We are already killing ourselves. No one knows what lies ahead for this tortured nation, which stands completely torn apart and emotionally shattered. This politics of fire and fury must come to an end before all is burned to ashes. It is never too late to come together and collectively heal our wounds. ‘Soul tending’ is what we need at this time.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.