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Prospect of good governance

After a decade of PPP and PML(N) rule the country suffered from bad governance which had become the norm. An editorial aptly entitled ‘Bad governance as the hallmark of PML-N rule’ published in national daily on March 16, 2017 maintained that it began from the first day and had continued. The arbitrary hike in the sales tax soon after coming to power had to be withdrawn since it could not have been imposed until Parliament passed the Finance Bill. Much later, the Supreme Court canceled promotions of senior officials by a selection board headed by the Prime Minister on grounds of these conflicting with the prescribed procedure.

The premier being the chief executive of the country was required to take all major decisions in Cabinet meetings. For three years, Nawaz Sharif took these decisions himself not caring for the Cabinet till Supreme Court told the government that this was unconstitutional. Secretiveness continued to persist in PML(N) government forcing the Chinese government to intervene to remove these reservations. Total concentration on big projects led the Nawaz government to ignore its constitutional responsibilities. The Supreme Court had to intercede numerous times to direct the Nawaz government to correct its path. The Nawaz government, against its wishes, had to be forced into the conduct of the local government elections and the census. The method in which the Nawaz government had managed the circular debt was another example of bad governance and lack of transparency. The secretive way the debt was paid off soon after the government came to power and the way it pied up to the dangerous level of Rs 216 billion in less than six months was no secret. This happened despite the former finance minister’s solemn promise that the circular debt would never be permitted to escalate again. The circular debt had now spilled over the entire fuel supply chain, choking ports, and refineries and down to transport. Meanwhile, the responsible federal ministries blamed one another for the crisis. This was yet another example of bad governance.

Pakistan had suffered from lack of political will to tackle the country’s mushrooming seminary problem. The state had failed to initiate education reforms in the public sector. The galling failures were responsible in a large youth body that was very poorly educated and badly trained to take up any meaningful jobs in the growing economy. The entire education sector was in shambles with very few exceptions. Madrassah education was perhaps the worst of all. It was estimated that a decade ago, Pakistan had about 25,000 religious seminaries across the country. Now, however, the number was estimated to be around 35,000. Under a madrassa reform process that was much earlier approved by the government of Pervez Musharraf, religious seminaries were required to register and make public their funding resources. However, beyond the realm of what law demands, it was a bitter reality that successive governments since Musharraf’s rule have not been able to ensure that religious seminaries register with the government, let alone making public their financial records.

It was ironic that the previous government had been only focused on appeasing the conservative lobby for their support to ensure much needed implementation of madrassa reforms. While it was clear that the country’s conservative circles were not likely to support the government madrassa regulation plans, the state’s weakness to deal with the challenge has apparently become appalling. The challenge here is multi layered: it is one thing to convince the right-wing elite about the necessity of liberal education and regulation of religious schools, it’s an altogether different challenge to make sure that sectarian oriented education is stamped out from the country. The early implementation of madrassa reforms should therefore be a vital component of any state level strategy that envisions a tolerant and progressive Pakistan.

The new PTI government must boldly act and change Pakistan from within. Pakistan does not have the luxury of time. Let the government act immediately. The future of Pakistan depends on such rethinking. A frank and open discussion on these issues must commence immediately. Because of past failures, Pakistan was facing an existential crisis which emanates from several internal and external factors. The previous governments were largely impaired because of massive corruption, incapacity and endless and unwarranted political bickering with their rivals for power. The morale of the people was at its lowest in history. India, arch foe of Pakistan, is accusing Pakistan of supporting terrorism and is bent on destroying its global image as a responsible military power. Tragically, the previous Nawaz government did not even have a foreign policy to speak of. It only reacted to events by external powers, especially the US and India. The Army called the shots as far as foreign and defense policies were concerned. Meanwhile, India is interfering in Pakistan’s internal affairs as never before in history.

It was prudent to realize that Pakistan was not only threatened from outside but is also threatened from within. Seemingly, the bureaucracy demoralized because of bad governance, and the society itself badly divided on sectarian, linguistic and ethnic social cleavages. Pakistan is now certainly a mess. The country is now among the list of top ten failed states in the world. This is ironic because Pakistan also happens to be one of the strongest military powers in the world today. Pakistan’s military strength cannot prevent an implosion of sorts like what happened with the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. Pakistan is now dangerously isolated. It was only China that has shown some support. The people were feeling hapless and disillusioned as never. The country was in a mess with no silver lining on the horizon. The only good thing happening in Pakistan was the rising awareness thanks to the Information Revolution and the expended media. This awareness needs to be channelized into a political force of some reckoning. Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf has now given hope to Pakistan. The new PTI government is facing an enormous challenge to change direction of the country.

Meanwhile, both the Pakistan People’s Party and PML (Nawaz) have been vanquished and lost their steam and suffers from poor and visionless leadership. The failure of the previous PPP and PML (N) governments was beyond doubt now. Their greatest fault was poor governance, which had sadly become the norm in Pakistan. Poor service delivery had alienated the masses like never in history. The Army Chief was more powerful than ever. Civilian space was becoming more and more restricted by the day. The previous Nawaz government’s performance, being dismal, the Army Chief’s power was now largely by default. Notwithstanding the Nawaz government’s claims, the overall performance was pathetic, to say the least. Much had been expected from the PML (N), but disappointment had reigned.

Instead of proper planning and bold action against terrorism, delay and procrastination have become hallmarks of the style of governance by the Nawaz government. Again, notwithstanding the tall claims made by Prime Minister, the civilian leadership has been both clueless and without any vision on how to tackle the various challenges confronting Pakistan. The PML (N) has been focused on infrastructure development only. There was nothing wrong with that, but a balanced approach was surely missing. Meanwhile, the masses had suffered as economic growth has not been trickling down to them, as was expected and promised.

Maybe it takes time for the new PTI government to adjust but the poor of this country cannot wait so long. Desperation and alienation have set in the public as only a tiny segment of the population has prospered. The military’s encroachment of civilian ruling space continued to expand unabatedly. However, the greatest challenge remains for the PTI government to deliver results, as promised.

Pakistan is still faced with the existential challenge of terrorism, extremism, corruption and outright criminality. It is not going to be easy to clean up the mess that is Pakistan now. Past military actions have also contributed to this poor. Everyone shares blame in the creation of the mess that is Pakistan today. The Army establishments itself suffers from endemic corruption of an institutionalized nature and needs to be cleansed also. Terrorism can only be eliminated through a comprehensive strategy in which all are on board. This requires commitment, patience and resolve.

Earlier, Pakistan had weakened because of the Panama Papers episode. There was a state of paralysis because of unfolding events of the last year or so. Pakistan faces multifold challenges. Today, the greatest challenge for the new PTI government remains to eradicate extremist groups from the country. Desperate circumstances require new out-of-the-box thinking. Things have moved on in the country. Pakistanis are relatively more educated and exposed as before. The civil society though comparatively weak as an institution is growing and finding its feet on the ground. The middle class is gradually growing, and public awareness is increasing. There is now a growing public awareness of Pakistan’s hour of danger. This awareness has largely happened because of a strident media. Notwithstanding the defaults, and there are many, the Pakistani media has done well to make the people aware of the situation in the country. There is still hope because of this development alone. A crisis is also an opportunity to change. Gradually, the PTI’s better political leadership hopefully will now steer the country out of the governance crisis. Patience was needed. Hopefully, in the long-run Pakistan will get its act together and becomes a great nation that the nation’s forefathers dreamt about. Only time will tell.

 

The CPEC is a game-changing opportunity for Pakistan. Global pundits are looking at the multi-billion-dollar investments being made by China in Pakistan. Meanwhile, purposeful and sustainable reform is badly needed in Pakistan. The country can only come out of this vicious cycle through a major reappraisal of its domestic foreign and policies.

“Pakistan can yet do more to shift out of its frozen military strategy of hanging its entire foreign policy on hatred of India. It can break out of its current regional and global isolation by adopting the posture of its friend China and invite India to join the trading corridor China is building in the country. It can also revive the snagged gas pipeline project with Iran by inviting India back into it, also offering it the trade route India wants to Afghanistan and Central Asia through its territory” — An excellent advice was given in an editorial published recently in national magazine.

Undoubtedly, Pakistan’s current policy of permanent Indian enmity and conflict was going nowhere. Pakistan was a security state because of this approach. Given the complexity of the regional situation, more robust diplomacy was urgently to get Pakistan out of the current morass and crisis. The previous Nawaz government wasn’t up to the task and was failing to protect Pakistan’s vital national interests. Plus, it faced an immense image problem because of the Panama Papers case pending in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Pakistan was faced with horrendous situation inside the country as rapid population growth was fueling a massive rural to urban migration, strain on the cities, and massive environmental degradation. People were suffering from poor environment, lack of social services and neglect of state institutions to respond to the situation in any coherent manner. Bad governance was the norm, not the exception in state institutions. The poverty gap was striking and was widening in many areas of the country. Pakistan was deficient in governance matters as public services were inadequate and there was immense poverty in the country. The Human Development Index (HDI) was extremely low in Pakistan. The HDI was devised and launched in 1990 and was a statistic which ranked countries into four tiers of human development based on indicators like life expectancy, education and per capita income. A higher lifespan, higher level of education and higher GDP per capita results in a country scoring higher HDI.

Earlier, the 2015 Human Development Report (HDR), by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) declared that with an HDI value of 0.538, Pakistan ranks 147 out of 188 countries and territories. Pakistan ranks 121st out of 155 countries in terms of its Gender Inequality Index: only 19.3 percent of women reach secondary education compared to 46.1 percent of men, while female participation in the labor market is 24.6 percent compared to 82.9 percent for men.

Pakistan ranked again at 147 among 188 countries on HDI in 2016 as released by the UNDP.

In a scathing criticism of the country’s in social welfare the editorial entitled ‘Human Development’ published on April 17, 2017 in a leading Pakistan daily newspaper claimed that over the last twenty years most of South Asia has witnessed progress in human development. More children are in school, people are living longer, and there is greater access to basic social services. That said, countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan rank low on human development indicators because of severe neglect of public health and education. Examining rising infant mortality, vulnerability to infectious diseases and the poor capacity to respond to outbreaks, this research finds that the level of preparedness is inadequate to protect public health in South Asia — home to a quarter of the world’s population. The findings are no secret especially in countries where extreme poverty, child deaths, stunted development and limited future productivity have hampered progress. Noting that Afghanistan has the highest fertility rate followed by Pakistan, the work underscores the need for governments to invest in early childhood years through quality schooling, nutrition and healthcare.

In Pakistan alone, 800,000 children die annually, more than 35 percent from malnutrition. Regrettably, even such grim statistics failed to jolt the PML (N) government’s conscience. For starters, with the population growing at the annual rate of almost 2 percent, the new PTI government must campaign for smaller families with greater vigor across the country. It must invest in accelerated family planning and female literacy to lower the fertility rate. With its pulse on human development policies, the PTI government surely realizes that investment and sound policies in health, education and good governance are the only way to create a quality workforce.

It was intolerable that, regionally, Pakistan had the highest rate of infant mortality when the government was obligated to implement policy changes having signed up to the SDGs. Moreover, the World Bank had declared that it would name and shame countries before potential investors for failing to tackle stunting. The death of children due to hunger and the absence of government action and outrage was a stain on Pakistan’s collective conscience. There were 400,000 starving children in Thar and despite international food fortification assistance of over $1 million, malnutrition had deplorably increased in Pakistan.

Democratic institutions are fragile and need to be strengthened through patient and sustained efforts. It was a doable, when there was the required political will. Essentially Pakistan’s overall governance form simply refutes democratic principles and practices. The earlier PPP and PML (N) personalized political system didn’t allow the building of any workable democratic institutions. The prevailing norm of loyalty to the political leader had superseded the much-needed ethics of professionalism, merit, proper administration of governed funds, neutral bureaucracy, and focus on national socio-economic development. Earlier, the only thing that mattered in government was unconditional loyalty to the political leadership. Thus, the political leadership dispensed largesse and favors to the public instead of public rights and entitlements. The social contract has broken, and a patronage system has developed instead. The leadership got elected to bestow favors to those who got them to their much-coveted positions.

Elections had become a business and was also getting more and more expensive as the years go on. The whole atmosphere of governance had been corrupted as money made an enormous impact on election outcomes. The leadership that came out of the electoral system was mostly transactional minded. Meaning the elected leadership was only there to reap hay while the sun shone and pocket as much money as was possible under the circumstances. Notwithstanding the PTI exception, the entire leadership of the country had been corrupted beyond imagination.

Resultantly, new values had entered the governed system of Pakistan. Sycophancy and timid behavior of the rule ring circles and the bureaucracy that served them had all but destroyed the integrity of the entire system. Policymaking was on whims and becomes ineffective as serious deliberations weren’t the norm any more. Mistakes resulted as the leadership couldn’t see the whole picture nor get professional advice speaking truth to power. Even figures were routinely fudged to present a better picture to the world. This sorry had become a reality in Pakistan.

The patronage systems of the PPP and PML (N) governments need to be dismantled by the new PTI government. How can Pakistan’s new PTI leadership rulers turn the county into a modern civilized nation with a contemporary system of government? Clearly, Pakistan society was failing to confront the daunting challenges facing it. How can the state face these challenges when some sections of it were even supporting Islamic extremism? How can the PTI government, media, enlightened scholars, and jurists unite to formulate the path for essential reform in the legal, political and social spheres? Cynical manipulation of Islamic sentiment needs to be curtailed. In any civilization, the rule of law must be supreme principle, and all state institutions must to guaranteed that the principle exists and not the law of the jungle. It was a stark failure of both the Pakistani state and society, that the populace negated the belief that all people are innocent until proven guilty. Finally, if critical actions are not taken to finish the appeasement of Islamic extremism, no National Action Plan or military operation shall be adept to suppress the threatening forces of Islamic extremism that were present across the country.

It is hoped that a turnaround happens as the new PTI civilian leadership has now replaced the failed PML (N) government. Pakistan has enormous potential in its youth but had lacked an enlightened leadership to make full use of the potential. In the new PTI government era Pakistan can indeed have a great future and be on the road of success and sustainable peace. Pakistanis are the most resilient nation. Pakistan’s can indeed position itself in the region as a massive trade corridor that will catapult this country to economic prosperity and a symbol of geostrategic integration. Pakistan as the regional trade, industrial, and economic hub will be in a position of strength and the world will endeavor to improve relations with neighbors.

The time was to go back to the liberal message of Islam and propagate the Sufi version of it where the principle of Sulh-i Kul or peace with all must become the new societal paradigm of governance and mutual conduct of communal affairs. The message of peace and tolerance in the liberal version of Islam must be adopted by both state and society in Pakistan. Given the sorry state of affairs in Pakistan, there was little choice in the matter. It is time to act now. Bold measures were needed and enlightened leadership at the helm of affairs in the country.

Much depends on the new PTI leadership, not only at the governmental level but also at the societal level, especially the intellectual level. It is hoped that the PTI government will turnaround Pakistan and indeed make the best of the golden opportunity made available by the CPEC project and direct the country towards a path of economic development, prosperity for all, peace and national security. Good governance policies and single-minded priority and emphasis is critical for the development of both state and society in Pakistan. There is hope of a new dawn in Pakistan’s history now.

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