Reflections on collective accountability

May 08, 2022

Are we willing to capitalise on the strengths of our civil service system to get back on the track to progress and development?

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he accountability apparatus in Pakistan has drawn a great deal of attention but achieved relatively little. At individual, group and institutional levels, this has had dire ramifications for the well-being of the state and the society. We need to ask ourselves a few fundamental questions in this respect.

As a nation, do we comprehend the significance of accountability? Do the citizens demonstrate a certain degree of readiness to hold themselves responsible for their deeds? Are the rewards and punishments channelled through a reliable system of accountability?

With this essential enquiry in mind, let us examine the two sides of the picture. There is a bleak and grim aspect and a bright side showing potential and promise of our future generations.

The term ‘accountability’ covers a number of related ideas relevant to issues of individual and social responsibility, political representation, administrative control and legal liability. The accountability principle attempts to hold a person or institution responsible for a set of duties. They are required to give an account of their achievement to an authority that is in a position to dispense reward or punishment. This perspective discerns that, by default, all citizens of Pakistan are accountable for what they do and should accept responsibility for their actions.

The underlying principle surrounding this accountability paradigm warrants that while the masses are grouped into castes, clans, classes and communities, all 220 million of us also function as a single entity and are equally accountable for our national accomplishments and failures. This inclusiveness encompasses the ‘common man’ as well as the ‘elite’ classified into military and civil bureaucracy, business magnates, feudal lords, senior judiciary and politicians.

Let’s start with the gloomy picture: We live in a close-minded society where thinking is often myopic, asking questions is prohibited and attitudes are archaic; where chaos is normalcy and anarchy is order, damaging public property can be a matter of pride and misuse of power is looked at with awe.

We urgently need reforms in the country. Unfortunately, many corrupt practices enjoy social acceptability and are considered societal norms; profit is preferred over credibility; and avarice for money is a guiding principle of many a life; public servants see themselves as masters, politics is a lucrative business and access to justice depends on one’s purchasing power; law making is left to a coterie of selfish and inefficient politicians; economy is in the grip of mafias that operate in connivance with the ruling elite.

Are we a nation where people are aplenty but competence rare? Are research and innovation hard to find but degrees readily available?

Is eloquence in our leaders preferred over substance?

Despite rapid urbanisation and permeation of materialism in the social fabric, we still value our relationships and exhibit integrity and solidarity towards our social liabilities.

The list is long and the answers represent our macro reality; the situation at micro level is even worse. The nation is falling apart, yet the people are blindly pursuing their petty self-interests. They refuse to realise that they are digging their own graves. With such moral standards and social values, can the society flourish?

Now let’s have a look at the brighter side of the picture: Pakistanis are essentially a generous and philanthropic people. They contribute a sizeable amount of money to charity, relief and welfare. Our history and culture speak volumes of our compassion and big heartedness towards others. We are inherently good natured, obliging and complaisant.

Most Pakistani people have well-knit families where elders are treated with respect and reverence and the younger with duty of care and affection; where the institution of marriage is religiously enacted and strong family bonds are deeply cherished; where motherhood is a blessing and fathers are treated as sacred figures; where kinship is intensely celebrated and feelings of love run supreme in the fraternity.

Despite the rapid urbanisation and permeation of materialism in the social fabric, we still value our relationships and exhibit integrity and solidarity towards our social liabilities. We live in a country where the norms of hospitality are upheld; where guests are welcomed with open arms and served with humility and gratitude.

We are a nation where people suffer great misfortunes with greater resilience and fortitude. We are economically poor but intrinsically happy, at times fragile but often gregarious, politically unstable but invariably democratic, technologically backward but capable of doing wonders. Our people are victims of bad governance and impotence of state machinery, yet their capacity to survive hardships of everyday life is amazing. We are a nation where willingness to sacrifice our lives for a cause is unprecedented in the contemporary world.

The list of physical assets is also promising: abundant natural and mineral resources, enormous agricultural prospects, a large irrigation system, a long coastline, a high proportion of youth in the population, immense tourism potential, a fast-growing ICT sector, rapid infrastructure developments and a vast diaspora around the world.

It is a pity that with such resourcefulness and resilience, we are still lagging far behind other countries. Evidently, numerous socio-economic benefits, geo-political advantages, and demographic dividends can be garnered by intelligently and decently behaving as a nation that must be ready to evolve on the notions of mutual trust, recognition and responsibility.

Pakistan is at a crossroads of challenges and opportunities. Collective realisation of the damage we have done to this country and a resolve to hold ourselves accountable is an essential condition for the requisite reforms. Do we want to continue inflicting harm on ourselves, or are we willing to capitalise on our strengths and get the nation back on the track for progress and development? The right answers can change the odds in our favour. The choice is entirely ours.

The writer is a senior institutional reforms and capacity building professional. He can be contacted at

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