Sunday May 22, 2022

Towards technocracy

September 20, 2017

In an interview with Anatol Lieven (the author of ‘Pakistan: A Hard Country’) Pakistani economist Mahbubul Haq stated that: “Every time a new political government comes in, [it] has to distribute huge amounts of state money and jobs as rewards to politicians who have supported it, which leaves nothing for long-term development. That is why only technocratic, non-political governments in Pakistan have ever been able to increase revenues”.

It is a sad reality that the worst military regimes in Pakistan have fared better in terms of economic growth than the best democracies that we have witnessed. A true democracy has never existed in the country owing to the low level of literacy, the feudal stranglehold and the corrupt election process. Successive democratic governments have given the lowest priority to education as an educated population is likely to threaten their power base. These pseudo-democracies in Pakistan have failed due to poor governance and rampant, unbridled corruption. As key organisations were headed by government cronies, massive loot and plunder took place without any checks and balances.

We can broadly divide the 70 years of our existence into eight phases. During the first 11-year phase (1947-58), which involved several democratic governments, Pakistan achieved an average annual GDP growth rate of 3.1 percent. During the second phase (1958-1971) – in which the country was under military rule – the policy of privatisation and industrialisation was introduced. This made Pakistan one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies and the country achieved an annual average GDP growth rate of 6.8 percent. This period, which is termed as the ‘golden sixties’, saw heavy industrial development, the expansion of manufacturing to nine percent per annum and the growth of the agricultural sector by four percent per annum due to the Green Revolution.

By 1969, our exports had exceeded those of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand combined. The third phase (1971-1977) was the democratic period under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in which the GDP growth rate fell sharply to an average of 3.9 percent. This was followed by the fourth phase: the martial law of General Ziaul Haq (1978-1988). During this period, the average annual GDP increased by an average of 6.6 percent per annum.

In the subsequent democratic phase (1988-1999), when the country witnessed four intermittent governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, the average annual GDP growth rate once again fell to 4.5 percent. It rose sharply during the sixth phase when the country was under General Musharraf (1999-2008). An average annual GDP growth rate of over six percent was achieved, the manufacturing sector showed an average annual growth rate of 11.3 percent and there was a substantial reduction in poverty.

There was rapid progress in the IT and telecom sectors following policy reforms introduced during my tenure as the federal minister of science as well as in higher education under the Higher Education Commission under my chairmanship. Pakistan’s Human Development Index (HDI) grew by an average rate of 2.7 percent per year from 2000 to 2007.

Unfortunately, the progress was eventually undone by the National Reconciliation Ordinance – which was forced on Musharraf by foreign powers to achieve their aim of economic destruction of Pakistan. During the seventh phase – in which the PPP regime was in power (2008-2013) – the average growth rate fell sharply to 2.9 percent. According to Transparency International about Rs8,500 billion ($94 billion) were lost due to massive loot and plunder during this period. The pace of HDI slowed down to 0.7 percent per year. Justice remained paralysed.

The economy improved to an extent with an average GDP growth rate of little over four percent during the subsequent PML-N regime (phase 8). But it remained lower than the GDP growth rates during military rules. Overall, the average annual GDP growth rate under 32 years of military regimes has been 6.3 percent. However, under 38 years of democratic regimes, it has amounted to only four percent. Other indicators such as poverty reduction, manufacturing growth and FDI have been far better under military regimes. The reason for the better performance of military regimes has been that ministers were selected and not elected and the quality of governance was far better.

The so-called Asian Tigers – South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan – also underwent a dramatic economic transformation under authoritarian regimes between the 1960s and the 1990s. They rejected the Washington Consensus (free markets are the basis for development of all nations). This paved the way for Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and China to follow the same approach, with autocratic regimes and technocrats being appointed in the cabinet.

Some have argued against an autocratic system by citing the economic success of India, a parliamentary system of democracy. But the truth is that India under a democracy is biting the dust economically when compared with the meteoric rise of China under an autocratic regime. China would not have achieved what it has if it had a parliamentary system of democracy. The moderate success in India has been largely due to the foundations laid by Nehru through land reforms and an emphasis on science and education. In contrast, education and science have always been ignored in Pakistan and so we have failed to perform well.

So what should we do? Military regimes are certainly not the answer. Parliamentary systems of democracies have failed due to massive corruption. Pakistan needs to change its constitution and install a technocratic government through a presidential system of democracy, as recommended by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah in a handwritten note in his personal diary.

This can be achieved only through the intervention of the Supreme Court, enlightened politicians and the army. The president should be elected through a direct vote after an open public debates on TV with other competing candidates. He or she must appoint a government of top experts in their respective fields. A proportionate system of representation should be introduced.

Neutral members of the Election Commission should be appointed by a judicial committee. Elections should be held under complete military control. All candidates for the posts of president, ministers and other key official positions (NAB, FBR, FIA, the SECP, State Bank and the police) should be thoroughly screened by a judicial committee appointed by the Supreme Court. The role of parliament should be confined to law-making and the minimum educational qualifications must be laid down for those who wish to become members of parliament – as is done in Iran.

The four pillars of progress are education, science and technology, innovation and good governance. To achieve these milestones, a visionary, honest and technologically-competent leadership is required. The answer for Pakistan lies in having a technocracy and not a failed ‘pseudo-democracy’.

The writer is chairman of UN ESCAP Committee on Science Technology & Innovation and former chairman of the HEC. Email: