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April 20, 2018
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When it’s all over

Opinion

April 20, 2018

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One day it will all be over and we can revert to being a normal society – hopefully. The upcoming elections in July/August this year should quieten the fractious politics some. It has been chaotic and noisy and polarising for the not so good of society.

The din has been unbearable and the rants repulsive. But an election is meant to mark the passage of the period before it into something better and more stabilising. That is what we have missed for the last over two years – not being stable and settled.

Could it have been avoided? Surely – with better appreciation of the challenge and anticipation of what it could turn into. But the leadership missed the markers. The Panama Papers would have been history on day three but that needed different times, which were long past. Unable to appreciate the changed environment with a more informed people and a 24/7 media, escaping Panama became impossible. In the end, it had to culminate as probably it would – heartache for the most popular and eminent men of power in politics, but that is yet to come. Let’s say the omens are not so good.

There will be a turn-around and a new set of power wielders post-elections and they, like their predecessors, will be masters of their own destiny. Some would have learnt from this experience but others will fall back into old habits. Power does that. Those that err will soon have their own set of challenges to negotiate while those who may be wiser will acquit better.

Lest we fall prey to another idealist binge, what exactly are the men in power supposed to do? Perhaps it is better to begin at that basic point in politics. Govern – both state and society. And to do that they have a machinery that will need to be made functional again. One part, the armed forces, is still viable and effective – which is a huge advantage, if handled with care – while the structures for others have survived the mauling by bad handling and will only need slight tweaking to get the best out of what has always been the pride of the government, Pakistan’s bureaucracy.

Governance, for a nation as dysfunctional, must rest on two fundamentals: effective administration and eschewing personal and familial favour. Depoliticising the administrative machinery and making it accountable for its intended function is the key to making society believe in the state’s patronage for them, where routine chores remain just that without undue hampering. Greed and familial patronage of the men in power skews the normal run of society’s fair share and when that is effectively excised can lead to a more assured citizenry.

Police too, but that is a provincial subject and the centre may have little control over what the provinces do if they are from a different political denomination, but the prime minister can ensure a few things well within his powers: he can cultivate a fine, cooperative relationship with the chief ministers of the provinces including GB and AJK to evolve a consensus on some basic needs of the people, like a uniform and balanced education system save some regional peculiarities to develop their respective segments of society; and evolving a methodology to mainstream and modernise madressahs so that their contribution to responsible citizenry can be assured; a health and safe drinking water consensus ensuring that disease and poverty arising out of disease can be mitigated; forging an agreed foundation to support agriculture and water sensitivity in both use and storage.

He could also ensure that the NFC award is fair and timely handed out for the provinces to put to effective use within the available time. He should resist the temptation of using the award as a lever for undue influence or as retribution if a province is headed by another political party. These are simple things and only need sincerity of purpose and loyalty to national cause. When a change becomes visible it only adds to citizens’ confidence in the system that they live under. The chaos will be pacified and serenity, even if impoverished, will become a valued asset. Rule of law will ensure freedom from oppression. An effective police and a responsive judicial mechanism can give us those. Parliament must legislate the required provisions to enable such service to the people.

A lot of politics in the coming days is likely to hover around creation of new provinces. While it may be the right way to go in the future, major structural disruptions are not best suited in the immediate backdrop of fractious politics around sub-nationalist ideals. Also, in economic terms it may not be easy to afford given that governments are already an overbearing part of our governing structures. First, the existing provinces must become economically viable and independent of federal dependence and only when that is achieved may we begin to consider further subdivision. The culture of fiscal independence is rather new to our existing provinces despite their age and political maturity, and a lot more is needed before these can be truly independent of federal handouts via the NFC. By jumping headlong into the chimera of devolving power and authority closer to where people belong will only bind the structures even more to external dependencies.

Instead local governments, very much a legal and structural need in its present form, must be developed and fully supported to truly devolve authority. Let this be another task for the new prime minister. The PM may also like to review the structure of development funds handed out to MPs which are largely frittered in pilferage and waste. This precious resource cannot be given away as political bribe. Such probity will be essential to re-establish the credibility of politics in our country after the bloodbath of two years when politics was in the dock for all the wrong reasons including conduct unbecoming of people’s representatives. This has hit their reputation and credibility hard. Politics will have to re-establish its credentials with the people.

The next PM will have to look for an innovative economic team which can first develop and then put in place a plan of economic relevance and address the needs for a future economy. Relying only on the old model of subsistence to make ends meet and balance numbers is bad economy. The new economy may build around the traditional fundaments while adding value, but at the same time aim higher and broader to create a couple of niches in areas that will deliver the needs for raising the right revenue and growth to meet the needs of international markets.

Foreign and defence policies can then piggy-back on what are the essential demands of the economic policy to serve people’s interests. This may be an indirect approach to lofty ideals like civilian supremacy but will result in more abiding consequences with a far more stable society and state.

Email: [email protected]

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