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April 23, 2018

Unfinished business


April 23, 2018

Was the struggle to gain independence from colonialism meant to open up opportunities denied to people by dismantling the colonial structure and its underlying medieval culture? Or was it merely meant to replace white Christian rulers from Europe with brown Muslim ones, who continued ruling the roost with the same culture of the Subcontinent’s former rulers? Are people supposed to feel less pain if they are robbed of their assets by people of their own faith, colour and language, than when robbed of by outsiders?

These are the fundamental questions of governance which explain why people in some countries achieved progress and prosperity after becoming independent from colonial rule, while those in Pakistan continued to remain mired in poverty, illiteracy and unemployment. What this also shows is that while the state became sovereign and independent, the people did not.

There has been no baptism here unlike in Europe and other countries where people’s sovereign rights to dignity and development became embedded in their culture of governance. The governance of the former rulers of the Subcontinent, however, can be summed up in one sentence. It was the ‘government of the few, by the few, for the few’. It was also partisan and discriminatory. As the capacities of a modern state have multiplied with technology, its capacity to discriminate and deprive people of their legitimate rights has also multiplied. Unless the rulers of these states – like their medieval predecessors – are held accountable before the law and discipline of democratic governance, their rule will become the cause rather than the cure for people’s problems.

I raised this question with Lee Kwan Yew, former prime minister of Singapore, in one of my meetings with him. At the time of Singapore’s independence, Lee explained, “We faced the classic question of governance, whether we design a system of laws and institutions that would sanctify rulers as a breed above the rest, and operate the system for promoting their special interests, or devise a system of governance that works for the country as a whole”.

As Lee explained, they decided to install a system of governance that would not work for the benefit of the rulers but for everyone’s benefit, without providing special privileges to the rulers. Everybody, including Lee, was subject to the same laws. Once people saw their head of government abiding by the law, obedience to the laws of the land came easily to the rest of the population. It was through this quality of governance and integrity of leadership that in a short time, as Lee said, “We lifted Singapore from the third world to the first”.

There is no escape from this fundamental question in any attempt at nation building: for whose benefit are the laws and policies of a country designed? If they are designed to ensure ‘government of the few, by the few, for the few’, no sectorial measures or policies in other areas such as education, health, law and order, will achieve their objectives. The policies and their implementation will remain subservient to the overall objective of the governance of the state, and would be obliged to advance the power, influence and interests of the rulers in every one of these sectors. Repeating the failure would never turn black into white.

One example would be enough to prove this point. Several governments in Pakistan have announced education policies and launched education emergencies supposedly to eradicate illiteracy and make education accessible for all. However, the facts tell a different story. After decades of such exercises and billions spent in their name, even today 44 percent children between the ages of 5 to16 are out of school. Illiterates make up 58 percent of the population, while the degrees of those educated are not recognised by the outside world. Who should bear the responsibility for such half-baked dreadful policies that have, over the decades, eaten away hundreds of billions of hard-earned money of parents and ruined the lives and careers of millions of students?

In contrast, here is how services are delivered by a leadership that uses instruments of governance for the benefit of all. In 1954, South Korea – which had suffered the Japanese colonial rule – followed by the Second World War and the Korean War ( 1950-53) launched its programme for free compulsory primary education. Within five years, over 95 percent children of school-going age were enrolled in schools. They then concentrated on the secondary and tertiary level education, and by the 1980s, South Korea had attained 100 percent literacy. It was the quality and quantity of human resources of South Korea that propelled it to become a ‘tiger economy’ of Asia in a very short time.

Every culture creates a system of governance to protect its interests. The different results obtained after the end of colonialism by Singapore, South Korea and Pakistan – not just in education but also in health, science and technology, industrial and economic development – are the result of different cultures adopted after independence. Even though Singapore and South Korea practiced different forms of government, elected government and military rule, they adopted the same culture of development of the whole society. We, on the other hand, revived the old Subcontinent’s culture of self-development of rulers.

Pakistan has long suffered from a leadership vacuum. Four times in its history, the country was ranked among the most promising developing countries. But each time, Pakistan was sacrificed at the altar of politics without governance. And we still remain allergic to abide by the laws and discipline of democratic governance. Instead, we have perfected a system that keeps throwing up leadership that is severely handicapped in knowledge, competence and ethics. Going through enumerable media reports, one wonders whether the country’s leadership really appreciates the blessings of having a sovereign independent state, and the responsibilities it places upon their shoulders. Our leadership has turned the tables on the people and has converted governance into an opportunity for self-dealing.

This revival of the culture of the Subcontinent’s colonial rulers has been the direct cause of the differences between the quality of life of Pakistan’s people and those living in countries which also became independent around the same time. Until this is rectified, the real agenda of independence remains unfinished.

Deng Xiaoping’s maxim, “it doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white, so long it catches the mice” launched China on the path of its own economic miracle, achieving the highest growth rate in history.

History shows that performance and service delivery, not just ideology, win the hearts and minds of people.

The writer designed the Board of Investment and the First Women’s Bank.

Email: [email protected]

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