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June 30, 2019

What went wrong?


June 30, 2019

Pakistan confronts a serious paradox. It was once home to world-class achievers in virtually every field of human activity. Today, it stagnates. We remember the icons the country produced in philanthropy, science, literature, poetry, banking, industry, diplomacy and sports. The glaring omission from this exalted list is competent and devoted politicians; this omission actually spawns our predicament! (There were exceptions of course like Husyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, Muhammad Khan Junejo and our soldiers, sailors and airmen).

Have we justified our independence? Perhaps not. Our failure negatively impacts both akistanis and the 150 million Muslims left behind in India. ‘Where did we go wrong?’ was the question I put to Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Justice Bhagwan Das, Gen Sahibzada Yaqub, Professor Khwaja Masud, Ardeshir Cowasjee, Dr Ruth Pfau, Air Marshal Asghar Khan and Roedad Khan. (Add Abdul Sattar Edhi, Dr Adeeb Rizvi, Dr Bari and a couple of others to this list and you will find the finest the country ever saw). Their answers were broadly similar; the country suffered because the leadership deviated from the cherished ideals. A sceptic might conjecture that leadership betrayal alone may not provide the complete answer because it begs further query on why quality leadership remained absent in the Islamic republic?

What were the cherished ideals? Simply stated, good governance in an egalitarian society. The culture of intolerance, in Pakistan and elsewhere, is survival-based. It is generally a product of a subsistence environment, forbidding geography, scorching temperatures, water scarcity and diverse ethnicity. This explains our violent, acquisitive and intemperate conduct. The competition for scarce resources, interspersed with blood-curdling invasions, has mostly spawned our base traits. These traits form the bedrock of our politics today. Everyone needs to associate with the power wielders; outsiders are deemed enemies. (Generally, Muslims showed greater religious, cultural and intellectual tolerance in the more benign climes of Spain, Mesopotamia and Turkey (in parts) and in Malaysia and Indonesia).

Pakistan both, before and after 1971, was egregiously polarized ethnically and materially. Economic disparities soon led to obvious consequences. Insensitive resource allocations actually heightened disparities among provinces and regions over time. Denial of effective political clout and financial disempowerment to neglected provinces and regions bred frustrations. The forced amalgamation into One Unit in West Pakistan was a body blow while the coerced electoral parity with East Pakistan, also in 1956, led to the political divide. What was required was wise leadership but what the people got was partisan rhetoric and abusive conduct by the politicians. They strutted around arrogantly while in power and cringed sheepishly when out of it.

Today the rampaging animosities along personal, political, ethnic and sectarian lines prevent the leadership from focusing on politics of compromise and consensus. In the erstwhile tribal areas contentious matters were resolved through ‘give and take’ bargaining, quite similar to the ‘A Willingness to Offer – A Willingness to Accept’ formula taught in Harvard. Serious differences prevail on managing the economy, the preferred mode of merging the former tribal agencies, enhancing complete literacy, technical education, family planning, land use regulation and developing water reservoirs. These can only be resolved through compromise, consideration and civility. Remember: abusive language cannot be washed.

Major issues aside, Pakistanis cannot even manage sport. Old Trafford is now the new metaphor. Hockey, squash, football, athletics, cricket and other sports associations are riddled with discord, incompetence, nepotism and corruption but the powerful mafias remain unaccountable. Pakistan today cannot qualify for the final rounds in international hockey and athletics events though way back gold medals came our way regularly. Wrestlers, boxers and footballers from Lyari, Pishin and Quetta find no sponsors while nearly a billion rupees are allegedly misspent by one major sport federation alone.

Can this situation be remedied? I really doubt it because after all it is the politicians who make all decisions and why would they disturb the gratuitous status quo? Anyway here are a few suggestions to streamline our political environment. (Conscience-keepers, please note).

There is broad consensus among development gurus that political stability is the most important ingredient in a nation’s quest for growth. Some thinkers place 75 percent weight to long-term policy consistency. China, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Turkey and Chile are good examples. And Bangladesh too during the past quarter century. Debating the efficacies of presidential and parliamentary forms of government is therefore a sterile exercise because both systems would remain under the politicians’ control.

Three amendments need consideration for achieving greater political and economic stability. First, the figurehead office of the president needs additional constitutional authority in monitoring defence, foreign affairs and the economy.

Second, the majority party after assuming power should not be subject to removal for the first three years of its tenure through floor crossing. This would provide continuity to policies, eliminate the politics of blackmail and reduce political temperatures.

Lastly, there must be a fairer distribution of the country’s resources for under-developed regions like central and south Balochistan, southern Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. All concerned should reread our history. For instance, the economically developed provinces cannot remain callously unmindful to the genuine needs of the long neglected people of the recently merged tribal areas. All major development programmes of the federation and the provinces should be evaluated by the recently established National Development Council, with regional representatives, to pre-empt squandering of precious resources on unproductive monuments like costly metros and mushrooming humanities universities.

Some time back I asked a person from Balochistan when the disturbances in the province would end. He replied ‘when every house has water and electricity with convenient access to education and health facilities’. He did not appear highly educated but his vision was twenty-twenty. As for the vision of those who ruled us since long, the less said the better.

The writer has served as the chief secretary of GB, AJK, KP and Sindh and was the chairman of Wapda and the Pakistan Railways.

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