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December 22, 2019

A new deal for Pakistan

Opinion

December 22, 2019

Are we hurtling to another crisis, if we are not in it already, at a time when our economic situation remains bleak and there are hardly any democratic gains to show after a decade of democracy? Can we find a more coherent pattern behind these gladiatorial matches and cyclical economic swings we are condemned to enjoy?

A year and a half year back, Pakistan passed Huntington’s ‘two turnover test’. According to this test, if a new democracy survives two turnovers of power, then it has consolidated satisfactorily. After failing no less than ten times, Pakistan successfully completed an International Monetary Fund programme in 2016 and it was hailed as the emerging star on the Asian horizons. There were hopes and claims that Pakistan was set to join the G20 by 2030.

Pakistan is again in the hands of ‘imported economists’ — some of Pakistan’s brilliant minds serving at various international institutions we call upon in times of crisis. They help us fight a crisis and very often go right back to greener pastures. They get blamed for either creating the crisis or not solving it well. We also get even angrier at them as the crisis returns within a few years and our hopes for economic development flounder.

What these gentlemen with leather briefcases fail to tell us is that economics is no longer the most fruitful subject or approach to study economic development. It is politics. That’s why many brilliant economists, including Amartya Sen, have turned to the resurgent discipline of political economy. Pakistan’s economy is diseased because of its political economy. Technical solutions peddled by these economists and international institution merely paper the crack that rip open too soon.

A number of political economists have argued that an effective state is the true recipe for economic success. How can a nation build an effective state? Many of us have read the popular book ‘Why Nations Fail’ by two economists, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson. The take-away from this book is simple: institutional cohesiveness lies at the heart of an effective state. State institutions should be working harmoniously for the state to become effective.

The failure of political institutions to bring people together results in state failure. Such harmony is possible if state power is used for common purposes. In other words, successful states are able to focus on common interest rather than on the private interest of the people at the helm of affairs.

The state works for the people when there are constraints to use its power appropriately. Effective states keep executive power in check through parliamentary oversight, strengthening of judiciary, strengthening of civil society and creation of free media.

These constraints demand change in people’s norms and behaviour of the elite and citizens alike. Citizens have to comply with the demands of the state and the state has to create institutions that guard their rights. A reciprocal relationship between the state and citizens is the glue often termed as the social contract.

Polarization and inequality is the arch enemy of the social contract, making it difficult for people to develop a common sense of purpose. Geography can be another enemy. Natural resources can divide a nation if the winner-takes-all attitude is adopted.

Huntington puts his faith in elections for consolidation of democracy and the dawn of a new democratic era for a nation. In fact, elections can be deeply polarizing if cohesive bargains are not made between the elites. Elections do not provide a substitute to such a bargain. Pakistan re-entered the democratic phase in 2008, through an incomplete bargain between two major political parties in the shape of the Charter of Democracy.

As conflicts erupted, some important parts of the charter remained unimplemented — and a new political player, the PTI, rejected the charter altogether. The other part of the bargain, a permanent closure that Benazir wanted, appeared in the corrupted form of the NRO after her death; even this attempt was thrown aside by the courts and, maligned by the media. The non-elected section of the power elite did not find itself constrained to any bargain.

Bishop Desmond Tutu, who healed the wounds of South Africa, probably the most fragmented society at that time, titled his memoir ‘No future without forgiveness’. Pakistan does not need any dead bodies on the crossroads. It needs an end of revenge, through forgiveness. Such forgiveness must be inclusive and one that unites the Pakistani elite and forces them to work for common interests. It is no use guarding your own cabin when the ship is at the risk of sinking.

We must listen to people like Raza Rabbani and Justice Khosa who are pleading for developing a new deal among the nation’s elite that can lead to a new social contract between the people and the state, putting Pakistan on the path to prosperity. There is hardly any other way out.

The writer is an anthropologist and development professional.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @zaighamkhan