Crisis of the Old Order

Shahid Mehmood outlines some challenges facing Khan's Naya Pakistan

Crisis of the Old Order
The time has finally arrived. In the coming weeks, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan is set to be elevated as the next prime minister of Pakistan. This prestige will inevitably bring with it great challenges, magnified by the Khan’s longstanding promise of change. For a nation that has been tricked time and again by unscrupulous rulers and their consenting elites, nothing would be more sanguine and welcome. Experts of all hue and colour have, by now, penned their ideas for change.

This article is devoted to identifying the challenges that could threaten his reforms agenda. Moreover, despite the overall commendable work in Khyber Pakhtunhwa (KP), there were some grey areas and shortcomings whose acknowledgement and understanding will only clear Khan’s path towards his greater goal for reform.

The first challenge that Khan could face is from the established order like the bureaucracy, who are the most averse to change and have successfully thwarted every bid for reform. He especially needs to be wary of DMGs influence, and refrain from appointing any Fawad Hassan Fawad-like person. Otherwise, Khan will be reduced to merely signing documents like his predecessors. DMGs overall hold on bureaucracy is inimical to any reform agenda. They hold all the important positions (Secretary of Finance, FPSC, EAD, Prime Minister’s Secretariat) and thwart any proposed reforms. Since PTI’s government in KP could not break that hold, it is fervently hoped that IK will take steps to end this monopoly and finally bring much needed reforms to the moribund institution of bureaucracy.
Without a just society and fair, equitable access to justice and quick resolution of cases, IKs dream of bringing change would remain unfulfilled

The second most pressing challenge is economic management. With Pakistani economy presently in dire straits (thanks to Dar’s disastrous management), the last thing IK would want to do is to trudge the same old policies and practices that have been in vogue since the dawn of Pakistan. Besides yours truly, who has written on economic reforms in these pages, there is a ton of material out there which can guide IK on what to do. There are enough qualified people in Pakistan to rightly guide him on matters ranging from trade to managing debt. Hence, it is imperative that he appoints the right people at the top positions in institutions that manage economic affairs in Pakistan. Two most important ones are Finance Division and Planning Commission, whose top slots at present are occupied by DMG. He should, for example, take stock of what a PhD in Philosophy is doing in the External Finance Wing of the Finance Division. Similarly, it is incredulous to think that an economist of repute and stature has to report to Secretary P&D who doesn’t know much about the subject. How can reforms take place under such arrangements?

Third, his zest for welfare and pro-poor policies should not blind IK to the established fact that many of the pro-poor policies, practiced previously, tend to be anti-poor and tilt the balance in favour of rent-seeker classes. A primary example is ill-directed subsidies, particularly to the agricultural sector. Historically, these have only strengthened and propped up the sugar mafia and large landlords, at the expense of the smaller landholders and peasants. This explains why, for example, sugar price in domestic market is higher than that of international market.

Another equally important challenge comes in the form of government’s footprint in the public sphere. By now, there is a strong consensus among academicians and intellectuals that the present size of the government is not warranted. It makes little sense, for example, for the state to run enterprises (like PIA and Steel Mills), which serve little more than dumping grounds for unwanted labour. Without wasting more time and forming ‘committees’, IK would need to look at the list of hundreds of government departments and divisions and autonomous bodies and take steps to get rid of those that serve little or no purpose. He would also need to put an end to disastrous policies like ‘regularisation’, under which thousands of individuals were absorbed in government departments without any merit or criteria. In short, limit the footprint of the government in economic and other spheres. It does not increase overall welfare but only reduces it.

An important piece of the reforms puzzle, law and provision of justice, needs urgent attention. Innumerable material has been penned upon the decrepit system of Justice Provision in Pakistan, including the quality of judges, length of court cases, dubious judgments, and other complementary matters. If looked at through the lens of economic management, the length of time it takes for business matters to be adjudicated upon serves as a disincentive to various groups, like probable investors. Without a just society and fair, equitable access to justice and quick resolution of cases, IKs dream of bringing change would remain unfulfilled. The PTI government in KP did some commendable work in this regard, and it is hoped that the same will be replicated in the entire country.

Besides reforming institutions, if there arises a need to create a new one, IK should be wary of the lessons learned in KP in the form of its Ehtesab Commission. Created amidst much fanfare, the institution deteriorated as the traditional order successfully thwarted its workings. By now, it presents a sorry state and KP’s citizens are getting nothing out of it, but still keep bearing its administrative expenses. Such an experiment, which falters over time and is done in haste, should be avoided. Newer institutions should only be created after careful consideration so that they truly add some value.

My last submission relates to the armed forces and the intelligence agencies. Winston Churchill once opined that the Soviet Union was a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. This description aptly fits the armed forces, especially the army and intelligence agencies. No doubt that they have sacrificed a lot, and their sacrifices for the nation are rightly admired and acknowledged by all and sundry. But these sacrifices should not become a license to impunity. The armed forces extract more than a trillion rupees in the budget (which cannot be audited), manage a sprawling business empire, take up government contracts without any competitive bidding (FWO and NLC), are exceptionally averse to scrutiny or criticism and the shady role of intelligence agencies is so well known that its futile to write on it here. Unless the forces and intelligence outfits are brought under the law just as the common man is, IK cannot realistically hope to progress much in his reforms and change agenda, especially when it comes to transparency and equality of citizens in the eyes of the law.

Much more can be written on this subject but article will conclude by suggesting that unless IK finds the will and courage to tackle the above mentioned and issues related to these, it will be business as usual. Let’s hope for Pakistan’s sake that it turns out to be different this time around.

The writer is an economist and can be reached on Twitter @ShahidMohmand79

The writer is an economist. He tweets at @ShahidMohmand79