Failing The Seventy Five Years Test

Failing The Seventy Five Years Test
By most accounts, Pakistan’s all round performance over its first seventy five years has fluctuated between mediocrity and the pathetic. This places a question mark over what the future holds for the country. For now, Providence alone knows how this failure plays out in the years ahead, but empirically, most crucial performance indicators look pretty dismal. Clearly, the will of the state has been found largely deficient in addressing critical issues and without the will, the writ and authority has diminished both in space and substance. Today, the state is unable to demand effective compliance of its constitution, law and regulations due to strong resistance from both statutory and extra-legal competing power sources. All seek greater domination at the cost of the state.

The limping authority of the state is the result of conscious, long term and successful manipulations by diverse individuals and groups in a struggle to empower (and enrich) themselves. For the majority, there is little stake or interest in the system as historically they have remained on the receiving end of pillage and plunder for three thousand years. The dysfunction has created a suitable environment for political, regional, ethnic, professional and faith-based populists to expand their influence and control.

The state has conspicuously failed in providing security of life, liberty and property to all but a very small gated and well entrenched minority.

Ponder some examples. Billions of dollars are lost in smuggling in and out; manufacturing spurious goods and medicines continues unabated; only a third of the taxes and charges actually due are collected; the treasury is deprived of a trillion rupees in the mismanaged power, gas and water sectors and then there are the bleeding state owned enterprises. Foreign loans would become unnecessary were illegal transactions under hundi, havala and foreign currency smuggling controlled. Where is the state hiding?

Anyone examining three broad obligations of the modern state would concur that Pakistan has experienced failure in all three. Failure here is defined at scoring under thirty three percent marks and Pakistan’s result card shows even lower marks. (I have omitted two overarching responsibilities of the state dealing with defense of the realm that include the recent achievements of uniformed forces in the war on terror and the shortsighted economic policies followed by rulers for nearly half a century for lack of space).

First and foremost, the state has conspicuously failed in providing security of life, liberty and property to all but a very small gated and well entrenched minority. The police does not register a majority of criminal cases, cannot investigate these in good time, is involved in widespread corrupt practices which results in a conviction ratio below five percent after appeals. Similarly, the performance of the judiciary at different tiers, both civil and criminal, is marked by widespread incompetence and influence peddling, irksome adjournments and delays, excessive litigation costs and bribery especially at lower levels. The disappointing output of the police and the judiciary despite all resources provided leads to only one conclusion; the state has failed in this sector.

Secondly, the provision of essential human services, employment opportunities and poverty elimination is way below the levels obtained by comparable countries. A comparison with Bangladesh and Iran, for instance, would make us hold our heads in shame. In the fields of human resource development, education and skill development, we have been outclassed by most Asian countries. Ponder the following: our literacy rate (quite absurdly defined) is 60 percent; a claimed net school participation ratio of 77 percent only with most girls in KP, Baluchistan and Sindh not in schools; infant and mothers’ mortality rates amongst the highest in the world; over 230 mostly substandard universities churning out unemployable degree holders; a population growth rate of 2 percent (5 million annual increase) compared to under one percent in Bangladesh and India. Worse still, rhetoric aside, human resource development was never a priority with the rulers.  The supposedly wise heads of the bureaucracy must equally share the blame with the politicians for this neglect.

The recent war on terror revealed how limited the writ of the state was, especially in the western provinces, leading them to further economic deprivation. A purposeful presence of the state could have been made through greater economic development with a more functional administration in central and southern Balochistan and the merged areas of Khyber province for instance. A small portion of the CPEC funds, say five billion dollars, for investment in village and small town development could do wonders in providing piped drinking water, sewerage disposal, water storages, solar power generation and provision of basic facilities in schools, hospitals, family planning centers and skill development units. Importantly, such funds should not be channelized through the conventional ruling political leadership, which bonded with the civil bureaucracy, provides very poor results. A new dynamic and independent rural support organization under trusted non-government local leadership offers the solution. The donor should be authorized to establish effective implementation and monitoring steering committees to ensure effective utilization of funds. Today, the accepted wisdom is that half the provincial development funds are pocketed by politicians, officials and contractors in parts of the country. Here again the state has failed.

Thirdly, contrary to what the text of the constitution holds, the human and democratic rights of ethnic, religious and sectarian minorities in Pakistan are largely ignored, as are gender and class infringements. Clearly, these articles of the Constitution appear more equal for the elite than for the commoners. Today, tolerance, justice and compassion are often spoken of in the past tense, where obligations of the state are concerned. Mercifully, private philanthropy survives and keeps body and soul together for tens of millions of people. Once again, the state has failed the people.

We are teetering on the edge and may not have much time left.

Can this abysmal situation be improved, if not reversed quickly? Perhaps yes. The main reason for the state’s failure is the absence of effective accountability of all power sources. The plea that the electorate is the great adjudicator is a farce and totally untenable; twelve past elections have proved that. How does one explain why the same individuals and parties get reelected despite decades of misgovernance? What is required is curtailing the absolute discretion of the rulers in all administrative matters and that of the judiciary in quasi political issues. No one should benefit at the cost of others. The dictates of the Constitution and the requirements of the rules of business have to be strictly adhered to. Presently, politicians ruling the roost infringe rules with impunity, police cannot police itself and the judges never judge themselves. There is need for the Ombudsman or oversight benches of the Supreme Court and the High Courts, fully empowered, to determine the validity and necessity of orders (and policies) within forty eight hours relating to premature postings and transfer, appointments including judicial ones, allocation of state resources and related matters. Moreover, membership of fora like the Council of Common Interests, National Economic Council, statutory entities and their subordinate committees must also include members from the opposition parties in parliament and importantly a few impartial specialists.

None of the above issues would be resolved if the thirteenth election were to be held immediately. And some believe thirteen is an unlucky number!

Pakistanis need to give serious thought to seeking a permanent answer to the prevailing breakdown of the political order and the consequences of an economic meltdown. We are teetering on the edge and may not have much time left. If the crash occurs, the new outside dispensation imposed on the country may deprive it of some of its cherished hopes. Even the thought of such an altered scenario is enough to give anyone goosebumps.

Today, the best option appears in imposing an emergency under Article 232, permitting upto a year-long lease in the Parliament’s tenure, choosing a consensual low-profile serving member as Prime Minister and backing him up with a strong team of expert advisers so that critical and long overdue decisions are put into effect.

Dr. Farrukh Salim reminds us that 200 State Owned Enterprises have lost Rs 2,000 billion, while losses in the electricity sector amount to Rs 2,500 billion, the gas sector Rs 1,500 billion, while the Pakistan Agricultural Storage & Services Corporation lost Rs 1,000 billion.

To be fair, no politician can be expected to take the radical decisions required in the larger interest of the country this close to elections. Who wants to shoot themselves in the foot!

Shakil Durrani has served as Chief Secretary KP, Sindh, AJK and GB and was also Chairman Wapda. He can be reached via