Often we cried ‘wolf’ only to see the dangers fade away temporarily. Once in a while however, the wolf’s arrival has unsavoury consequences. The wolf first devoured a piece of Pakistan in 1971 because the rulers never understood the peoples’ sentiments. Again in 2009 it reappeared and almost tore the Malakand region asunder but we survived by the skin of our teeth thanks to a prompt military response. Today we hear the wolf’s howl loud and clear. How much time do we still have?
Some thinking people feel that hardly any country faces problems more severe than Pakistan does; not even Nigeria, Sudan, Yemen or Afghanistan! Just survey our economic mess with high inflation, paltry exports and a huge current account deficit; the distressful political and ethnic turmoil; the maddening increase in our population; the widespread unemployment and material deprivation; the return of terror and extortion and the galloping poverty stunting individual and the country’s growth. Serious crime continues to soar and why not with a conviction rate of under five percent while direct tax recovery falls with only a third of the dues actually collected. The writ of the State is largely absent in many parts of the western provinces and has also withered in the eastern ones; even Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi are unsafe but media is restrained from reporting. Just when one thought we could not fall any further mother nature intervened to seek revenge for being ill-treated too long. It spurned compassion to teach a lesson to the Islamic republic by slapping its wrath with higher temperatures, crippling crops, monstrous floods and rising sea waters.
Failed states don’t necessarily disintegrate; they continue to fester and there is no rock bottom. Failed states disintegrate when accompanied by serious ethnic or religious fractures as happened in East Pakistan, Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. On this score again Pakistan remains vulnerable.
True, the causes of environmental adversities have global origins but in all other spheres we alone are culpable. Our travails were seen coming a long time back but myopic rulers ignored these. Hannoz Delhi duur ast! The time to pay the bills has arrived, and with a vengeance. Turn to the history books to learn what happened when ruling elite in Baghdad were feuding just as Halagu Khan sacked the capital in 1258 or when Nadir Shah Afshar struck Delhi in 1739. Internal dissensions and neglect have been the prime causes for the decline and fall of societies. Are conditions any different today with political hordes bent upon invading the capital in the midst of the economic blight and natural disasters?
Objective indices leave little doubt that Pakistan is a failing state. In some categories it has already failed; note its failure in providing security, delivering justice and ensuring worthwhile literacy. (In nine months there have been 20,000 reported street crimes in Karachi, routine judicial cases take decades often without providing justice and adult literacy has actually fallen during the last few years. Newspapers report that 53 percent of girls are out of school in KP). How long can the people in Pakistan hold their breath?
Do remember that failed states don’t necessarily disintegrate; they continue to fester and there is no rock bottom. Failed states disintegrate when accompanied by serious ethnic or religious fractures as happened in East Pakistan, Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. On this score again Pakistan remains vulnerable. Would lightning strike the same place twice? We really need to watch out with hostile and meddlesome neighbours.
Amazing as it may sound only simple solutions are required to redress seemingly complex problems. Just consider how universal literacy, zero population growth and sound economic development were achieved by Bangladesh and Iran without foreign consultants or burdensome loans. (Here, the country head of a multilateral bank once offered an unsolicited amount of US $ 200,000 for an unnecessary technical study; the offer was rejected even though he informed two foreign consultants were already selected by him).
So how does one ensure good governance within this milieu? A possible solution may lie in checking the exercise of unbridled discretion by all decision makers especially the dominating politicians supported by some unconscientious bureaucrats.
Sadly, in the midst of our travails there are naïve people who still believe that general elections are the panacea to resolve all issues. They forget that we have floundered even after holding a dozen general elections in the past fifty years. Another dozen may be equally sterile. These elections did not spawn milk and honey flows but generated a surfeit of poison and abuse. However, since general elections are mandated by the constitution and would be held sooner or later rest assured the majority of those returned would have mediocre intellect and questionable ethics. The vicious cycle would continue.
So how does one ensure good governance within this milieu? A possible solution may lie in checking the exercise of unbridled discretion by all decision makers especially the dominating politicians supported by some unconscientious bureaucrats. The Constitution, the Civil Servants Act and the Rules of Business clearly lay down the defining parameters to check any overstepping. The problem lies in ensuring compliance. The courts are already overstretched and cannot deal with all administrative transgressions but they must suggest that the legislature consider desirable alternatives. One possible solution is to empower the Ombudsmen to promptly reverse any administrative order where there is deviation from the rules or where sanctity of tenure is not respected. Senior officers I expect would stand their ground if their tenures were protected. Further, statutory and regulatory bodies like the CCI and ECNEC should include opposition members and importantly, impartial experts as well. The law and rules must trump absolute discretion and personal whims.
In the early years of Pakistan absolute discretion was adequately circumscribed. The Chief Minister of the Frontier province Khan Qaiyum, was once denied petrol for his official car by the Petrol Rationing Inspector of the police because his quota for the month was exhausted. The Chief Minister acquiesced to the lawful orders and made alternate arrangements. Could there be any better example of good governance than this?
Today the salvation and indeed the future of Pakistan depends upon good governance. Let us pray to the heavens for relief.