Sunday, 15 December 2013

How to reform a non-system

The deterioration is rapid; the new government is busy trying to control the new dimensions through the old beaten track methods and is therefore bound to fail 

Pakistan’s socio-economic and political decline along with uncontrolled violence has reached the stage where some are already using the phrase ‘failed state’ while others fear to utter it lest it comes true. Nothing much was done in the last two decades to rectify the mistakes and arrest the decline, as a matter of fact even more glaring errors were committed to compound the situation. There is almost total paralysis in the management of the state and matters are getting out of hand. The present government has done nothing in the last two months to infuse confidence. Its focus, like before, is still on motorways and development of the Punjab. We need to think of alternatives to reform Pakistan.


When some friends asked me to not only talk about the deficiencies but also to suggest solutions to our grave problems, I quickly put together a paragraph and wrote back:

“It is never easy to change and reform a society that has become as decrepit as ours, where there is no section or class, other than the downtrodden, free of moral turpitude and involved in self-aggrandizement while the unemployed poor are being turned into criminals by the menacing mafia. There are no honest leaders or none have been identified or come to the fore who could lead a reform movement. The business community, intellectuals, professionals and many other segments have acquiesced in the way this country has been run for short term personal gains and in the process forfeited their rights to greater glory. Imagine if the country had prospered like South Korea or Malaysia, the country’s businessmen could be in the league of the Samsungs and Daewoos and all other segments would also prosper accordingly. Now we are trying to save our little ‘empires’ in the face of impending crises upon crises. First of all we have to recognise that we have committed wrongs (by identifying them), that we have been corrupt monetarily and intellectually, that our priorities have been incorrect, and that our support (financial and otherwise) to corrupt and self-centred politicians and rulers has led to the present and past disasters. Recognition of one’s mistakes and eliminating them is the key to solving the problem. Those who are prepared to truly reform themselves and recognise the above and more should sit together and discuss to formulate the next steps.”

Are we prepared to recognise our mistakes and are we prepared to honestly rectify them so that we may reform ourselves appreciably before we ask others to do so? Any core group that wishes to undertake such a challenging task must undergo individual reform beforehand. 

Bringing about change even in any one sphere is not easy, therefore bringing about change in the whole is a huge task. The problem is that each one of the major areas are interconnected; let us take tackling violence. Violence is caused by the politicians individually and by political parties also, by the various mafias, the intelligence agencies, the police and Rangers, the Taliban, the arms dealers and the bureaucracy, etc. Corruption is central to it. Also our foreign policy gets involved. The corrupt and inept lower judiciary plays its negative role too. It is therefore clear that we cannot just focus on violence alone. Since the elimination of violence and establishing law and order is probably the highest priority for our survival and to enable necessary reform in other areas, we have no alternative but to gradually get involved in all those aspects and areas that require change.

Sectarian violence rages without any concerted efforts at controlling it. The major reason is that the ruling party has more than a soft corner for the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and some other perpetrators of sectarian violence. This unholy knot needs to be cut and the government’s policy needs to change. We cannot allow any party to retain any kind of links with murderous gangsters, particularly the ruling party, and expect peace and tolerance.

Ignorance is a major ill responsible for the presence and rapid growth of many other ills. There have been commendable, courageous and highly successful private initiatives like The Citizens Foundation, but these can only be a drop in the ocean. What we require is a rational and progressive education policy. For that to come about, the whole policy making structure at the federal and provincial level needs to be changed completely. A total revamping of the education ministries and bodies like the HEC is required.

All the law enforcing agencies are corrupt and inept. They need major reform and training. Large scale replacement of personnel is also required in the police and Rangers so that it is possible to depoliticize them. It is essential that the law enforcing agencies are not the oppressors of the people but work in aid of the people.

Expose and pursue corruption with the aid of the media and courts.

The lower courts are a total mess; they cause more pain than provide relief. Unqualified and corrupt judges let off the criminals and convict the resourceless poor. Our demand should be to reform these courts.

The Taliban, largely in the context of Afghanistan and North Waziristan, and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in terms of the havoc they create internally are not being dealt with with a consistent or effective policy. As a matter of fact there is no coherent policy at all. The police, Rangers and paramilitary forces are not capable and ill equipped to deal with the TTP. Corruption is endemic and they are compromised as was witnessed in the shameful jailbreak recently in D I Khan. We need the army to deal with them if they are not prepared to negotiate an end to hostilities on terms based on the Constitution. The Taliban issue is linked to Afghanistan and the US withdrawal on the one hand, and our relations with India on the other. Peace with dignity should be our goal, which is achievable if we keep our feet firmly on the ground.

The military has ruled the country for half our existence since independence. The military’s nationalism must demand from it to be wiser than before. The country is in no condition to survive further adventures. The time has come for the military to give up their acquired role in politics and concentrate on defending the country. This would of course include giving up their active role in formulating foreign policy and their interference in domestic affairs through the intelligence agencies. The armed forces must stick to their constitutional role. Successful, strong and prosperous nations all around the globe are those where the defence forces are firmly under the control of democratically elected governments. The armed forces are the defenders and saviours on the borders; we must find the civilians who only can be the saviours for managing the country. This is the successful path; the one we have adopted has repeatedly brought us to grief and is now leading us into the wilderness. 

The job of the civil service is to carry out and administer the policies of the sitting government. In Pakistan the bureaucracy became part of policy making, a job that they were not trained for and therefore made a mess of. As inept and inexperienced ministers abdicated their responsibilities, economic and other major policy making became the domain of the civil service and has remained so for a greater part of our history. Corruption raged as the makers and executors of policy were the same. It should be our role to highlight the problem, demand reform, and expose glaring examples of such happenings.

Our economy is on the verge of collapse now, but we should realise that it has almost always been a borderline case. If you look at any ten year period average, our GDP has only once averaged 6.3 percent, while the overall average is just under 5 percent and presently it is 3.2 percent during 2008-2012. So not such great numbers throughout; always the begging bowl. The economy has been thoroughly mismanaged by almost all administrations. Ours is therefore a failed economy. It has not catered to the wellbeing of the majority nor has it provided them education and healthcare or a dignified existence. Surely the marginal success of less than 5 percent of the population cannot be termed as prosperity. Therefore would it not be right to demand that maybe a Commission consisting of our economists and economists from countries such as China, Malaysia, Brazil, E.U. and South Korea be formed to draw up credible economic plans and monitor their implementation and progress? When we plan scientifically and methodically, such gaffes as the power crisis will not take place.

Healthcare for the people is either appalling or non-existent. A complete overhaul is required. The aim should be free or subsidized service with dignity to the poor below a certain level of income.

Our electoral system has been designed with flaws and gaps to facilitate manipulation. It is necessary to expose, highlight and demand rectification in the electoral laws. Moreover, in a feudal and tribal society the power of the landlords is huge. As a result the peasants are unable to exercise their rights freely. Solutions have to be found to these undemocratic practices prevailing in the rural areas and also in cities like Karachi where instances of coercion are numerous.

Do we have a choice but to act? The deterioration is rapid; the new government is busy trying to control the new dimensions through the old beaten track methods and is therefore bound to fail. Beefing up corrupt and politicized law enforcing agencies cannot end violence, just as the fiasco of the current budget cannot bring economic prosperity. The survival with dignity of 180 million people is involved. We have sat back for too long as spectators and allowed all to crumble in front of our own eyes. If we do not even try to do something to save the situation and gradually regain some of our values, then surely we do not deserve better than the fate of Somalia or Rwanda.

A committed core group needs to be formed at the national level, consisting of different classes, to formulate solutions and propose reforms through building up public opinion in their favour and pressurizing for change. It is necessary to establish close contacts with the people, understand their problems, and find appropriate solutions. This cannot happen overnight; it would be a slow and gradual process, painful and frustrating at times, and one is looking at a time span of some years and not months. The support of the media is vital. This cannot be a drawing room-based discussion group of the gentry. Field work is required at all stages and regularly. The question is: are we up to it?

by Farooq Sumar
The writer is a businessman and a former chairman of the National Textile Foundation.