Working towards a better future

Talat Masood

The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

Few countries face multiple daunting challenges as Pakistan that has a global, regional and national dimension or a combination of it. Some are of our own making and some others are a consequence of power rivalry between major powers, or a consequence of historical legacy.

The wounds of the hasty and unfair partition of the Subcontinent in 1947 reverberate even today in the perpetuation of the Kashmir conflict and the India-Pakistan enmity, and consume so much of its energy and resources. 

The current rivalry between the United States and China has serious ramifications worldwide but Pakistan, due to its strategic location and proximity to China, faces its onslaught even more. Despite its close links with China, Pakistan seeks to retain a cooperative relationship with the US in the mutual interest of both countries. Pakistan’s role in the Afghanistan peace process and its nuclear capability are areas that interest Washington. The latter mostly to keep an eye on it and, as a US-leaked secret report indicates, with suspicious motives. Pakistan’s adversarial relations with India are also of serious concern for the US, as it deflects its strategic ally from focusing on China.

The fallout of Pakistan’s involvement in the Afghan jihad is an area that – in hindsight – could have been better managed through prudent policies. But when military rulers are seeking legitimacy, these alignments have provided a convenient cover. This has been the case when General Zia and General Musharraf were in power. National interests were compromised for personal gains.

There are many other examples that one could cite that remind us that institutionalised decision-making at the national level could have placed the country on a better course. But this is only possible provided the structure of the state is democratic.

Another fundamental weakness Pakistan’s civilian and military rulers have displayed is their inability to focus on the economy and be a self-reliant country. The dependence syndrome repeatedly exhibits itself by Pakistan falling back on the IMF and the World Bank or seeking loans from friendly countries. This addiction or reliance lowers the image of the country. More so, it reduces national power and constrains the ruling elite to generally adapt to their dictates.

The political government certainly cannot allow this state of affairs to continue and will have to take corrective measures or else would be facing the ire of the broad masses.

In essence, the national challenges emanating at different levels demand good governance and strong democratic ethos, the two being mutually complimentary. Unfortunately, this has been our greatest weakness and continues to persist and gets magnified during a national crisis. Something close to that we are witnessing as the roaring floods ravage Sindh and other parts of Pakistan.

Improving governance would require taking several corrective measures some of which the PTI government under the able guidance of Dr Ishrat has already initiated, such as reforming the civil service, restructuring the public sector enterprises, renegotiating contracts of the power sector, etc. The challenge would be faithful implementation of these measures to enhance their working efficiency, which always has remained the weakness of successive governments.

More significantly, dealing with the curse of corruption is most important from every aspect. A developing economy cannot emerge from its dependence unless it seriously tackles this challenge. PM Imran Khan has been rightly focusing on it and giving it the highest priority. One could however differ that branding the entire opposition leadership as corrupt and not engaging with them besides being unfair does impede governance and hurts democratic ethos. It also creates space for state institutions to fill the void. Moreover, it discourages investment when foreign entrepreneurs hear about widespread corruption. A more appropriate approach would be that the function of accountability remains in the domain of NAB and the judiciary. And for NAB to be more credible it needs to take extra care in being even-handed. This would be in its own and national interest.

The major and minor opposition parties will have to shed the politics of patronage and move on to politics of performance and merit. This applies to the PTI to some extent as well as they have a representation of politicians that have migrated from other parties. The tendency of PM Khan to centralise power that unfortunately is now becoming a common phenomenon among democratic countries — most obvious being the US and India — should be avoided.

As regards patronage politics, it invariably leads to corruption as politicians justify it through the idea that they need money to spend on their constituency. This is a dangerous logic and leads to literally competition in corruption in the form of acquiring money through unlawful practices or distributing jobs without consideration of merit to win votes.

Political parties should seriously consider reviewing the concept of hereditary leadership and the hold of families. This is not to belittle the enormous contribution of some of their leaders to promoting democracy and fighting against extreme odds and making sacrifices. But the time has come to strengthen democracy especially when the country is beset with innumerable challenges. It is in the very interest of these parties if they want to win back the confidence of the masses and push back forces that exploit their weaknesses.  

Due to weak performance and the absence of strong a democratic culture, non-political state institutions — the military, judiciary and bureaucracy — have acquired a large role in policy formulation and implementation. People also look up to them when they realise that their problems are not getting resolved without their push.

The role of the media in promoting democratic values is crucial, notwithstanding that they are subjected to various pressures. This phenomenon is not peculiar to Pakistan nor is anything new for us or for developing countries. However, digital technology has given it an additional boost and a complex dimension.

Despite these hurdles there are reasons to be hopeful for Pakistan has overcome serious crises and shortcomings in the past through the resilience of its people and their faith in the country. It is now for the leaders to take the lead.