Risking the Future 

It isn’t entirely unexpected that Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan and his team are finding it difficult to square election promises with the country’s realities. There is an almost a clear feeling of hopelessness, in the way leaders and governments are forced to approach the range of reforms needed in Pakistan.  But what is more telling, though is that there is little will to confront the spectrum of structural problems afflicting the country, without which any reform effort is bound to fail. It seems that future governments will continue to blame their predecessors for inherited problems.

Popular discontentment and dysfunction in Pakistan point to weak governance, corruption, poverty, illiteracy, and injustice. However, these issues are linked to structural problems that have a lot more to do with the rot that has set in the body politic. These overarching problems include a controlled state; exclusive political and economic system; the fusion of religion and politics; and misogynistic and patriarchal society. Just ignoring these problems doesn’t mean that they will go away.

Pakistan has paid a high price to create a territorially consolidated, centralised, sovereign state. Some label the military as the only functional institution in the country, which allows it to lord over the powers and assets of the state. However, both military and pseudo-democratic regimes in Pakistan have invested little in education, infrastructure, and technological advancement.

There are few countries in the world, where the government has to watch its back for constant challenges to its authority from activist judges and militant mullahs as well. And then there are always the familiar and self-serving arguments put forth by authoritarian apologists. The most common is putting the onus entirely on civilians and the electorate to improve the performance of the democratic system to allow the military and the judiciary to remain in their constitutional boundaries. It is hard to see any elected leader or government making a difference in these adverse circumstances.

Successive governments haven’t succeeded in their primary goal which is to provide housing, schooling, education – a minimum standard of human rights for all. Governments have also have failed to deliver rapid and sustained economic development when compared to other authoritarian countries that are deemed more successful in this regard.

A long overdue but obvious discussion that comes to mind is over the reallocation of the defence budget to enhance development. A downsized military and peace with neighbours is in itself a laudable goal. The military giving up its preeminent role in governance would allow the solution of political problems by democratic means.

The elite control of the state primarily serves a few in Pakistan. It allows the freedom for the rich, motivated by greed to grow richer through favouritism, with their crimes often covered by the state. Public opinion, public scrutiny, and public pressure have mattered little in the scheme of things. Citizens at large are threatened by violence, demoralised by corruption and deceit. It seems that the shared belief that the most fundamental commitment of the governance system is to the rules is non-existent. The state subtly discourages freedom of speech and critical journalism. Most reporting serves a status quo agenda.

In the 21st century, aspiring modern states don’t subscribe to fixed ideologies. They focus their energies instead on fostering inclusive growth, encouraging foreign investment, and wealth creation. Pakistan is swimming against the tide by allowing the dangerous nexus of religion and politics. The Islamist forces have the freedom to impose their theocratic views on the country. They do so on the expense of religious and personal freedoms, civil liberties and the rights of women and minorities.

Girls’ education and gender empowerment, a priority in the developing world, receive little attention in Pakistan. More than 20 million children, many of them girls, are denied schooling. Less than 30% of women are employed. The country could do with sizable investments in women’s development. Improvements in literacy standards will help to close the gender gap and offer a path out of poverty and financial independence for women. It is a bad policy to ignore the potential of nearly half your population.

What is particularly worrisome is that the current government, beholden as it is too statist and oligarchic forces for survival, lacks the flexibility to tackle the structural problems facing the economy and society.  The government must take urgent steps to shrink the current account deficit; right-size the swelling defence budget; broaden the tax base; create new export markets; reduce subsidies; promote education and population control, and ensure transparency in international and domestic contractual obligations.

It is a challenging endeavour for the government to meet these goals without the support of the elite. The elite class has to give up special privileges and policies that have provided them with power and enrichment for decades. These privileges and policies have resulted in accumulated political, economic and social problems that are difficult to resolve without compromise. A dream perhaps, but also a supreme test for the elite, because they risk the future of the country that they claim to love and defend if they don’t.


Be Part of Quality Journalism

Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce and despite all the hardships we still do it. Our reporters and editors are working overtime in Kashmir and beyond to cover what you care about, break big stories, and expose injustices that can change lives. Today more people are reading Kashmir Observer than ever, but only a handful are paying while advertising revenues are falling fast.



Observer News Service

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.