Monday, September 24, 2012

Is Pakistan a developing country?

Enjoying the breathtaking views of the Northern Areas of Pakistan I was able to forget, rather overlook the collection of problems awaiting me back home. I am sharing these problems with 160 million of my fellow Pakistanis and this collected suffering has strengthened my emotional bond with them somewhat like the victims of great tragedies. Coming back to the topic, I was driving on the KKH with my family enjoying the exotic spectacular views thanking the Good Lord for blessing me with such fabulous assets wondering why privileged Pakistanis spend fortunes in Europe and other countries while being totally unaware of the marvelous vacations Pakistan offers. The air was clean; wind was cool and the road, well; acceptable. In these far off places the health standard was excellent and the pink cheeks of the residents were a proof of that. Education standards were probably better than even Punjab and illiteracy was practically unknown in the younger generation. Law and order situation was excellent and some friends boasted that there hadn’t been a murder or serious violent crime in a hundred years and what more electricity was cheap. All this made me ecstatic and I smiled obstinately after a long time while enjoying the stunning view of the cathedral peak in Passu, Upper Hunza convinced that if there actually was a Shangri-La, it was here.

Next day we tried to socialize with these wonderful people and discovered some interesting facts. Government of Japan funded the school, the Danish government financed the hydroelectric power plant, the local health center by another foreign donor and the road was financed and built by the Chinese. Something absolutely invisible in the development and progress of the area was the government of Pakistan. We didn’t even give them the right to vote, whatever it means in our peculiar setup. This is how we treat our brethren who fought for independence against the Dogras joining Pakistan. Not a very good message for the independence seeking Kashmiris of the other side.

The story doesn’t end here as it has more interesting turns. After building the hydroelectric project, the Danes handed it over to some government agency to maintain it and the things started going wrong. Now there are power breakdowns exceeding down under. After building the road (KKH) the Chinese handed over partial maintenance to our government and the things started deteriorating. Anyone who traveled the road in 1980 can certainly testify that the road was much better then and now it is a set of potholes from which you have to find the road, a bit like the GT road of the late Zia era. My first exploration of this road on a motorcycle in 1980 was on a much smoother road. The moment you cross over to the Chinese side you find a wonderful shinning new road of international standards but the decay on the Pakistani side was obvious. Fortunately the education and health facilities survived in a relatively better condition but then again due to foreign NGOs enticed by Agha Khan foundation and the exotic culture of this area.

Regression everywhere is all too evident all over Pakistan. This might be the only privilege we handed over evenly to all parts of the country. Any thing or service that came close to any government agency just collapsed leaving a trail of suffering and debt to be paid by the original victims. In 1947 we inherited a reliable Railways network that worked which is now cracking and leaking from all places and has become a huge drain on the national exchequer. In 1947 we were the most educated after the Europeans and the Americans and now our whole educational system is crumbling. We have been lying to ourselves ignoring this most important prerequisite of any improvement. Our performance of health sector can be clearly illustrated by the Mayo Hospital example. The exploiter colonial government made this hospital more than a century ago for Lahore with a population of 1 lakh, which has now swelled to 8 million. This would clearly require another 80 hospitals of this size and we failed miserably. Interestingly out of the new government hospitals in Lahore Sheikh Zayed hospital was built by UAE and Jinnah Hospital by the Chinese. The GOP couldn’t maintain the public welfare delivered by the colonial government.

Leaving the physical aspects apart our performance in democracy and other nation building endeavors has been equally pathetic. After earning the country democratically we criminalized the word politics repeatedly packing the elected civilian governments. Arguably the constituent assembly of 47 was more independent than the current one. Constitution and courts were also stronger and more respected. Law and order problem was unheard of like the ethnic and communal violence. Our record of maintenance of sovereignty is even worse as foreign forces routinely bomb and kill Pakistanis and play pivotal role in the internal politics. Not a very impressive progress report.

This regression comes in stark contrast to what we hear about the other progressing countries. People visiting China, India or Malaysia after an year or two testify that it can be difficult to recognize the place because the speed of development is enormous and it can be hard to keep track. Naturally I am talking about the positive developments and not the kind we just enumerated. This is how the nations progress and not the way we are proceeding.

Despite strong evidence to the contrary this unfortunate nation is fed on a regular diet of some intangible and unverifiable achievements like making of different bombs and missiles. Our Foreign Ministers confession of helplessness regarding securing our sovereignty in the face of foreign bombings is a clear proof of exaggeration of our claims. History tells us that whenever these claims were put to test in 65, or 71 or Siachen or Kargill, they proved to be bordering on lies. Pakistan has a very dubious distinction of being the only country in the world with regularly shrinking borders.

All this very clearly explains the current situation in Pakistan. We are losing our brightest people regularly to other countries and also the most valuable capital, which always shies away from the insecure and unpredictable places. This uncertainty is translating into depression causing most of the young to yearn to leave the country for a better future. Nothing can be more unfortunate for a country aspiring to grow than having a dissatisfied populace not associating their hopes or future with it.

Munhasir marney pey ho jis ki umeed
Naumeedi us ki dekha chaahiye

We also have this inopportune distinction further tarnishing our hopes for the future.

Reality has to be faced which tells us that as a nation we are not progressing rather regressing. With this speed of regression we might be heading towards disaster in not very far future, which we must prevent. Those destined to live and die here cannot afford the luxury of inaction and must take the matters in their own hands closing the doors for self proclaimed deliverers who brought us to this stage. The civil society must rise to protect itself, its rights and the country denying the foreign supported autocrats opportunities to takeover the country again. The recent mobilization of the civil society in the judge’s movement is certainly a visible ray of hope but it must be further built upon. The civil society must protect the country from its rulers and the best way of doing it is by establishing the rule of law. Governments and its officers must be assessed and rewarded by progress reports with third party evaluations like anywhere else in the world. The immunity of the government and its officials from law or other constraints must be withdrawn. In short the government and the government servants must be made subservient to the people they are supposed to serve.

The newly developed nations have defied the old Chinese proverb that progress has little to do with speed but much to do with direction and advanced at tremendous pace. We must correct our direction and start moving forward. If we still cannot mange to stop our regressive tendencies we might re classify ourselves from a developing country to a regressing country. This accurate classification might be painful but honest.

In the end let me confess that in the heat of the argument I unintentionally ignored observations showing the overwhelming presence of government of Pakistan and its different agencies. Everywhere we went burning diesel in our 26 years old car at the rate of Rs. 55/litre we encountered lines of fancy government jeeps, colored and green, serving the government officials and their families arranging lavish picnics whose costs will never be calculated.

Politics of compromise

Dr. Umar Khan

Dr. Khan works for a Lahore based Think Tank.




Politics of Compromise


People of same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. Adam Smith (Does this hold true for capitalists only?)


President Asif Ali Zardari has been practicing politics of compromise with big fanfare. This compromise includes nearly everyone in the assemblies including those once accused of murdering BB. Governance of compromise might be an appropriate term to describe this ingenious political setup because those outside of the assemblies aren’t included. Everyone was offered a share in government and those who were reluctant were ably coerced into it with a bit of arm-twisting.


For the last 4.5 years every political party in the elected assemblies is in government at different level and the elected assemblies only comprise of allies. This kind of politics has effectively taken out the opposition from the political scene. In the centre PPP is in the government along with MQM, ANP, FATA PML(Q) and others. Same with KPK and Sind. Punjab also had such setup of PPP, PML N&Q but later PPP ministers were withdrawn. Maulana Fazal is always in the govt, even when he is officially leader of the opposition. Balochistan assembly traditionally consists of treasury benches alone and now the rest of the country is following it. In this strange setup everyone is in the government and opposition is non existent.


This has resulted in a bizarre political setup where there is no genuine opposition. Lately some politicians have been working hard to give an impression of opposition, while enjoying the perks only governments in Pakistan can give, but the Pakistani nation isn’t showing the gullibility of believing them.


Opposition is an integral part of parliamentary democracy which cannot function effectively without it. It is necessary and indispensable. The opposition keeps a check on the government finding weaknesses in its policies and performance while offering a credible alternative. Moreover, by overseeing and criticizing the action of the government, it works to ensure transparency, integrity and efficiency in the conduct

of public affairs and to prevent abuses by the authorities and individuals, thereby ensuring the defense of the public interest. Government institutions like NAB or judiciary can never keep the governments in line as oppositions do. It is the fear of the bright and active politicians in opposition which has been proven as the most useful check on government’s performance. As someone said aptly, “Conscience is basically the fear of being found out” and so it protects from untoward behavior. Freedom of this fear can encourage people to indulge in all kind of improper behaviors this poor nation can ill afford. Opposition less democracy gives the people the roughest of deals, somewhat like capitalism without competition, making the common man the ultimate loser.


The effects of this strange political setup without opposition in the assemblies are too obvious. Some of the simpler but not less cunning politicians, openly declared on the media that equal opportunities should be provided for corruption and now it is their right to indulge in it. Surprisingly these elected officials weren’t penalized by their parties or even the media and shamelessly continue to be part of government although deserve to be in a correction house or a psychiatrist’s couch. All encompassing governments are functioning for the last 4.5 years and juicy government departments and corporations have been doled out generously. Railways, PIA, Steel Mill and KPT, to name a few are in the hands of different allies of compromise. Not going into the innumerable stories of corruption and limiting to tangible and verifiable results, we can say with certainty all of them have been wrecked costing hundreds of billions to the national exchequer, or may I say the common man on the street working hard to feed his family. Railways that were working well for over a hundred years is nearly finished losing all its credibility and service denying the middle classes of inexpensive travel option. PIA is practically bankrupt as is Steel Mill risking hundreds of thousands of jobs. Many of them are surviving on artificial life support of government infusions of funds which can’t last long.  Economy is in shambles and job creation non existent. Inflation is rampant and electricity expensive but unavailable. Law and order situation a mess. Not a flattering picture of democracy. 


Interestingly the collapse of each state institution brings a few more smiles on the faces of allies in the government. Strangely these economic disasters instead of causing cracks in the “Compromised” coalition somehow strengthen it even more. No one has ever been held accountable for the poor performance of these state institutions jeopardizing the national economy and innumerable jobs. To date the coalition is going strong apparently at the cost of the state. 


This kind of political compromise has it roots in the charter of democracy signed between the late BB and Nawaz during the dark days of military rule. After the COD was signed in May 06, within months BB and Musharraf reached understanding on transfer of power under the close watch of Condy Rice and the Americans. Immediately after Jan 07, BB, who was being treated as a con woman for over a decade by Americans, started getting treatment of a stateswomen and celebrity. Ms. Rice exposes it clearly in her book that PPPs government was decided in Washington and further steps were to be taken to ensure the predetermined fa├žade of democracy in Pakistan. A strange democracy where the results are preordained in a foreign country.


The said COD also talks about education, economy, unemployment and condition of the poor, but they have been conveniently ignored.


While signing of COD it was decided that PPP govt will rule Pakistan for 5 years and after that it would be Nawaz’s turn and the two won’t undermine each other’s govts. No wonder Nawaz openly declared that he would support PPP govt even if its own people deserted them. Distribution of provincial govts among these two parties also appeared to be there with Punjab reserved for PML(N) and Sind for PPP. BB’s unexpected sad demise changed the understanding nominally and Zardari replaced BB effectively. This understanding and setup worked smoothly for first couple of years with just a few hiccups.


 Lacunas don’t exist in nature and whenever they are made artificially they don’t last long and forces appear from nowhere fulfilling them. Rise of PTI and judiciary effectively   taking the role of opposition are direct results of this.


Reasons given for this politics of compromise without opposition are certainly noble. There is a feeling that we have had 4 bouts of martial laws in Pakistan with devastating effects damaging our society and its basic fabric, basically because the oppositions of those times invited the military. Although this argument might have some substance if considered as making conditions suitable for military takeovers, it has some serious flaws. This argument makes COAS looks like a feeble post very reluctant but obedient and subservient to the politicians, opposition only. Nothing can be farther from truth. If they are so obedient to the politicians they should be showing the same when asked to leave. It is a strange but very selective and opportunist obedience. It appears that the unscrupulous generals of those times had been planting people to invite them and they always tried to look reluctant.


What actually causes martial laws is not invitation of the opposition politicians but opportunity presented to the devious generals. Economic conditions and dissatisfaction of the common man with democracy is the biggest factor making military interventions possible. Conditions deteriorate when common man shows dislike for democracy and starts longing for generals. Maligning of the politicians, pliable judiciary and foreign support are the other major factors. No wonder the buccaneering generals are delighted with the current situation showing everyone that our people are unfit to rule themselves needing a big brother looking down their necks.


The government has harmed the cause of democracy with its politics of compromise a lot but it is still surviving due to 2 unexpected allies, the Americans, having shown their dislike for military govt in Pakistan and the judiciary, outright rejecting possibility of legalizing any unconstitutional step. Judiciary appearing to be going against the govt is its biggest ally and savior although democracy has taken a real drubbing in the public opinion.


Democracy, like love, can survive almost any attack, except neglect and indifference. Our people must show their concern and give clear message to those in power that they can’t be taken for granted using names of dead people or underage children, any more. Gimmicks and demagoguery won’t work anymore.  They have grown and aren’t gullible any longer getting bribed by small goodies bought from their own money.


The PPP government might be well advised to broaden its compromising politics and compromise with the judiciary instead of taking it head-on. Focusing on the people instead of the greedy allies is the only way Zardari’s govt can fare better in the next elections not far away. Otherwise they are destined to get what govts with history of bad management deserve and get in elections, if somehow saved from military takeover.


Diverting the energy and resources towards the people instead of allies can be a much needed service to democracy and not coalitions created by compromises on principles.