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Turning Pakistan around
Naeem Sadiq & Q. Isa Daudpota
If you want numbers and statistics, read the Carnegie Endowment reports or the Foreign Policy Institute’s Failed State Index. Pakistanis have known these stark facts viscerally for ages. Using 12 indicators of state cohesion and performance, the 2009 Index shows Pakistan ranked as the 10th most failed state of the world – with Somalia, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Chad, Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Guinea and Central African Republic ahead of us.
The almost complete breakdown of governance and state machinery has made life for all but the most privileged a painful daily reality. But still there is a way out this quagmire if people demand with vigour a few essentials from themselves and the state!
‘Unity, faith, discipline’ [Jinnah’s slogan], ‘Roti, kapra, makan’ [Bread, Clothing and Shelter, the slogan of the Zulfiqar Bhutto’s PPP] and ‘Pakistan ka matlab kia’ [What does Pakistan mean to us?] – such slogans play with public sentiments but have failed to move people. A disillusioned people must naturally want to move beyond this. What then are the principles, actions and tools that are needed to resuscitate the failing state and lead it to a sustainable future. On this journey of recovery we will need to keep track of key parameters that mark progress.
The quality of public services (education, health, water, electricity, public transport etc) is considered one key parameter of a state’s performance. Economic justice, human rights and treatment of women are the other key factors that indicate the well being of a society. In addition, the state must be seen to enforce the writ of the law. The state needs to define, plan, implement, measure and improve all these performance indicators dramatically. The role of the media and civil society organization is to consistently highlight the successes and failures over the long-term. Until now the media, despite its remarkable successes, has been inconsistent in following up issues until their resolution – it has pecked at many serious current issues and problems and then moved on. Other organizations have largely fared worse.
As during the Enlightenment, and earlier as in the golden period of Islam, the use of reason and modern knowledge must become the foundation for reform. Begin by rejecting state slogans and instead measure the state’s performance. Stop bowing to holy cows. Respect must come from good performance, not out of a historical accident.
Take the false slogan: “The parliament is supreme”. Parliament is just one component of the ‘state’, and like an important organ of state with a specific function. All state institutions have defined functions and no one is either sovereign or operates in a vacuum. Every institution needs to operate effectively within itself and in concert with others while operating within ambit of the law.
“We are only accountable to our electorate” or “We are the protectors of the borders of our country and of our people” are other convoluted slogans that needs to be set aside. If members of institutions steal, rape or murder they must be accountable before the law regardless of any ideological slogan used to provide exemption.
Ballot-box democracy has failed the country as has military rule. We must refuse new elections until the electoral process is completely reformed. Unless this is done the corrupt and incompetent will get re-elected. Important aspects that need reform are: reducing election expenses, verifiable election qualifications, ensuring clear verifiable asset declarations and information about public service and criminal records of candidates.
Pakistan must be run by its best citizens and not by imported expats who have managed to serve themselves and their masters at Citicorp, World Bank, IMF and donor agencies. We must also beware of home-grown-and-nourished “economic hit men” who act as proxies for such institutions, who advise the country to spend beyond its means on mega-projects and become indebted to the lenders forever. See and other material by John Perkins ( who in a series of publications exposed the working of such agents working against developing countries.
There is today a shameful silence about population control. A political consensus is needed on this immediately – sustainable development is impossible if we keep breeding as we have. Pakistan must strictly adhere to at most zero population growth (2 children per family) for which there is precedence in Muslim countries.
Some of the most important factors for turning around the country are: equality of opportunities, transparency and speedy and equal treatment before law for all citizens. The increasing class disparity needs to be reversed. This can be achieved promptly by mandating that children of all civil and military officials and elected leaders be required to attend government schools and they and their families only receive treatment in government hospitals like every poor person in the country. These high-ranking persons should only use public or personal transport and all official vehicles be withdrawn. They may not own property or passports of foreign lands. No one shall be entitled to free medical treatment abroad and ‘Umrahs’ and ‘Haj’ at state expense be declared an offence. No one shall possess or carry weapons and every citizen shall receive the same level of protection.
The rich and powerful have benefited the most from Pakistan’s failure after having caused it. Unless they are truly threatened by change that will wipe out their looted wealth and current privileges, they will obstruct change. A transformation can therefore only happen through a large-scale subversion by its people. The ideas of Saul Alinsky, the great US labour organizer, and others of his ilk can provide the needed inspiration. (See “Civil” society will need to stop being “civil” – it needs to become smart, think innovatively and act decisively to bring about the urgent reformation.

Naeem Sadiq
Q. Isa Daudpota
11 May 2010