PAKISTAN will hold its next parliamentary and presidential elections this year. Many Pakistanis see this first ever completion of its term by an elected civilian government as cause for celebration.
Unfortunately, a full term has hardly enabled the government to respond to the country’s challenges. On the contrary, Pakistan’s problems have proliferated: terrorism, sectarian and ethnic violence, criminality and lawlessness, growing poverty, an energy crisis, financial decline and multifaceted external threats and interventions. Pakistan’s trajectory is towards a tragic explosion.
Pakistan’s multiple crises, at the core, are the consequence of bad governance or no governance.
Good governance flows from good leadership and good institutions. A country can progress only if its government wants it to do so. Misrule can only be prevented by robust institutions committed to the rule of law.
Sadly, since the 1960s, Pakistan’s rulers have systematically destroyed or corrupted the central institutions of the state. Our short history is a chronicle of disasters: the 1965 war, the destructive experiment in populist socialism; the country’s break up; the induction of Zia’s Islamism; the lost decade of democracy; externally dictated involvement in the disastrous ‘war on terror’ and, most recently, a Hobbesian era of ‘all against all’.
Today, as our leaders plan on ways to retain or regain power, policy analysts elsewhere are planning for contingencies that include: Pakistan’s takeover by extremists or its social and political disintegration. Foreign encouragement of secessionist and ethnic forces in Pakistan is ongoing. External intervention to prevent an ‘Islamist’ capture of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons is very much on the table.
To avert eventual disaster, structural and policy reforms are essential in at least four areas: security, economy, politics and bureaucracy.
Security: Pakistan is under military attack from within and without by terrorists: Al Qaeda, the TTP and affiliated militant groups; by sectarian groups; and from the insurgency in Balochistan, encouraged by Pakistan’s adversaries. India’s recent internal troubles could lead its politicians to once again use Pakistan as a political diversion.
For strategic clarity, Pakistan’s security policy needs to be guided by certain principles. One, the state cannot surrender its monopoly on the use of force. No parallel armies can be tolerated on Pakistan’s territory. Two, negotiations are only possible with those ready to accept the authority of the state. Three, all foreigners present in Pakistan without permission should be expelled. Four, Pakistan should be prepared to pursue those who attack its forces and civilians from across the border in Afghanistan (or elsewhere). Five, Pakistan’s security forces must be modernised and equipped to defeat terrorism and defend against conventional threats.
Economy: The government’s continuing reluctance to address the growing fiscal deficit will soon lead to financial collapse. It is essential to introduce a general sales tax and an agricultural income tax; restructure or divest loss-making government corporations; and halt the rampant corruption.
Concrete measures are also needed to: revive domestic and foreign direct investment; expand exports; overcome the energy crisis; build infrastructure; and actively support the private sector. Without these steps, Pakistan will soon become another “least developed country”.
Politics: Pakistan cannot become a modern state so long as it is led by feudal lords, rapacious tycoons and ethnic and religious parties. Pakistan’s politics can be changed. There should be adequate requirements to hold political office including a valid college degree; taxpayer status; no criminal record. Electoral districts dominated by feudal leaders should be reconfigured to break their monopoly. Urban centres should have larger representation to reflect the demographic shift to the cities. The representation of technocrats should be expanded. A strict ban should be imposed on the foreign funding of any political party or representative.
Bureaucracy: Pakistan’s bureaucracy has become an impediment to the country’s socio-economic development. The characteristics of a good bureaucracy are: functional competence; efficient execution and impartiality. These attributes can be achieved in Pakistan through merit-based selection; market-based remuneration; high reward for performance; severe penalties for corruption, partiality, negligence and incompetence. To start, it is essential to eliminate the corrupt, inefficient and partisan officials currently installed in various government offices.
Given their desire to win votes and placate their own constituencies, it is unlikely that any of the major parties will sponsor or endorse such bold but probably unpopular measures.
In the past, policy paralysis would have led to a military takeover. Fortunately, the army’s past unhappy experiences and present preoccupations seem to have precluded this option. A democratic and legal alternative is required. This could be the Monti option.
Eleven months ago, when no political party or leader was prepared to take the onus for imposing unpopular austerity in Italy, agreement was reached to instal an unelected economist, Mario Monti, as prime minister at the head of a ‘technocratic’ government. The departing Monti has saved the Italian economy, even if his success has been incomplete.
The Monti option offers a possible avenue for Pakistan to undertake structural reform and make the policy corrections required to stave off future disaster.
The task of inducting these essential, if unpopular, policies and reforms could be entrusted to the interim government which, under the Pakistan constitution, will be installed for 60 days to oversee the general elections. The mandate of the interim government can be enlarged to introduce the essential policies and reforms, and its period in office extended to 180 days to enable it to perform the extra functions.
It would be best if agreement could be reached, perhaps at an all parties conference, to provide such an extraordinary mandate to the interim government. If this is not possible, the measure could be legalised through a presidential or judicial decree.
If the Monti solution is not acceptable to the government or other political parties, they should prove their commitment to the country by introducing such reform measures themselves.
The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.