National transformation vision

Published March 24, 2015
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

MANY governments find an official national vision useful. Many institutions, business or otherwise, have mission statements. Political parties have their manifestos in which visions and strategies are offered. Official economists often use Perspective Plans. Our Constitution has an Objectives Resolution. All of these aim to clarify choices, objectives and strategies in pursuit of an assumed transformation for the better.

Some vision statements are efforts to induce target groups, which might be an entire electorate, into making uninformed choices or accepting conditions and policies that do not in any way promote their interests. Noam Chomsky suggests that much of ‘democratic’ political messaging uses the same techniques as the marketing of brands of soap and toothpaste. Electoral campaign managers are often hired from the private sector.

In Pakistan, we tend to ask what the Quaid’s vision was when he ‘founded’ Pakistan. Or what Allama Iqbal had in mind when he ‘conceived’ of Pakistan. Some go back to Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and the Aligarh Movement which eventually led to the Pakistan Movement. Others go back further to when Muslims ruled India for a vision that today answers only to a romantic nostalgia.

Instead of reiterating standard pieties and wish-lists, an honest and realistic vision statement would acknowledge Pakistan as it is today. It should communicate a sense of commitment. It should effectively declare war on all the hindrances to developing a 21st-century national outlook. These hindrances have generated all the existential challenges that threaten us from every direction every day.

They are wittingly or unwittingly supported by an incorrigible political system and obsolete social structure. Any vision statement should be seen as a commitment to remove these systemic obstacles and ensure our people against the fate of a consistently failing state. Only then can it carry credibility.

Otherwise, it will be more subterfuge than an expression of political intent. Of course, as a public relations exercise, articulating distracting and seductive ‘narratives’, it has its uses. But that would be a mission statement without a mission!

Nevertheless, a national vision statement can be both a prelude to and reflection of a national reforms campaign based on a commitment to national transformation. President Xi Jinping and the Chinese leadership have articulated a ‘Chinese Dream’ to “drive reform and opening up to a deeper level, to modernise the national governance system” and to bring about “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”. This represents a serious statement of intent to achieve the further enhancement of China’s political, economic, social, welfare, security and strategic status by the middle of this century.

An honest and realistic vision statement would acknowledge Pakistan as it is today.

The Chinese Dream is credible because of China’s record of achievements. Moreover, its formulation entailed massive research and analyses, nation-wide top-down and bottom-up consultations in hundreds of forums, and development and testing of feasible policy and implementation strategies. It is a distillation of a people’s determination to realise their potential.

Unfortunately, in Pakistan merely envisaging a ‘Pakistani Dream’ would have nothing to do with current reality. It would be an idle fantasy. It would not be based on any record of commitment or performance. It could be drafted by anyone familiar with the cultural milieu, standard economic and political aspirations, and a cut-and-paste list of desired deliverables. It would only camouflage the real agendas of decision-makers. It would have no public ownership. It would provide no basis for better governance.

But what if we imagine a national leadership that is committed and competent? What kind of credible vision should it have? It should acknowledge today’s wretched circumstances. It would need to recognise that a vision statement must emerge from comprehensive, inclusive and sustained national consultations; not in-house drafting exercises. It would need to reflect new beginnings. Some say they are under way. Inshallah!

A possible vision statement

“Pakistan was founded with the vision of a secure and exemplary Islamic welfare state, at peace with itself and the world.

“That lost vision will be recovered and realised as an immediate and overwhelming national priority. The hopes, dreams and dignity of the people will be restored.

“The nation is confronted with structural and systemic challenges that have led to diminishing natio­nal sovereignty and the exclusion of the poor, the weak (including women) and nearly all minorities.

“The people’s faith has been misused against their interests.

“The transformation of this state of affairs will be the responsibility of the government with the advice and assistance of the full range of civil and political society.

This transformation will comprise comprehensive and integrated reforms at the national, regional and local levels. They will include a radical improvement of the rule of law; basic services provision; human rights protections; domestic resource mobilisation; poverty reduction; elimination of structural inequalities; infrastructural and human resource development (education, health, gender rights, etc.); adequate national deterrence capabilities, tax and land reform; feasible self-sufficiency (food, energy, etc); accountable, participatory, transparent and modern governance systems and institutions; etc.

“The function of foreign policy will be primarily to provide an enabling external environment for the achievement of national transformation. No compromise regarding international obligations and principled positions are required. But policy choices and actions in support of legal and valid foreign and security policy objectives will be consistent with national transformation imperatives.

“Transparency and transformation perspectives will be factored into fiscal policies and allocations.

“Quantitative and qualitative growth rate targets will be set in order to achieve dramatically improved human development and other indices within challenging timelines.

“An information and educational campaign will be launched to ensure public understanding and support for transformative change.

“Certain circles misinterpret Islam and patriotism against the liberation of the people from their traditional and current shackles. For political reasons, some will oppose a ‘modern’ Islamic welfare state. They have a right to their opinions. But they have no right to forcibly impose them! The state will ensure that.

“Islam’s gifts of freedom and reason provide the basis for a scientific culture and a just society based on rational discourse.”

Water off a duck’s back?

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

Published in Dawn March 24th , 2015

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