CHASING UTOPIA

Published March 24, 2024

De-securitize, De-colonize, Industrialize: A Manifesto for Structural Reforms
By Raheem ul Haque
Sanjh Publications
ISBN: 978-969-593-432-6
208pp.

This slim volume, written by a young yet distinguished professor at FC College, is striking for its ambition and fervour.

The title sounds like that of a revolutionary pamphlet from the early 20th century and the author, Raheem ul Haque, is quite clear that Pakistan needs to rethink the very ethos of its economy and politics. Reading the book at a time when Pakistan is standing at a crossroads (yet again), one is struck by the relevance of the message. Whether one agrees with all his contentions or not, his arguments merit attention.

The author’s first assertion is the need to de-securitise the Pakistani state. He goes into some detail of what a security state is: namely, one that controls and dominates citizens, while failing in its (self-proclaimed) prime responsibility of ensuring physical security. For the security state, the military ethos is supreme, and traditional defence and security concerns trump all other responsibilities of the state.

But the author goes beyond that standard definition — according to him, Pakistan’s security state is deep and tribal. By this he means that the military is the sole centre of power in the country (hence the assertion that the security state is deep), and that the institution ensures that key state benefits accrue to its officers rather than being divided across a broader elite.

The all-pervasive nature of the military’s hold on power in Pakistan, as per the author, ensures that the institution’s influence goes beyond just ensuring a large defence budget. Instead, it is apparent in governance structures, the economy, foreign policy and even urban planning.

The second imperative for Pakistan’s future, according to Raheem ul Haque, is to de-colonise. By this he means the need to push back against militant religious nationalism and the colonial characteristics of state institutions, and respecting Pakistan’s diverse cultural identities. For Haque, it is crucial to promote a sense of civic nationalism in the country, and work towards creating a democratic political system which prioritises inclusive citizenship.

He emphasises that amongst the crucial factors in the promotion of civic nationalism are the institution of local government systems, and capacity building of what he refers to as “street level bureaucracy.”

For him, this means a tier of civil service supporting local governments and operating at the grassroots level, as opposed to a cadre of elite civil servants, who tend to be far removed, both physically and in terms of life experiences, from the people they are supposed to serve.

One can only agree with the emphasis on the need to revive local government — it is the only way to service the needs of a large population which has been largely marginalised by existing governance structures. But in our chronically unstable political system, it is hard to see political parties ceding space at the sub-provincial level.

The third assertion in the title is “Industrialise”. But Haque has a lot more to say about economic policy than just the need to promote industry. He is critical of the neo-liberal paradigm, and of the role assigned to state institutions thereof.

He feels that giving the state a secondary role in the economy, where it is only supposed to resolve market failures and create an enabling environment for the private sector, is not the way to go. Instead, he emphasises the need to develop a production-oriented development framework (hence the imperative to industrialise), but with the state playing a role in selecting strategic sectors.

Here the author is at pains to point out that he is not advocating a planned economy per se, but a “development state”, which directs capital towards productive employment-generating sectors. But, in fact, he is advocating for five year plans, with the first such plan focusing on improving productivity in labour-intensive sectors of the economy, and then subsequent plans continuing to work towards a full employment strategy. All of this, he feels, should happen side by side with the development of heavy industry — particularly a steel industry.

Here it must be said that the author should have perhaps devoted some time to discussing what went wrong, and still goes wrong, when the government does regulate the economy in Pakistan. Five-year plans were a mainstay of Pakistan’s economic governance for much of the country’s existence. Building a heavy industry base was a key policy goal in the 1970s.

Directing investment into, and protecting certain industries, is something that the government continues to do (textiles and automobiles for example). What would be different this time, or what can be done to ensure that these initiatives achieve the desired goals?

The monograph ends with about 20 pages of policy recommendations, which make for interesting reading, as they are hard to dismiss or disagree with, yet unlikely to be implemented for complex reasons. The very first recommendation, for instance, is that parliamentarians should conduct public hearings with experts, intellectuals, the civil and military bureaucracy, and civil society and devise a change in the “strategic direction of the state.”

In addition, they should also create high level commissions to “resolve the Baloch insurgency, Taliban terrorism, and Indian hostility.” If only. The author is absolutely right in believing that Parliament is indeed the forum in which these key national issues should be discussed and resolved. And successive parliaments in Pakistan have done truly commendable work, including writing the Constitution of 1973 and, more recently, passing the 18th Amendment and formulating the National Action Plan to deal with terrorism. But the best laid plans come to naught when realpolitik comes into play.

Why and how that happens is beyond the scope of a book review, but someone like Mr Haque would understand better. The recommendation thus seems somewhat idealistic. The same is true of most of the other recommendations. In an ideal world, much of what the author recommends would happen. But if wishes were horses…

The reviewer is a researcher and policy analyst.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, March 24th, 2024

Editorial

Ominous demands
Updated 18 May, 2024

Ominous demands

The federal government needs to boost its revenues to reduce future borrowing and pay back its existing debt.
Property leaks
18 May, 2024

Property leaks

THE leaked Dubai property data reported on by media organisations around the world earlier this week seems to have...
Heat warnings
18 May, 2024

Heat warnings

STARTING next week, the country must brace for brutal heatwaves. The NDMA warns of severe conditions with...
Dangerous law
Updated 17 May, 2024

Dangerous law

It must remember that the same law can be weaponised against it one day, just as Peca was when the PTI took power.
Uncalled for pressure
17 May, 2024

Uncalled for pressure

THE recent press conferences by Senators Faisal Vawda and Talal Chaudhry, where they demanded evidence from judges...
KP tussle
17 May, 2024

KP tussle

THE growing war of words between KP Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur and Governor Faisal Karim Kundi is affecting...