Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Is Pakistan ungovernable?

August 22, 2011


ISSUES of governance stare you in the face in any span of 24 hours, as Karachi bleeds, institutions clash, terrorists strike, extortion destroys commerce and the state is accused of abducting its own citizens.

Glance at a national daily on any day, say an issue of Dawn last week, and we can see that a day in the life of the nation is symptomatic of a year or a whole tenure of the government or indeed several decades of civil and military rule. You will find the PPP government subjected to allegations of poor performance, misinformation and insincerity of purpose in the context of the ongoing conflict between the judiciary and the executive. This is an indicator of the fragility of institutional life inside the state.

The cycle of suspension and reinstatement of FIA officials in the NICL scam inquiry at the hands of the government and the Supreme Court respectively has become a clash of institutions. The judiciary and the elite sections of society point to the government’s lack of commitment to implementing the court’s orders. On its part, the government thinks that the judiciary has overstepped its assignment, whereby it is seeking to micromanage the administration and moving from the role of referee to that of a player in the field.

Indeed, the government has been so grossly engaged in the game of survival in office that it has hardly taken any positive, concrete or result-oriented executive measures to streamline the state machinery. No government can depend on the storm gathering on the political horizon for years as an alibi for non-delivery of services here and now. For example, a terror attack in Landi Kotal is combined with several other news items that throw light on a non-functioning state: the menace of extortion eating into the vitals of commerce in Karachi, the team of a price-checking magistrate fleeing under pressure exerted by a local MPA and the gross inefficiency in the matter of the registration of 500 drugs with the requisite agency.

The PPP-led government continues to be ill-equipped with the wherewithal to face natural disasters. The management of an underwater Badin is a case in point that involves an estimated Rs130bn loss of crops, apart from the gross disruption in social life. The damage to villages in Kasur because of the rising water level in the Sutlej is another natural calamity at a small scale.

The state capacity must improve. The incumbent government has the responsibility to improve it.

Several news items, on one day, concerning missing persons present a challenge to the credibility of the state’s premier intelligence agencies. Their officials deposed in court in Lahore as part of the inquiry into the gruesome murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad, in the context of a forceful denial from their side. They also denied holding a missing Hizbut Tahrir activist allegedly in their custody, in a case in the Islamabad High Court. There was a plea and a counter-plea to shift the case to the Lahore High Court, with reference to a previous case about another missing person.

In Peshawar, the high court warned of action against officials from whom a missing person is recovered after they declare innocence in the matter. A petitioner in a habeas corpus case pointed to two of her neighbours who apparently offered to recover her husband and brother from the custody of an intelligence agency on payment. A similar case of the missing was alleged to be the handiwork of the Criminal Investigation Department. The latter allegedly took Rs250,000 for the release of the missing man, but did not free him. The persistent news about the missing persons points to a shameful dimension of our national politics.

These perceptions of, allegations against and aspersions cast on the state of Pakistan point to a huge gap of trust between the rulers and the ruled. Does the elected government feel that the unelected institutions are beyond its sphere of influence and authority? Apologists for the government might claim that this is a case of responsibility without power. Others would question the moral right of the ruling setup to be at the helm in the current situation in the first place.

As always, women remain at the bottom of the ladder of social security, personal stability and physical wellbeing. There is the news that an Afghan husband came to Pakistan from England to reclaim his wife, whom he had abandoned eight years ago.

When refused, he killed her and several others from her family. Are people too unruly for the government to handle, too brutal in cultural terms to be tolerant and too misogynistic to respect women and their will? Has the government washed its hands off the social and cultural ills prevailing in society, especially when women are the victims?

Has the state dispensed with the need to protect citizens’ entitlement to security? How did it become the target of allegations of abducting and killing its own citizens? Is the state doomed to live with inefficiency, red-tapism and patent weaknesses to establish its writ against terrorism as well as social terrorism such as extortion? Will the clash of institutions continue till it rocks the boat or will the executive and the judiciary find a modus operandi to keep the system in place?

One day in the nation’s life as reflected through the print media in Pakistan may not be a microcosm of the whole reality about politics and the state. However, it reflects on the menace of ungovernability that has made inroads into our social and political life. Reading the news about the declining writ of the state and the security apparatus creating insecurity makes one ask: is Pakistan ungovernable? This question poses a great challenge to all those who want to see Pakistan as a modern and stable country. Only a strong, authoritative, confident, legitimate and responsible government can deal with the turbulence all around.

The writer is a professor at LUMS.