The importance of research

Published December 14, 2009

The reaction of politicians and their parties to the Kerry-Lugar Bill is a telling example. They had not taken note of the language of the bill in its draft form. When the issue finally became a part of the public discourse, it was too late. - Photo by AP.

Political parties in Pakistan — in government and opposition — rarely attempt an intellectual public discourse for building consensus on pressing national issues, primarily because they lack vision and capacity in this regard.

When ruling parties do not have the capacity to analyse issues of national importance, they often adopt short-sighted solutions proposed by the establishment. These solutions are largely based on political expediency. When these solutions backfire and the ruling party falls from grace, the dark corridors of the establishment are blamed for its failure.

Rarely does a party conduct any soul-searching to figure out the causes of its collapse. Likewise, the leaders and parties in opposition mostly react through emotional public statements which appeal to popular sentiments and are not based on rigorous policy analysis.

This applies to the situation that emerged after the Balochistan 'package' was unveiled. The government had apparently not taken the opposition into confidence while drafting the parameters of the proposed package. As soon as it came out opposition parties — particularly in Balochistan — rejected its underlying modalities.

One may discern from public statements by politicians on issues of national importance that they lack an indepth analysis. The solutions they provide to complex socio-economic and political problems are not so pragmatic because the politicians rarely conduct useful research on pressing issues before making a policy statement. Once the futility of such statements or policy measures is revealed they go back on their own statements.

Another example from the not very distant past is the Kerry-Lugar fiasco. The reaction of politicians and their parties, both ruling and opposition, is a telling example in this regard. They had not taken note of the language of the bill in its draft form. When the issue finally became a part of the public discourse, it was too late.

Rarely do we see well-researched articles, policy statements or public discourses by politicians. Some politicians do undertake such efforts at an individual level, but these are not policy statements by their respective parties. However, one should not discount their efforts as they are a harbinger of new trends in resolving crises in political and administrative governance.

For instance, an effort was made by Sanaullah Baloch to highlight the crisis of governance in Balochistan in order to seek solutions to the problems of neglect, deprivation and victimisation suffered by his province. His discourse in this newspaper in the last week of November serves as a beacon of hope. The course of intellectual campaigning, advocacy and awareness-raising adopted by activists like him may help to build consensus for further addressing the Balochistan issue.

Such efforts are also required by the establishment, other political parties, civil society and the media to initiate an evidence-based intellectual discourse on issues related to the national interest.

The onus falls on politicians and their parties, who must continue their efforts to initiate public debate through well-researched articles and policy statements in the popular media to build consensus among stakeholders. Unfortunately, in our contemporary politics, the majority of politicians and their parties deride dialogue and focus on scoring points against their political opponents. They fail to realise that contentious issues and policies need serious research and consensus-building for pragmatic solutions.

Very often, the political parties in power rely on solutions proposed by working groups and fact-finding commissions or committees established at the eleventh hour, right before important meetings are held, to make the necessary recommendations.

Often these forums present humdrum views and impractical recommendations, which result in half-baked solutions as the research lacks depth. The confluence of unfit analysis — usually conducted in haste — and bad policy interventions results in a mess complicating problems further.

On the other hand, solutions emanating from objective research and policy analysis often help to generate stimulating intellectual discourse on contentious issues. Ultimately, this may help to provide practical solutions of a lasting nature as compared to the ones which are merely chosen on the basis of political convenience or brokered by intimidating tactics.

This highlights the importance of establishing think tanks or research centres by political parties so that their policy standpoints are neither guided by the establishment nor by external think tanks.

The establishment of research institutes and think tanks by political parties is a normal practice in western democracies. It is pertinent to mention that only Z.A. Bhutto had patronised intellectuals in his party, a norm which has been abandoned in recent years.

Research institutes set up by ruling parties would definitely help them enact policies emanating from their own research and analysis. They would then not need to blame the establishment and the 'foreign hand' for their own failures.

Similarly, political parties in opposition may also benefit by establishing think tanks and a shadow cabinet in which expert party politicians are assigned the task of tracking and researching the public policies of the ruling party.

The opposition's think tanks would help the shadow cabinet in preparing an alternative policy framework. The statements of opposition leaders and their party's policy stance would be guided by the feedback generated through these activities. This would help the opposition not only to keep the ruling party on its feet but also to install its cabinet and implement reforms whenever its turn to rule came.

It is important to note that public agencies and some religious parties have established think tanks while the majority of political parties are found lacking in this respect. The promotion and establishment of democratic norms requires political parties to obtain serious feedback on their policies from the public.

For instance, even after the package, the Balochistan crisis requires serious public discourse and consensus-building. The ruling parties should not use it as an opportunity to impose their solutions to claim victories. Similarly, parties in the opposition should not sit back and wait for all efforts to backfire and later announce the failure of the party in power.

We have blamed the establishment and despotic rulers for all our ills. Now is the time to rebuild the confidence of all Pakistanis in the democratic system. All political forces must take this challenge seriously because this will help protect democracy in Pakistan.

The writer is a founding member of the Centre for Research on Economic and Social Transformation.

yasin.janjua@gmail.com

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