What the Friends of Pakistan should be buying?

What the Friends of Pakistan should be buying
The News, April 14, 2009
by Mosharraf Zaidi

Having asked for $30 billion so that it can get its act together, Pakistan should prepare itself for good news. It is not going to get $30 billion. It will get somewhat of a fraction of that money. This is the best news Pakistan could ask for.

If countries could be fixed with bailouts, Israel would be the safest country in the world. As the recipient of more money than any other country, and indeed more than many countries put together, Israel’s problems should have been sorted out by now. Things are far from sorted in Israel. Its biggest problem in 1945 is its biggest problem today. Palestinians don’t like Israel. All the money in the world cannot buy you a solution to that problem.

Pakistan too, like Israel, is saddled with an existential problem that cannot be solved with money. In fact, just like in Israel, the sustained injections of petty cash into this country, and particularly its armed forces, have caused a mutilation of incentives that has in fact perpetuated Pakistan’s most deep-rooted problems. Pakistan does not need a Marshall Plan. It needs to marshal its resources to solve its problems itself.

Pakistan’s lack of preparedness to do so is manifest in the two most popular items on Pakistan’s wish list — a new social protection instrument called the Benazir Income Support Programme, and the new alternative police force, or counter-terror force.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to have cash transfers to support poor families across the country. It is even better that parliament or the cabinet should want to name such social protection instruments in the memory of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. There are few better ways to remember those that have passed away than through the gift of giving.

Perhaps more importantly, who could argue against the need for improved security services in Pakistan? Terrorists have been able to exert their will in attacking major symbols of the state right across the country, killing scores of people, and bleeding the country of its most important asset — its confidence. An effective and robust counter-terror force is not a luxury, it is an inalienable right of the people in the current context of Pakistan’s internal security situation.

On the face of it then, it seems Pakistan is perfectly right to go to Tokyo and expect its friends to help it in the areas that it needs help in. There is of course one major issue that such an assumption ignores. Pakistan already has a plethora of social protection instruments. Pakistan already has a police force at the national and provincial level.

Why does Pakistan need new instruments to fulfil the functions of already existing ones?

The answer, for anyone, that has spent any time at all working with the public sector in this country, is easy. The existing systems don’t work. The social protection instruments, such as the Zakaat Fund, or the Pakistan Bait-ul-Maal Fund are so deeply dysfunctional and political that they are not seen to present viable options to extend support to poor families during trying economic times.

The existing police set-up, already shaken and stirred by the Police Order 2002 and the various amendments to it, and further convoluted by an uncertain decentralisation process, is also deeply dysfunctional. The police’s ability to investigate crimes and to address the key law and order challenges in the 21st century are open to all kinds of questions.

So with Zakaat and Bait-ul-Maal in disrepute, and with the existing police structures incapable of dealing with the challenges of terror, Pakistan has gone to its friends and asked for money to begin new structures, new systems and new mechanisms to address relatively old problems.

A good friend would not hand the money over. It would ask Pakistan why it doesn’t fix the existing systems instead of starting new ones.

However, you can only solve problems and fix broken things if and when you really want to. The problems faced by the police system are rooted in the same issues that plague the spectrum of state functions. Some of these are structural, such as salaries, the security of tenure at the officer level, the relative share of the central Police Service of Pakistan (PSP) in the provinces, the relationship between a district top cop, and the district’s top bureaucrat from an administration perspective, and the relationship between cops and executives (or elected officials).

Other issues are semantic. No one likes to be treated like dirt. An officer of the NYPD is treated like a hero unless he or she is absolutely abhorrent in their behaviour toward citizens. This is a well-earned respect, the New York City police having been at the forefront of rescue effort post-9/11 and at the cutting edge of protecting the life and property of New Yorkers since then. How many times do policemen get a smile from the average Pakistani citizen for putting their life at risk in Pakistan? The ministry of information can hire dozens of expensive consultants to work on the images of politicians, but it has no strategic communications plan to work on the positioning and stature of a beat cop that’s braving the threat of death to protect Pakistanis.

The issues in the Zakaat Fund and the Baitul Maal Fund are even more complicated. And why wouldn’t they be? They are instruments to distribute cash. No venture could be more fraught with risk. Yet instead of getting into the nitty-gritty, Pakistan’s most able economists have been told, hands-off the Zakaat and Baitul Maal! Please construct new instruments to do the same things.

If the government of Pakistan does not have the gumption to undertake reform, it cannot survive. And this gumption has to be a lot more resolute than what it has demonstrated to be so far, in its pursuit of reform in areas such as the judiciary, and the supremacy of parliament as the ultimate arbiter of resource allocation and the exercise of state power. The short version is simple. If the government pursues reform the way it has pursued to the actualisation of the Charter of Democracy, then neither democracy, nor this country can have a very bright future.

Public policy hacks are taught at a very early stage in their careers that one of the most overwhelming incentives for transformational reform is what is called the compulsion of the burning platform. Pakistan not only stumps many analysts, it also fundamentally challenges long-standing political, economic and social theory. The platform has been burning for decades. There are fiscal, operational and semantic time bombs buried in government at all three tiers — federal, provincial and district. There is a mass upheaval of talent out of government at the officer level. There is despondency and desperation outside the officer class. There is the handcuffing and paralysis of elected officials in terms of their ability to effect change.

In this context, handing more money to Pakistan is not the act of a friend. Aid to Pakistan must be conditional. It is simply that those conditions must be about change in Pakistan, rather than change on and beyond Pakistan’s borders.

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