Pakistan: What Needs to be Done?

Can’t stop the rot
The News, August 15, 2009
Mosharraf Zaidi

As someone who has recently had a chance to observe how the Punjab government goes about its business, it is easy to confirm the rumours. A more committed and sincere effort to deliver a well-governed administration in Pakistan may be difficult to imagine. The level of commitment that Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has become renowned for, however, is not completely unheard of in other parts of the country. Though he may be seen as a standard bearer for it, several key political figures represent the same spirit of getting things done.

For Karachiites, it is obvious just from a trip from the airport down through the Shahrah-e-Faisal into the heart of the city, that Mayor Mustafa Kamal is a public policy hurricane. Not always exactly precise, but pulsating with unbridled energy and a compassion for the constituencies he serves. Jetting from one hotspot of underperforming state machinery to the next, Kamal has garnered international attention for the pace of his work. Even with exaggerated accounts of what such coverage has actually meant, Kamal’s work is manifest and acknowledged even by some of the MQM’s staunchest opponents in Karachi’s dangerous and complex political landscape.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is not just wise on camera, but in fact a clearly serious and thoughtful man, keenly aware of the burdens his country is under, even off it. He has attempted throughout his administration to live up to the requirements of a country under attack from terrorists, on the rebound from an era of military rule and deeply divided along identity fissures. His finance minister, Mr Shaukat Tarin, does not get much sleep at all. He is constantly plotting a way for Pakistan out of the desperately tight fiscal and monetary crises that have enveloped this country for the duration of his reign as the key economic mind on the Zardari-Gilani team.

The sincere intentions of the Mustafa Kamals of Pakistan and the tireless energy of its Shahbaz Sharifs, however, is not quite producing the kind of government that Pakistanis deserve. A country made up mostly of people who are poor, underserved by the state, and underrepresented by public institutions—save a resurgent and activist judiciary—deserve better. The challenge of delivering it in the 21st century is no longer just a matter of sincere intentions, and hard work. The rot in terms of the establishment of ground rules of the game, or institutions, and the interaction of agents for these institutions amongst each other—such as between parliament and the military—is more than knee-deep. Digging Pakistan out of this hole requires a sustained and heroic effort. But heroism in the 21st century is not simply about putting on the cape and learning how to fly. It is about understanding the material the cape is made of, what enables flight whilst one wears it, and the aerodynamics of the superhuman body. In short, the ability of even Pakistan’s finest sons and daughters to affect meaningful and lasting change is about coming to grips with the nooks and crannies of how things work, why they don’t work, and what it will take to get them to work. Once that analytical part is sorted, it is about having the suicidal political courage to take unpopular decisions.

The key questions that collapsing buildings in Karachi, vulnerable police training centres in Manawan, murder, terror and arson disguised as religion in Gojra all raise are not about the individual performance of Pakistani politicians, or civil servants, or judges, or military men. They are about the combined disability of these institutions, despite the presence of sometimes overwhelmingly able personalities in all spheres. When we discuss the vileness of what happened in Gojra purely in the context of religious affairs in Pakistan we miss the larger point. No city, no village and no community, anywhere in the world, should ever have to get into a discussion about religion, when the context is the daylight murder of seven people, in a manner that belongs in sixth century Jahilliya, rather than a 21st century Islamic Republic.

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