Volume 22 Issue 8, August 2018


‘There is no such thing as a tax paying culture; there is only making sure tax cheats go to jail.’

- US tax official

What kind of governance will Prime Minister Imran Khan provide? He has made impressive public undertakings with undoubted sincerity. However a governance culture is entrenched which is undemocratic, anti-reform and thoroughly hostile to the rights and welfare of the people. It is sustained by an intrusive and highly politicized security establishment.

Will Imran liberate Pakistan from the deadly embrace of the status quo and overcome questions about the elections and his politics? He knows only sustained actions and demonstrated progress will answer them.

Since independence, Pakistan’s population has increased from 31 million to over 210 million. Its per capita income has increased from $300 to over $2000 per annum. These seven-fold increases nominally represent an almost 50-fold increase in the size of the national economy. But the real economy is a different story.

Hans Rosling’s brilliant book “Factfulness” statistically demonstrates that almost everywhere “things are better than you think.” Is Pakistan an exception? It is not. Things are indeed better. But this is not due to better governance or more responsible politics. It is due to global technological innovation and technology-driven socio-economic changes.
Over 70 years, the rupee has declined by a factor of 40 versus the dollar which itself has significantly declined in purchasing power. Despite the growth of a middle class and the life-support of an ultimately lethal black economy, the “quality of growth” (macroeconomic stability, investment in human resource development, reduced corruption and inequality, and the public provision of basic services) is abysmal.

Growth is debt-driven. This is inflationary. It is a massive and criminal tax on the poor and an equally criminal subsidy for the rich. Administration, debt repayment, defence expenditures and elite corruption leave nothing for development. Pakistan is back in the clutches of the IMF which answers only to its profit-seeking shareholders.

Pakistan’s population will be 400 million by 2050. There will be devastating climate change effects, including extreme water and food crises leading to famines, civil unrest and conflict at home and possible confrontations with neighbours.
Family supporting job opportunities will disappear. An education and health-care deprived population will be unemployable in a technology and knowledge-intensive global economy. Sectarian and other violence, systemic surrender to militant “policy-assets,” and vast ungoverned spaces define the current political landscape in Pakistan. Imran must reverse a fatal trend.
CPEC is not a magic wand that will change Pakistan’s political culture and governance. Imran will encounter systemic interference and obstruction in his bid to transform Pakistan. He will need to be cautious – but not daunted into lowering his sights – and credibility. His opponents, who are everywhere, are waiting in anticipation. The first 100 days will establish his determination and likely trajectory.

Will security and development continue to be counter-posed to each other? Will the elected prime minister be checked by unelected institutions? Will “civil-military relations minus civilian supremacy” make a mockery of democratic and good governance, including a credible foreign policy? Will his “electables” walk his talk – or constrain and undermine him?
These questions reflect Pakistan’s stunted political growth. In the name of security, religion and patriotism, the people of Pakistan have been victim of praetorian and class-warfare a governance. Pakistan has been made a welfare state – for the elite!

Public housing projects for the poor, protection of workers’ rights, essential land reforms, free and adequate education and health-care for all, women’s rights protections, etc., are fundamental development obligations. They are ignored. Instead, human and political rights activists are prosecuted under counter-terrorism laws! Or they just disappear!
This is an absolute barrier to national integration which requires a nation-wide sense of shared interests, inclusion, participation, development and justice. The demise of united Pakistan was due to elite refusal to provide inclusive and equitable governance. As a result, national unity, development and security were made impossible. Division and defeat became inevitable.

Half a century later, the continued exploitation and trauma visited upon the Baloch and other marginalized people of Pakistan suggests the establishment refuses to learn lessons, either from the humiliations and defeats of the past, or from the international isolation of the present. Pakistan’s inclusion in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) “grey list” is one example.
This hijacking of national policy-making and the utter futility and sterility of Pakistan’s politics have denied the people of Pakistan their own country. Imran Khan has to reclaim it for them. Elected political leaders have by and large pandered to the powers that be. Structural reform is made impossible. Imran will have to turn a new page in Pakistan’s history by the force of his commitment and the quality of his vision and policies.

Grass-roots movements and sustained political struggle are essential for the empowerment and liberation of the people. Imran Khan should see them as essential support in developing and implementing strategies for national transformation.
The military will need to become a non-political institution that is perceived as such throughout the country. Otherwise, it will continue to be seen as an elite and extractive institution standing in the way of the democratic development of the country.
It is no criticism of the military to say it has neither the competence nor the constitutional authority to meet the complex demands of good governance including good foreign policy. The military has its own professional competence and expertise which do not extend to running a democracy or supplanting it with some sort of “hybrid” governance. Addressing this issue, as Quaid-e-Azam did, will be among Imran’s greatest challenges.

The development of an independent, critical and responsible media and the provision of modern education based on critical thinking and scientific enquiry are pre-requisites for survival in the 21st century. They must be top priorities on Imran’s agenda of change. Compromise will open the gates of betrayal.

As a cricketer Imran Khan was both a strong team player and a decisive and unrelenting team leader. As prime minister he will need to exceed himself in order to triumph over much greater opposition and launch “Tabdeeli” (transformation) and Naya Pakistan.

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.
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