Wednesday, January 16, 2019
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The full picture tells a different tale

Sandeep Dikshit

Pakistan has remained a little understood country among India's academia and strategic circles because of the acute unavailability of the literature of the institutional processes that have driven the formation of this state. The wealth of material on the role of its armed forces and its political trajectory due to it, especially after it got sucked into the Cold War as a passive-active participant, is phenomenal. Every move of its generals, spies and diplomats on the global and domestic chessboards has been so minutely dissected that every new book on Pakistan looks like a slightly reworked copy of a previous one.  

But any of these often-brilliantly written tomes hardly offer an insight into the glue that has held Pakistan together. There is never any mention of its civil servants and thousands of their subordinates who nurture the sinews of the state that reach out, even if imperfectly, into every Pakistani home. Or its legislatures, not perfect either, and their continuity blighted by military rule and caretaker governments, gamely attempting to check the excesses of the executive and establish the rule of law. 

Ishrat Husain has the right credentials to correct the blindsiding of the continuous flux in Pakistan's economic, administrative and political processes. Dr Husain belongs to the rarified school of global economists of which Amartya Sen, quoted occasionally here, is the leading lodestar. The helping hand by Shuja Nawaz, a highly regarded chronicler of South Asian military history, gives it an added lustre.   

As Pakistan witnessed democracy in only 37 of its 71 years' of existence, it is natural that bulk of its economic history is also a tale of dictators and their enforcers in olive green. The West might have felt comfortable with the initial decades of military rule in Pakistan not just because it was a crucial Cold War ally but also because it had hoped that Pakistan would emulate South Korea and Indonesia where military governments undertook economic reforms and then effected a civilian transition. This never happened in Pakistan because the two military usherers of economic vitality — Ayub Khan and Pervez Musharraf — made the mistake of gathering a crowd of political partisans around them. The explanation offered by Husain is that when genuine political formations defeated the dictators and the coteries surrounding them ... perhaps even the victorious civilian formations fell for the temptation of forcefully stamping their win by throwing overboard the dictators' economic policies, thus inadvertently offering dislocation that Pakistan could have done without.   

For Indians, bred on images of Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar as the Pak representatives, Husain fills in the other, more humane, handlers of the Pakistani state — the petty officials, the bureaucrats and the police whose role and structure is often missed or overlooked in studies of Pakistan's security policies. The picture is the same as that of any other resource-strapped country. There are similar jealousies, affectations, administrative rigmarole and the blind meandering into policy cul de sacs.  

Interestingly, all military dictators were fierce proponents of third-tier governance: Ayub in the 1960s to bypass political structures, Zia in the 1980s to outflank the PPP and Musharraf in 2000 to create a political constituency for himself. Musharraf's devolution of power to the local level became such a roaring success that Parliamentarians were known to have quit office to contest for local nazim's post. But his attempt at guided democracy floundered when the second tier at the provincial level came into conflict over the powers of patronage with the third. 

Musharraf's demolition of the British era governance modules/structures and their half-baked replacements must have been responsible for its current security and social woes because of their adverse impact on delivery of public services. Besides, the development expenditure suffered from acute fragmentation —there were 17,000 ongoing development works in (Pakistan) Punjab alone. The local government system in Pakistan was discarded four times and this tinkering would have extracted a heavy political and economic cost each time. 

Husain also brings into focus the immense handicaps Pakistan faced at the time of Independence. Less than 10 per cent of the ICS opted to stay in or go to Pakistan. It was only by the 1960s that all relevant positions were filled that too by superior civil service officers. Interestingly, Pakistan started recruitments with a quota system for less backward provinces that has now changed to 10 per cent reservation for women and five per cent for the minorities. 

The approach of taking a close look at all the nuts and bolts that have gone into the making of Pakistan gives a better appreciation of its current status. What emerges is that Pakistan is neither a failing state nor a rogue one. But if its civil society does not take matters in its own hands, it may graduate into becoming one.


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