Stop bashing, copy a model that works

I am amazed that my Amreeka hating, West-bashing, anti-Hindu, anti-Israel friends use tools from all those countries.

Ibrahim Sajid Malick November 14, 2011
From observing conversations on Facebook and Twitter, I am sure that all my Pakistan-watching friends genuinely want 'change'. There are many ideas – everyone is passionate and wants to throw in their two cents, and that’s how it should be.

However, when I comment on these threads my friends often remind me that I should not have an opinion. This is because either:

1) I live in the West

2) I do not propose an alternative

Both streams of criticism are fair.

I do live in the fairly developed state of New York – in a city (NYC) that I love and in a neighbourhood (East Village) that I call home. I haven’t had power outages or water shortages; my street gets cleaned every day (except Wednesday), my kids can play in the park without fear. They go to public schools and mostly get a decent education. Yes, there are issues at the local, state and federal levels that frustrate me. I raise my voice at every occasion, resist any bullying and seek help from friends to amplify my plea when needed.

I strongly believe that if a certain model works, we should follow it without worrying too much about where it came from or what religion or color thought it up. And, I am amazed that all my Amreeka hating, West-bashing, anti-Hindu and anti-Israel friends use the tools that are conceived, designed and delivered from the West. Yes, most Hindus write the codes and yes most of the telecom stuff is done in Israel. This doesn’t stop them from using Facebook, Twitter or Gmail.

And it shouldn’t.

So why doesn't Pakistan too copy the governance model of the developed world as well?

How about the next time you want to demand change, ask for an open, transparent and participatory government?

See, this same internet you are using to read my post can help you manage your elected representatives better. Why don’t you demand transparency because information sharing leads to increased communication and access to information? A government that shares information also engages it’s citizens. Once technology is adequately deployed and used, the rhetoric of 'public-private' partnership will also move beyond slogans and you will start to see innovation.

Of course, I understand, transparency is not an end state, but an operating model. Technology is a vehicle for open, transparent government, but also presents challenges especially around security and privacy of data. Many in the semi-democratic countries argue that transparency compromises privacy and therefore is not acceptable. That's not true at all. Look around and you will find many examples.

I would highly recommend my friends with a stake in Pakistan to start pushing for simple things – interactive website for every agency; profit and loss statements (P&L) for every department. Moreover, I urge them to ask for the ability to rate their representatives, both elected and government employees. Simple change will transform Pakistan.

I agree on the point that my suggestions are rather simple, but I feel that they are a step in right direction and will put us on a path forward. Here is why I say this; if we could look at the budget of every institution online many amongst us would have tangible evidence of fraud. If we could do many of required tasks online, we would reduce interaction with sarkari (government) offices and cut the middle man at domicile office. If we could rate every SHO, DM, KESC engineer, and Rangers guy, we could highlight their incompetence and corruption.

I think information and awareness is the right strategy to dis-intermediate the corrupt middle layer. My recommendations may not be addressing the root cause but it will take care of symptoms that bother many of us.

Whether it is a small business offering its products globally, or families keeping in touch with relatives in other countries through services like Skype and Facebook, new technology is already making a difference in Pakistan. In the future this will be vital for underwriting innovation, productivity and citizenship for all Pakistanis. No one can stop that.

My recommendation here is that we ask Pakistani rulers to open their books, so to speak, and engage with citizens. I am not suggesting that technology is deus ex machina - the primary means of resolving all contradictions. We are undergoing a fundamental change in how we live, work and play and we need new ways of understanding, new models and new theories. We especially need to stop looking at the world from the perspective of 'class' or 'empire'. I am suggesting we reach for the low hanging fruit - ask for simple changes - digitizing of government. I may be wrong (I am often wrong), but I think this will be a step in the right direction.

You may argue that rulers will resist - and yes, of course they will. But just like they can't stop my sister from using Skype to talk to her sons in Pakistan and just like they can't stop my friend from selling used books that he buys at Urdu Bazar on Amazon, they can't stop this tide either.

Yes, I am telling you this because:

1) I live in New York

2) and I have an alternative
Ibrahim Sajid Malick A Pakistani-American writer, technologist, and social entrepreneur. Malick graduated from New School for Social Research with a masters degree in anthropology. He holds several technology and management certifications.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.